Under the Waves

Have you ever tried bodysurfing?

It’s not easy. The first thing you have to do is observe from the shore. Try to figure out where the waves are forming and where they begin to break. Swim out to that area. If you look around and see waves breaking around you, you have to swim (or wade) a bit further out. 

Next step: Wait for the right wave. This might take some experience before you get it right. If a wave builds up fast and high as it approaches and you think it may be too powerful for you, duck down or resist it before it’s too late. If it seems too weak to take you to the shore, just let it pass. 

When the right wave comes (no more than 4 feet for beginners), start to swim as fast as you can; paddle hard and kick with all your strength! If you are at a shallow beach and you can reach the sand, use your feet to launch yourself forwards. Make sure to keep your head high. Keep gaining speed until the wave starts to swell up under you. As soon as it starts to break, take one last deep breath, and then soar! Make sure to keep your body tense. The power of the wave will propel you forwards until you reach the shore! 

That’s what will happen if everything goes well. 

If, however, a powerful wave comes and you start swimming hard, but then get discouraged or too tired to continue, if you fail to keep your muscles tense and are overtaken by the wave, things will start to go wrong. The same wave that could have taken you (almost) effortlessly to the shore will shove you downwards onto the sand. A powerful uprush and then backwash of water and sand will suck you underwater as the wave breaks over your head. It’s called “undertow.” If the undertow is powerful enough, it can drag you underwater almost all the way to the shore. Needless to say, it’s not at all a pleasant experience. You are repeatedly shoved forwards and downwards onto the sand, and as you attempt to reach the surface and gasp for air, all you manage to inhale is saltwater. 

So what’s the difference between bodysurfing and getting stuck in the undertow? The difference is who’s or what’s in control. It’s kind of like our passions. Joy, love, sadness, anger, hope, fear… Passions are beautiful and powerful interior waves you have to learn to surf—or duck down to let them pass. They can help propel you towards your goal if you know how to educate and moderate them. But if you get caught in their undertow, the results can be spiritually deadly.

If your passions move you towards what you know is evil, clearly you must resist. However, if you try to duck down and let every wave pass by, if you so fear your passions that you reject them, you are despising precious gifts the Lord is giving you. Use your feelings of joy to give thanks to God. Before grave injustices, it’s healthy to experience anger, and that passion can help you fight against injustice. Sadness due to the absence of loved ones can move you to appreciate them when they are present.

So whether or not you’re interested in trying to bodysurf, everyone has to passionsurf. As mentioned in the beginning of the article, if you’re not sure how to start, try observing from the shore. Take a step back from your life and ask yourself, “What role do my passions, my feelings, play in my life? Who or what is really in control?” And don’t forget to consult an expert passionsurfer (spiritual director) if you have doubts.