Life means change, and change means growth, which is part of the natural order of things. When change comes into your life—especially great change—you can be sure you’re being given a chance to grow. But what if that change turns your life upside down? What if you feel as though you got trapped on a roller coaster and all you can do is hang on for dear life? When those times come, you can be certain of one thing: There’s something you’re ready to learn, and whatever it is, it’s probably important. At least that’s how it has been for me.
So what can we do when tough times come? As Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., writes in Wherever You Go, There You Are (Hyperian, 1994), “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf.” That means there’s something we can do that will make it easier to keep afloat. There’s a way to rise above—perhaps even transcend—the challenge that seems so overwhelming.
What follows are a handful of suggestions designed to help you learn to ride the waves.
Surfing Lesson No. 1: Let Life Lead You
Sometimes turbulence is necessary. It moves us into the next chapter of our lives where more growth is imminent, so don’t be afraid of what life brings. Take it, use it, and let it teach you. Let it help you find the path that’s waiting for you.
Author Byron Katie says problems are possible only when we believe what we’re thinking. If she is right, then you don’t have to believe every self-limiting thought that comes into your head! If an idea floats into your mind that you aren’t sure about or that you don’t like, ask yourself how you would feel if the thought wasn’t true. Is this something you want to believe about yourself or not? You can always choose thoughts more to your liking.
A different thought or perspective can change the context of a situation entirely. What we once thought was a problem can turn into an opportunity or even a great blessing. It’s all in how we view it and in what we choose to believe.
Surfing Lesson No. 2: Trust the Higher Will
The great East Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi tells us, “If one is firm in the belief that a Higher Power guides us, there need not be any concern about what happens.” What a wonderful promise! This means we can let go of how we think things should be so we can be open to the Universe’s plan for us. Rather than trying to be in control, we can let the river of life take us where we are meant to go! This brings trust into play—trust in the higher will and the infinite wisdom that is always seeking to guide us.
Consciously aligning yourself with that higher will makes all the difference. We can’t see the whole picture anyway. What we really want and what we really need are already ordained. All we have to do is get out of the way so life can lead us. Working in tandem with that higher will opens you to unimaginable creative power and brings the best possible results.
Surfing Lesson No. 3: Let Go
It is only natural to want to be in control, but the truth is that we are never in control—not completely. Trying to control everything in your life is like trying to control the wind. It consumes a lot of energy and depletes your system.
Whether we know it or not, this moment is exactly as it should be. There is order in the chaos. There is purpose behind the upheaval. There is an infinite organizing power that continually creates beauty out of dissolution and peace out of discord.
When life gets hectic, see if you can let go of how you want your life to be and accept how it is. That often is one of our greatest lessons, but it also holds the potential to be one of our greatest blessings. Make peace with the fact that it just isn’t going to be possible to have it all or do it all during this one lifetime. Slow down and enjoy the gifts each moment brings, knowing that you truly lack nothing.
Surfing Lesson No. 4: B-r-e-a-t-h-e!
Breathe deeply. Breathe slowly. Every cell in your body is dependent on oxygen. When we are stressed or agitated, we tend to take more rapid and shallow breaths. Slow, deep breathing not only gives your body more oxygen, it also strengthens the lungs and increases your stamina. Pay attention to your breath whenever you are feeling stressed. Watching your breath keeps your attention in the present moment and releases stress.
Avoid multitasking so you can enjoy what you are doing without depleting your energy and stressing your system. Whenever you feel you don’t have enough time, stop and breathe. Pressure of any kind is always self-imposed. To quote Sri Ramana Maharshi again: “Breath control is the means for mind control.”
Surfing Lesson No. 5: Be Kind to Yourself
Nurture yourself in every way you can. Make time for yourself. Do something just for you. Go for a leisurely walk. Smell a flower. Read a book. Being kind to yourself will go a long way toward easing any anxiety you might be feeling.
Learn to love and accept yourself, and others too. We’re all doing the best we can at any given moment. Blessing others and wishing them well opens our own heart and makes it easier for us to love each other, faults and all. After all, everything can be understood and forgiven. Let love be your motive, your bottom line, regardless of the situation. If you find that difficult, put some effort into discovering why and work toward a resolution.
Surfing Lesson No. 6: Be Lighthearted
When we truly love, we give and receive freely. There is always enough, so have an abundant spirit. Learn to see abundance everywhere. Keep your heart light. Fill your days with gratitude and smile more often.
Laughter is the best tonic, so laugh every chance you get. Ten minutes of hearty laughter is as beneficial as 30 minutes of aerobic activity. Laughter provides deep relief mentally, emotionally, and physically. It reduces stress and lifts your spirit, making it easier for your body to restore and renew itself. Laughter also strengthens the immune system and improves blood circulation. It even helps reduce age-related illnesses!
Laughter therapists say we should start and end our days with laughter. One suggestion is to laugh for five minutes before getting out of bed in the morning and again at the end of the day. You’ll be surprised at the difference adding laughter can make in your life.
Surfing Lesson No. 7: Be Still
Prayer is when we talk to God. Meditation is when we listen. A good diet, appropriate exercise, and adequate rest are all important, but meditation is the single-most important action you can take to restore balance and harmony in your body and in your life. Meditate every day!
Meditation can be your anchor, your safe haven, your balance point. When we meditate, we rest in the eternality of our spirit where there is no time, where all things happen exactly as they are supposed to.
Meditation connects you to the part of you that is always at peace, that is never afraid, and that is never sick—your soul. When you are anchored in that sacred center, a new perspective opens to you, one that allows you to see beyond any challenge to the growth and to the blessings that must inevitably follow.
Challenge is a part of life, but no matter how difficult something may seem, there is always a way. Your trials, your conflicts, and your challenges can empower you and awaken something within you that has been waiting to bloom, so trust the divine love that is guiding you. That love supports you, whether you see it or not, sustaining you even in the roughest waters.