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September 08, 2019

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

What does that mean?

Waves are unstoppable. They may change in height and intensity, but still they come. We can try to fight them, but they are as unstoppable as any other force of nature.

However, while we can’t stop them, we can learn to tame them and even enjoy them, we don’t need to make the waves smaller or less dangerous, but a little less scary and a lot more fun.

This quote is also about worrying a little less about some experiences that we have little control over and learning to have a little more fun with them. Yes, they may seem dangerous and we need to respect the power they may have, but fighting them can have little benefit and a high cost. 

Avoiding or trying to lessen negative, painful, or unpleasant experiences seems to be a good survival strategy, as it can reduce our exposure to events that can hurt us. It’s easy to understand why taking action to avoid difficult events can make sense and is connected to a human skill. 

However, a problem arises when we use the same strategy that we use for the external world, the world inside our skin, as we simply do not have the same level of control over our emotions and our internal world as we do over our external world.  

Efforts to avoid difficult thoughts and emotions often lead us to avoid or flee the situations and contexts that give rise to them. While this may solve the initial problem—avoiding unwanted thoughts, sensations, or feelings—we are restricting our lives, and missing the opportunity to get in touch with what’s going on in the process. Likewise, we fail to experience favorable consequences, which can have a major impact on our sense of accomplishment and success.

So why is it important to learn to ride the waves of our emotions?

While this is a metaphor, surfing sounds like fun, perhaps a little challenging for those with little experience. I believe the metaphor can be applied to some parts of our lives, and that it somehow feels like an unstoppable force of nature. Anger, depression, anxiety, panic, difficult emotions, unexpected situations, circumstances that could cause pain or suffering.

The good news is that nothing lasts forever unless you choose to hug and hold her tight. You can choose instead to open up with curiosity to what is present. Let the wave grow, break and recede. You can stay and even learn to surf, if you choose to try, even if you can’t stop, you can still change the way you relate to the experience and even enjoy it.

Can you think of ways to apply these ideas to other parts of your life? How would your life be different if you could acquire a little skill in these areas?

Contextual Behavioral Therapy can help them get in touch with what matters in a deep and accurate way. If you apply session learning to your own daily problems and allow it to transform the way you respond to life’s challenges, bringing that sometimes vulnerable and open feeling, there’s a high possibility that you’ll achieve goals more skillfully. Remember that strong emotions are often connected to significant personal values. So a helpful question is, what does this emotion tell you about what really matters to you, deep down in your heart?

This is an informative text and is not intended to exhaust the subject or replace consultation with a specialized professional. If you identify with the text, I suggest seeking the help of a professional who has theoretical knowledge and practical experience in the area.

Text authored by Psychologist and Professor Priscila Rolim. Some excerpts were translated and adapted from the Blog – Philosiblog

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