When I’m particularly overwhelmed or drowning in negative emotions, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and remind myself that life is like an ocean.
Like the ocean, life is a vast, mysterious, unpredictable force much bigger than any one person. Sometimes it’s beautiful and freeing and joyous. Other times, it’s terrifying and rough and unrelenting. Yet, life is in constant motion, forever moving and changing.
I often ask my clients to imagine their challenges as waves and themselves – with all of their emotions – as driftwood, ebbing and flowing amidst the gravity of life’s uncertainty. Although many clients describe feeling as though they’re constantly being pulled by a force not of their own making, I remind them that the beautiful thing about driftwood is its natural ability to stay afloat.
The truth is, no human can control life any more than we are able to control the ocean’s tides. But, as I always emphasize to my clients, lack of control does not equal lack of power. The wave might be strong, but so are we. We have choice, and choice is power in motion.
So, how do we choose to prioritize our mental health and improve our quality of life?
We start by humbly acknowledging the vastness of the ocean and the magnitude of life. We start by accepting that no human is meant to avoid negative emotions and painful experiences, no matter how hard we may try. And then we make the choice to relinquish the false sense of control weighing us down, which ultimately frees us from the unrealistic expectations, self-imposed limitations, and disappointment in which we often find ourselves drowning.
Finally, we can breathe again, because we recognize that no amount of obsessing or micromanaging or worrying can change an outcome that was never ours to decide. The wave no longer serves as the perceived determinant of our emotions, and, despite whatever chaos may be unfolding, we are able to remain calm and centered.
In essence, we need to train our minds to ride our emotions the way a surfer rides a wave.
We enter the ocean alert and aware. We understand that not every wave will be to our liking and that we may get knocked down and bruised in the process. Still, we remain patient, persistent, and determined to get back up and try again in the pursuit of our goals.
When we feel the waves of change coming, we actively approach them with a sense of curiosity. We may be excited, tentative, anxious, or scared, but we never run away from uncertainty or cower in fear. We paddle forward in confidence. Not with false ideas that it will be an easy wave to catch or an incredible ride, but with the calming assurance that we already have and will continue to acquire the necessary skills to adapt to any and every circumstance that life throws our way.
And when we courageously and triumphantly rise, we glide on the comfort of knowing that every feeling, good or bad, is fleeting, and the best we can do is make the conscious choice to go along for the ride.