The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. – Michelangelo
We all know the feeling of having an inspired dream or going beyond what we once thought possible in some area of our life. These moments of extraordinary experience in sport, work, love or life give us a view into expanded aspects of ourselves and life that we don’t always experience everyday. Some would say that this state of flow is actually our most natural state of being. The challenge is that in our modern world we have been conditioned to baseline our goals and visions on what is realistic, what is predictable, what has already been done or can be achieved without taking too much risk.
A few years ago I had an experience in the ocean that taught me more about the power of cultivating and believing in our highest visions than any book or workshop ever could – further testament to the gift of life itself as our greatest teacher when our eyes are open to receive its lessons. It is a moment I often come back to when I am stepping onto a new path, feeling limited in my experience or exploring how best to cultivate (and fulfill) an inspired dream or vision.
The Fragility of Fresh Visions
We were living on the South Island of New Zealand near a remote beach that captured amazing waves for surfing only 1-2 times a year when the wind and swell direction was just right. Surfers who traveled all over the world listed this as one of their very favorite spots, but the trick was, you had to be there right when it was happening or you would miss it completely. In the eighteen months we lived there, this secret spot delivered waves once, for two days only. Here’s what happened to me…
On Day One, I was up at dawn but was on the other side of town when I received a text from my friend letting me know that the magic swell had arrived. During the 45-minute drive through the hills to reach the secret spot, I felt an almost uncontainable sense of excitement as I conjured great visions of the waves I would catch that day. I set my sights to catch some of the best waves of my life that day and made a quiet intention for a “tube” or two (that magic experience in surfing when the breaking wave creates a liquid tunnel that’s big enough for the surfer to ride through). I didn’t know what exactly the ocean would deliver that day but I was ready for the extraordinary.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that it was more crowded than I expected (for a secret spot) with about twenty other guys in the water, but I figured with a magic spot like this surely there’d be more than enough waves for everyone. I parked on the dirt track and was throwing on my wetsuit like a kid with pajamas on Christmas morning, when a couple guys walked past my car having just finished their session.
“How was it fellas?” I said with a stoked grin. One of them replied with a smile, “It was great about an hour ago, but its starting to drop off.”
Instantly I felt my energy drop a little. Should I have been there earlier? Looking out to the waves, it still looked pretty good to me, so I shook off the comment and grabbed my board. Heading down to the water, I passed another guy stepping out onto the beach. We locked eyes and I asked the same question. “How was it?” To which he replied, “Oh, man… Too bad you weren’t here earlier. It was amazing. Getting a bit crowded now.” He walked on and my stomach dropped a bit further.
I looked out on the water and suddenly instead of pure potential in a miracle surf spot, I started to notice the smallish waves and too many people. As I paddled out I criticized myself for not coming earlier and for having such an audacious goal for the session and I noticed I started to reconfigure my expectations from, “I’m going to catch the best waves of my life” to what seemed more realistic, “I hope I get a few ok rides.”
Censored Energy Leads to Censored Experience
It was a long point break wave that stretched out a rocky outcropping, and I wasn’t familiar with the lineup so I paddled about halfway along the point and sat near a pack of other surfers. It was a bit crowded like the guys had said, and the waves weren’t that great where I was sitting, but I managed to catch a couple OK rides, before a solo rider entered the water on a longboard and paddled up along side me. He looked at me with the same stoked grin that I had started the day with, and said, “How awesome is this?!” to which heard myself reply, “Yeah, it’s OK. It must’ve been much better earlier.”
As soon as I said it, I could hear the mediocrity in my voice and I couldn’t believe I was actually contributing to the negative story I’d been given. I’m not sure if he didn’t hear me or didn’t care, but he grinned back and kept paddling right out to the furthest spot of the point – past all the other surfers, to a flat spot well past where the waves were breaking. From where the rest of us were sitting it was clear he was outside of the surf zone and would likely be sitting out there wave-less for the rest of the morning. I caught a couple more OK waves (fulfilling my censored vision) and left the water feeling pretty average.
Walking back up to my car I suddenly heard a “hoot” from behind me and glanced back just in time to see the guy on the longboard paddle onto an absolutely beautiful wave that started right out the back, carrying him all the way along the point, past all the people right into the beach, where he literally stepped off his board onto the sand. It was incredible. He grabbed his board and ran up to his car, which was parked next to mine. “Nice wave man.” I commented. He looked at me, eyes alight, as though he’d just ridden a shooting star. “That was the best wave of my life! I’m going home for breakfast and coming right back!”
I was stoked for the guy, but also felt a twang of deep disappointment, realizing that while he had just had the wave of his life, I had completely limited my own energy, expectation and experience based on a few people’s opinions. I had condensed my hopes for the session in order to be ‘realistic’, and in the process I had completely missed a chance to experience the extraordinary. I was bummed and vowed that I would return the following day to re-align with the Universe.
Feeling Precedes Experience
The next morning I rose before dawn with the idea of getting into the water before the crowds. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with that idea. By the time I arrived to the spot, I was greeted by many more cars than the day before and my first glance out to the water revealed about twice the amount of people… and about half the wave size. Bummer. Instantly my mind started to steer in the direction of limit and disappointment, but this time I caught it before the spiral went too deep. What I had learned the day before was that it was my own perception of the possible – not the other surfers or the ocean – that had limited my experience. As I stepped to the water, I was determined not to repeat that cycle.
I stood at the waters edge for a few minutes and quietly tuned into the elements, to myself and to the limitless potential of the ocean. I didn’t know what size or shape waves it would serve up or how exactly I would ride them, but one thing I knew for sure was how I wanted to FEEL at the end of my session. Whether it was ankle deep waves or 12 foot tubes, I knew that I would love to leave the water with a deep sense of inspiration, connection and flow.
I imagined myself at the end of my session climbing out of the water, having had one of the best surfs of my life. I imagined the types of waves I’d love to have (i.e. a tube) but I didn’t’ limit my vision to this. I realized it wasn’t my job to actually make the waves, my job was simply to align with them. The best way I could think of to do that was to generate the end result feeling that I imagined having at the end of the session, and let that feeling be my compass as I entered the water.
I paddled out feeling good. Feeling light. There was a big crowd in the inside section where I had sat the day before. As I paddled through the pack I heard grumblings of the swell size dropping and crowds thickening, ruining the magic. Yesterday I was one of the grumblers and so I felt a slight pull… but my compass didn’t feel inspired hanging out there, so I kept paddling along the point, following the open feeling in my heart. The further out I paddled the less guys there were, and the inner compass kept pointing seaward, so I paddled just a few strokes past the furthest guy (and furthest wave) to where the water appeared flat.
Literally the moment I hit the furthest spot, as if out of no where, a wave built to a peak and met me there. I flipped my board around and paddled right onto a sweet empty wave, which carried me the full length of the point through the crowds almost all the way to the beach. Amazing! One of the longest rides of my life.
I took a deep breath and quietly paddled back out through the line-up to the very top again. Like clock-work, as soon as I reached the spot just past where everyone else was sitting, another wave, this one even bigger, rose on the horizon, picking me up into a one of the best rides of my life – including a tube! I could barely believe it. My surfboard shaper had once told me that, “The best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun.” By this account, I was feeling like a world champion. I paddled back out and boom! It happened again.
When Our Cup is Full it Naturally Overflows to Others
After three of the best waves of my life in about 10 minutes – I paddled back out and found myself so stoked and grateful that I just wanted other people to have this experience too. I chatted with a couple grumblers and suggested they paddle out a bit further and soon they were feeling the magic. The morning got sweeter with each set and eventually I caught my last ride in, stepping out onto the sand feeling exhausted but energized, grateful and inspired. I had more than fulfilled my vision for the session (including the tubes!), but more importantly I had completely experienced the feeling that I had intended.
As I was having this epiphany I became aware of a guy who was walking along the beach near me, visibly distraught. He must’ve had a crash during the session because he was bleeding a little bit from his head, and he was looking feverishly for something in the sand. I felt bad for him and realized he was just a few degrees further down the negative spiral than I had been the day before. Reflecting on what had made the difference for me on the second day, I realized what was different was not the crowds or the conditions (both were worse) or what I ‘gotten from the experience’, but rather what I had chosen to bring to it. I brought a vision that felt inspiring and a feeling of connection into the water and that feeling had been like a compass, guiding my whole session.
I heard myself think the words, “Wow, the feeling is the KEY.” And the moment I had this thought I looked down between my feet and noticed a small metal object protruding from the sand. I reached down and pulled it out, revealing a single metal car key. What the? I held it up and instantly realized who it belonged to. Calling out to the angry, bleeding man, I held up his key, “Is this what you’re looking for?” He hugged me and almost started crying with gratitude.
Conjuring our most Ultimate Vision
In a world where we often limit our view of the possible based on other people’s opinions and we hold our happiness and fulfillment at ransom, telling ourselves, “Once I get this, then I will feel that…” it’s powerful to consider that the end result feeling we are seeking may actually be the key to unlocking the experience itself.
When we give ourselves permission to conjure our most ultimate vision (without limiting based on what the world around us thinks is possible) and then we discover ways to generate and feel the energy of our visions before they happen, we become a natural embodiment and expression of the outcome right here and now. At this point, it’s not our job to make the waves (or decide what the Universe is capable of delivering). Our job is to follow the feeling as our compass, and be ready to paddle when the wave begins to peak!