Allegory of the Wave

January 12, 2016 5:54 am Published by 5 Comments

Allegory of the Wave
This short piece’s title is inspired by the great Plato’s fable the Allegory of the Cave. Which is a philosophical work about the nature of mankind and how we continue to return to things that harm us. For those curious minds who don’t know of this allegory and would like to learn something new about our own species I encourage you to do some research on this topic.

This piece, unlike Plato’s work is not so much a story about mankind but more of a spiritual allegory told from the perspective of a surfer.

Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure to dive headfirst into unseasonably warm water on a record breaking warm day in January (Air temp: 63°F, water: 45°F – that’s about 17°C and 7°C respectively for the most of the rest of the world). The waves were perfect! Wind was slow, sun was beaming warming my wetsuit to the point of almost overheating! It was a good combination of cool water vs. warm air.

I often tell people that the waves are my “church” and I don’t think most people quite understand what I’m talking about. I had a spiritual epiphany yesterday as a wave of about 6 or 7 feet tall started to approach me as my body was acclimating to the frigid water shortly after I took my first head first plunge under a smaller wave. I pushed the nose of my long board into the crest of the smaller wave as the icy cool water filled the back of my wetsuit sending waves of chills down my spine. As I resurfaced from this 4 or 5 foot wave, still laying on my board trying to maintain composure to battle whatever mother ocean could throw at me next. My breath began to speed up as my body temperature took a huge swing from being dry and warm inside my previously arid suit. My bare face emerges from the what seems to be freezing water. My eyes open only to be greeted by an even bigger wave looking to be a foot taller than my 6’2” self. I’m too far in and I have no choice but to either bail and risk loosing ground and have my board drag me all the way back into the beach or paddle my ass off and hope the nose of my board can pierce the crest of the wave and perform a risky duck dive again. I choose the latter and try to forget about the icy water making its way to my chest and arms causing my biceps to cramp up. I paddle as if my life is in danger. My heart rate is pumping, adrenaline at an all-time high, necessary muscles are tensing up from shock of the cold and my quick breath becomes almost hyperventilation. Just as this relatively large crest approaches me I try to curb the anxiety and shortness of breath and take a huge breath filling my lungs with what could possibly be 30 some seconds of submerged fear, like being tossed in an icy over sized washer machine not knowing which way is up and no way to refuel my already taxed lungs with oxygen.

As I hold my breath, push the nose of my board into this powerful force of wave with all the strength I have left in my limber arms, my face is once again exposed to this chilling water, eyes closed my heart rate increases pounding to the point that I can feel my pulse in my ears and it’s all I can hear… I somehow manage to coast under the wave grasping the rails of my board with both hands and emerge to delightfully find myself it a perfect position to relax for a few seconds, catch my breath, slow my heart rate and attempt to warm my hands. I take several deep breaths in an attempt to relax my body from the trauma that it just endured. Now I’m outside. (for those non-surfers reading this, outside just means past the breakers and in position for a good ride)

I didn’t catch any waves this day but I had this same situation that I just described above happen a few times more as the rip current was strong attempting to push me back inside the break zone. Surfing isn’t all about riding waves, of course us surfers prefer a day where we are riding on top of them rather than battling the rip and washer machine effect. But, the allegory comes in when I give some thought about all the waves of life on land. The hardships, the grieving of a dear late brother, son and best friend, the loss of employment that so many of us have endured, the realization that those who thought were your protectors your whole life were indeed sugar coating things only to find that sugar was a lie and now your world is in the state of washer machine mode, on the heavy cycle!

Regardless of the magnitude of the wave or hardship in your life, you’re usually presented with a choice at some point. You can either let the anxiety get the best of you allowing your body to go into complete shock, hyperventilate and not be able to take that much needed gasp for air that could potentially be your last. Or you can remain calm take a deep breath and deal with the imminent wave that life is throwing at you head on and increase your risk for survival. If you choose to take your challenge head on it’s only then that you’re set up for a chance to be in control of an even bigger wave that’s approaching you. Only this time instead of diving or bailing, you’re using every ounce of energy in your depleted body to tell this wave that it’s not in control of you!

I’m now on top of this massive wave enjoying the warmth of the sun standing on this challenge of life coasting into the future and back onto stable ground.

-Joseph Sheehan

I’d like to invite you to participate in a discussion. I’d encourage you to share your biggest wave and how you dealt with it. This could be a literal or figurative wave of life. I want to know did you bail, push through or turn around and ride it into stability? If you end up sharing feel free to leave your present location if you wish. I’d like to hear from people all over the world as I’m learning different cultures and people have different ways of dealing with “waves”. Please note that I monitor the posts to avoid spam bots. I don’t censor anyones thoughts or ideas. As long as you’re being respectful to others I’d love to hear your point of view. You don’t even need to use your real name when your posting if you don’t want to. You do need to use a real email address but it won’t be published for anyone to see. Thank you for taking the time to read this, again I’d love to hear about your biggest “wave” or even set of “waves” because they usually come in threes.

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  • Lawry says:

    I like to think I am not the only surfer out there today. Not only will they be looking out for me, but I’ll be looking out for them, too!
    If I’m under for a bit too long, I know I’ll feel a hand grab my arm, and drag me up for that desperate gasp of air. I need community! I fight against exclusion, at many levels, and always will!

    • Joseph Sheehan says:

      It’s nice to hear such a positive outlook on this topic. A lot of times I do feel like I’m the only one out in the water cause often times I am, as far as I can see. But it’s true that there are other people out in the ocean fighting and conquering similar waves all over the globe, often bigger than mine! Nice perspective and thanks for adding to the allegory! Anyone else out in the deep waters?

  • fiona hollowell says:

    Beautiful, Joe.
    Breath really is the essence of life.
    I was near death when in the ER, 6 months pregnant. I was waiting on medication to thin my blood so I didn’t throw a clot to my lungs. I felt panic set in as my body swelled up. All the doctors and nurses rushed away to help a man in cardiac arrest. I could hear moans and groans from other patients as our needs were put on hold to save this man. Everyone was panicking. My body felt helpless as my spirit came alive, and I chanted.
    “Earth my body, Water my blood, Air my breath and Fire my Spirit” over and over. My breath became a rhythm and after awhile, I was calm. The other patients in the ER who needed attention became calm listening to the chanting. From then on, I remember the healing power of rhythm and the essential breath of life.

    • Joseph Sheehan says:

      Thank’s for sharing Fi! I remember that, that was a scary time. But look at your son now, such a wonderful free spirit with a passion for life and success. I’d say you ducked a few large waves and rode one massive one into stability! Love you!

  • Diane says:

    know that wave feeling and the warmth and cold ……..usually reflect on the past and then remember to move forward ….and there is always something that sparks a memory or smile to make yourself move forward …..scarey stuff …but learn to make the best of it and learn from it ……..this Joe has made me realize how many people have such a roller coaster ride and can never pass judgement on someone because you have no idea what they are going thru …….best lesson learned and the best tool to use when the wave arises 🙂

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