The essay below needs a short introduction …
At the beginning of 2010, I was fully immersed in the campaign Let’s clean Slovenia in One Day! I missed my writing! But what should I write about? There was nothing else on my mind but waste, trash, rubbish … and I worked morning to evening with our amazing team of committed volunteers to unite the whole country for the spring cleanup.
As much as I missed my writing I missed windsurfing, so why not write about that? That’s what I did. I even sent the essay to the Best Slovenian Essay competition. You never know …
On 17 April 2010, the one-day national cleanup took place and united 13.5% of the population of Slovenia, or more than 270,000 people. That was some celebration! Later, we received the Order of Merit. There’s even a documentary about the cleanup.
And then, just a few days later I received the best essay award.
Below is that very essay, 10 years later in my own English translation. I’m sorry my English is not as good as my Slovene, but this is the best I can do. I adapted the essay slightly for the blog and I hope you’ll enjoy it. If you want to read more when you’re done with the essay, feel free to order my book Human: Instructions for Use!
It’s early morning. Far behind the horizon, the sun is still finding its way between the stars. The lake of blood in the East is growing as if it wanted to swallow the remaining sparks and flood the sky. It will seem invincible until bright blue conquers it from the other side.
Fresh gusts of bora wind are blasting into my cheeks. Dim lights in a few cars parked by the coast signal we’ll soon be assembling our sails. I know I’ll be among the first on the water. My yearning will transform into a quiet tension and then into bliss. There’s nothing more joyful than greeting the sunrise while gliding down a wavy sea when such a beautiful day is dawning.
In Slovenia, we call ourselves surfers, even though we’re really windsurfers. Elsewhere, this might cause confusion, since the term “surfing” is reserved for riding the waves without a sail but in our small Adriatic sea we don’t have much competition. There are no waves without the wind. Luckily, kitesurfers are happy to “kite”, so we can have the “surfing” all for ourselves.
In my country, Slovenia, wave-surfers are rare. To surf without a sail you need an ocean, some patience and, in radical conditions, you need some balls too. If the conditions are not radical and the waves are smaller than a meter, then the sport is simply boring. I watched the boys swimming, swimming … waiting, waiting … trying to catch a wave, failing … swimming again … waiting … trying again—nothing … swimming, waiting … finally a good wave! Seven seconds of bliss! And then again swimming, waiting … In half an hour a decent surfer stood on the board a total of forty-two seconds! I don’t miss such surfing in Slovenia. For windsurfing, on the other hand, you can manage even on a pond.
Windsurfing has changed over time. Sailing on large, cumbersome boards in the late 1970s and early 1980s was followed by surfing or gliding on the surface with a board that’s slightly longer than two meters and weighing less than seven kilograms. Today, surfers are zooming at speeds reaching, even in recreational surfing, as much as 50 km/h. An expert with the right equipment and in the right conditions can reach 80 km/h, or more than 40 knots.
From the waves’ tips, the pros are jumping ten meters high, performing stunning tricks, leaving their audience stunned. Whenever strong winds come blasting down the coast in the summer, this attracts hundreds of surfers, especially on weekends.
In Slovenia, we don’t have sandy beaches and big waves. We don’t have constant summer thermal winds. Our surfing opportunities are mostly determined by the Northeast and Southeast winds. In the summer, there are thermic Western wind and the repertoire wraps up with the morning thermic wind in Barcole near Trieste and Preluka near Rijeka.
Although Barcole is in Italy and Preluka in Croatia, they are so close we almost consider them ours … I should stress that I’m not expressing any land-grabbing tendencies, I’m merely accounting for the number of Slovenian license plates on the parking lot whenever the good wind is forecasted.
To enjoy more than thirty days of good windsurfing a year, you have no choice but to go abroad. You may choose to visit windsurf paradise islands, such as Hawaii, Karpathos, Fuerteventura, etc. or any of the thousands of windy beaches on Earth. It’s worth going for a few such trips since a period of regular practice in the reliable daily wind brings confidence. You begin to trust the sea and the wind. You can call them friends. After such an experience, even small one-day surfing excursions (even in Slovenia) become more profound.
The depth of experience is a major magnet that has led many to stick to this fairly expensive and challenging sport with many unpredictable factors. The price for a new board, with a good discount, is more than 1000€, and the full “rig” (the sail, mast, and boom) is another 1000€ or more. To cover diverse conditions you need two boards and three, four or more sails. No wonder many of us prefer buying used gear.
Then you need to bring all that gear to a “spot”, as we call a point at the coast with good access to the sea or lake and the wind. You have to spend half an hour assembling the gear and, after windsurfing, another half an hour disassembling it. All that for a few hours of joy—hopefully.
Hopefully, because it’s impossible to forecast the wind with full certainty. On a day with a fantastic forecast, you may end up standing on the shore scratching your chin, while on other occasions you may unexpectedly catch the fantastic wind, even though it hasn’t been forecasted. Such cases call for mystic’s trans-sensitivity and philosopher’s trans-temporality.
That wraps up the tedious technical details (a necessary evil for anyone using any technical equipment) and the immersion into quenching the silent yearning can begin. Given that philosophy and mysticism are my passions, surfing unveils to me their layers that remain inaccessible without the burning fervor and the surrender to the present moment. Windsurfing isn’t my lifestyle, my image or my business. My car isn’t covered with stickers, I don’t wear branded shorts, I don’t identify with “wave”, “slalom”, or “freestyle” surfing.
What I share with other surfers is the joy of zooming across the water, playing with the waves, sometimes leaping into the air, leaving the surface for a second or two and breathing in the silence. It’s joyful to feel insecurity on all sides, being forced to dance with it and take out of it something indescribably beautiful. Poetry is born on the line where the sharp edge of the board displaces the liquid darkness and turns it into a pearly foam.
No meditation comes close to what you experience under the scattered clouds in your quantum reality, as your heels obey the soft sea while your palms harness the wind. Just you—without any engines, with hardly anything underneath your feet, just a thin board and an even thinner sail—alone. Modern technology can be romantic and even sacred.
Someone once said that prayer is an address to God, and meditation is listening to God’s answer. There’s both in surfing, as the trans-sensitive and trans-temporal, mysticism and philosophy, converge sometimes in a verse and sometimes in a scream. You merge with the infinity of the present moment, you stop to think, you connect with the wondrous skill of the water strider, your instincts drive you down the sharp edge of a blade, which separates—and simultaneously connects—emptiness and fullness.
I often observe windsurfers on the coast as they’re waiting for the wind. Meditation, attention, awareness … without a prayer on their lips, but with a divine heartbeat. There’s no peace when there’s no wind; there’s mystical yearning. There might be rest, maybe even dreaming, but by no means shallow sleep. In the absence of wind, there is the beauty of hope and the confidence your wishes will be fulfilled. The quiet hunger stirs the spirit. When surfers see the signs of wind, they hear the words of God. They listen and look forward to them. Their heartbeats pick up the pace, tuning in with the intensity of nature’s forces everywhere around.
A compressed spring is only seemingly calm. When the pin is removed, you realize it was just waiting to be unleashed as it begins rocking back and forth. That’s surfing! A strike of yearning and then diving into: back and forth, back and forth … A bit to the left, a bit to the right. Jump! Back and forth, back and forth. It’s like a dance: a step to the front, a step to the back, each time the same, but each time different. It can be boring to watch always the same moves but never if you are a dancer; to dance and dance, free of thoughts, free of expectations, is insanely beautiful.
The source of this pleasure is the same as with all pleasures in this world. You enjoy what you control. Control is the common denominator of any enjoyment. Think of tennis. You enjoy hitting the ball so it lands exactly where you wanted it to land. The same applies to all ball games: football, basketball, snooker … What about other sports? Skiing, skating, horse-riding, paragliding, martial arts, gymnastics … again, the pleasure comes from control. It is no different at a business meeting: you convince everyone at the table your proposal is the best, they’re nodding, reaching out to shake your hand; that gives you pleasure, right? Control brings pleasure.
You cooked an incredible lunch, you nailed it with all the spices, and you hear people sighing with content around the table. The biggest pleasure comes from pleasing many, not only yourself, and when you don’t overdo it. Lasting pleasure comes from moderation, not from extreme indulgence, just as pleasant heat comes from well-controlled combustion, not from an explosion. If you’re aware of what you need and what you’re capable of, you can maintain control within healthy boundaries and be really joyful.
What happens when you attempt to control something excessively, forcefully, stubbornly, without surrender? Catastrophe! You miss the basket, you scamper your business partners, you burn the lunch. Well, maybe you don’t miss the basket, you manage to pull the business contract through and save the lunch, but you’re deprived of pleasure. The control is blissful only if you surrender to the forces of the present moment and tune your efforts with the rhythm of waves of the universe. The more spontaneously you do this, the more elegantly the world dances along as you choose to guide it. Full control is never just yours. As you take control you have to release it, if you want it to cooperate with you.
If you’ve never been taught this lesson before, step on a windsurf board, raise the sail and move five meters, mere two lengths of the board. And in the right direction, to be clear!
It’s easy to spot a control-freak on the board. He grabs the uphaul line, pulls the sail from the water, and falls on his back. He climbs the board again and falls on his belly. He’s angry, he swears! He pulls himself together, grabs the line again, raises the sail, tries to align it, but the sail doesn’t obey him … and he falls again.
He persists. He’s determined to prove to all the spectators on the beach he can tame this stubborn plastic horse … However, the only thing he ends up proving is that he’s a master of vanity. That night he’ll sleep deeper than ever, bleeding palms stuck under his armpits, shoulders burnt by the sun, muscles sore. Humbled and defeated, because he hasn’t been able to drop control.
The next day he will, quietly and not too obviously, being curious but not completely modest, ask the neighbor to show him how he’s doing it. The boy will gladly agree, and within half an hour the control-freak will have sailed his first five meters. Before he truly surrenders, a few summers might pass, but then, finally, one day he will marry control with surrender and get to know the mystical joy of windsurfing. Some people can’t do this. Whatever they grab, they can’t let go of even for a moment. They don’t trust and therefore don’t enjoy themselves. Such people normally don’t do windsurfing. Or at least they don’t do it for long.
Joy is like chocolate. Squeeze it between your palms for too long, and it will melt, squash and stick between your fingers. There is no pleasure in squeezing chocolate with your hands. You have to release the pleasure, allow it to melt and disappear somewhere else: you put the chocolate in your mouth, close your eyes, press it with your tongue against your palate, and relax so that the taste reaches just about every taste bud. You step on the surfboard, raise the sail, feel all the elements, harness (control) them and surrender to them a moment later. To truly surrender when you stand on the surf, you have to be able to surrender in general.
To best blend control and surrender, five factors must work as one—wind, water, the board, the sail, and yourself. None of these factors is fixed, none is stable, there’s nothing to fully hold on to. Balance happens in a relaxed agreement between all the elements. That’s the same as in the university of life because in life itself nothing is fixed, you have to keep holding balance with everything that’s moving around you constantly like waves in the ocean.
You have to choose the right equipment for every situation, rig the sail properly, distribute your weight on the board, control the gliding across the waves with subtle movements of your body and relax. You have to decide instantaneously when to accelerate, when to slow down, when to jump, when to stop, when to turn around and when to finish.
To achieve this, you need to stop controlling your windsurfing equipment and start controlling yourself; but most of all, you have to stop thinking you can control life. The world is too big to obey your little self. The paradox of the climax of control, which brings the ultimate enjoyment, is that that’s when control disappears. When you learn contact improvisation dance one person leads, the other follows, later on, they alternate, but over time the boundary between the one who leads and the one who follows is completely blurred. No one leads, no one follows, the dance just happens.
Being a master of control means being a master of surrender, moving together with nature inconspicuously. Some people learn oneness with the entire existence in a Taoist monastery, some learn it from hermit yogis in the Himalayas, some in the solitude of prayer, and some with the force of the sea under their feet and the power of the wind in their palms. Awareness in such circumstances makes one a philosopher and a mystic even without learning about it from anyone.
I’ve heard people say that philosophy died in the twentieth century. I think only the philosophers died out. Philosophy stays alive as long as it keeps transcending, never stopping, constantly being open and staring towards the stars, wondering, boldly confiding in fate. The root of the problem with today’s “philosophy” is that when you create a system (a philosophy), transcending tends to disappear and thus the philosophy dies. Another philosopher notices this, creates a new system (presumably, to transcend the old one), but the new system dies as soon as it’s established … then a new philosopher sees this, etc. The game becomes boring and we stop playing it. Whoever comes from outside this game can’t be a philosopher, even though her or his entire life is pure transcending.
A full commitment to transcending is scary. One of the greatest martial arts geniuses of the last century has received countless criticisms for being too committed to transcending—even, outrageously, transcending tradition! Bruce Lee, a master of dozens of martial arts and a follower of none, once said, “If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
These are the philosopher’s and mystic’s words, precisely because they can’t be framed. Bruce Lee exuded a spirit of perfection and because perfection was unattainable, he had to move on, transcend, grow … “I will not allow myself to indulge in the usual manipulating game of role creation. Fortunately for me, my self-knowledge has transcended that and I have come to understand that life is best to be lived and not to be conceptualized. I am happy because I am growing daily and I am honestly not knowing where the limit lies.”
Concepts, rules, curricula, traditions … you follow them because you feel safe within their order. You must always keep yourself within the limits of rigid logic and thought ethics. That’s how philosophers get programmed. Educated philosophers won’t come up with new revolutionary philosophies. They have learned to repeat, not to think; they know how to line wagon after wagon in an infinite composition of “dialectical thought”. If at the Global Philosophy train station someone comes up with an idea to establish a bus as a philosophy, a locomotive will knock it off the rails, take off its tires and settle it in the right rail of thinking.
You’re supposed to blindly respect the wagons, to behave and think like them. Common logic conflicts with common sense. Imagine not knowing how a baby is born and having to figure out who your mother was. You might think along these lines: “The one that beats me can’t be my mother. Neither the one that yells at me. Nor the one that’s not appealing … She can only be a good, beautiful woman.” What if both of these women end up in one personality? Can that be your mother too? Or is your mother only the half you like? Perhaps this is not even your mother, maybe you were adopted without her revealing it to you. Taking a DNA test, you can find out who your biological mother is, but precise female biology doesn’t qualify her to be a mother if she had never behaved like one. How do we define a mother, really? By genes or by actions?
If you transfer such reasoning to philosophical thought, you will see how well-established social patterns can lock you in the blind following of empty phrases. You may discuss them with the seriousness of a pundit, while life silently passes by. Oh God, how easily we get stranded on insignificant issues! If you expanded your thinking too much, you would suddenly feel lost in space, lacking courage and confidence. When you keep yourself within the rails of what’s expected of you, you get a sense that the world is in control. Your mother is the person who gave birth to you and none other; you don’t want to transcend the roles in the game, played by everyone else around you. You can’t think because you don’t live.
That’s why I am so fascinated with windsurfing. No rails, no predictability. I don’t have to follow anyone, I don’t have to please, serve, and answer to anyone. I ask myself my own questions, there’s no wrong answer, there’s only a dance in which no one leads and no one follows. From beneath the sharp edge of my board, tiny drops of white ideas flutter. I watch these ideas, I listen to them knowing perfectly well that I’m at the most prestigious university in the world where the only lesson is joy.
The graduates at this university enjoy themselves everywhere because that’s what they know best. Before teaching children to write, count, memorize and abide by rules, we should teach them how to enjoy themselves. Without the ability to enjoy yourself, it’s difficult to know what’s good and what’s bad, what’s worth the effort and what’s not, when to follow and when not. If you don’t know how to enjoy, you won’t bother to put an effort.
Mastery of control is also mastery of joy, which means enjoying experience when it’s available and also when it’s not. The ultimate pleasure doesn’t lie within the word “yes” but within the word “no”, uttered with a calm grin. When an impulse arises, I can reject it because I don’t need it to be joyful. I carry the surfing inside myself. I can sit at the computer, sliding with my fingers down the keyboard, feeling the touch of the surfboard, holding the sail with my eyes, feeling the wind of my thoughts, and the cursor’s moves on the screen are the surfing I like so much. I can surf while preparing lunch, doing the dishes, gazing at clouds. Although I surf, I’m not a surfer, I’m a philosopher and a mystic.
There’s no limit to my experience. I don’t only enjoy the control while zooming up and down the waves, I also enjoy the scenery, the warmth of the sun, the cold of the wind, and my commitment to the moment. It seems that I’ve become infected by this throughout the years of relishing surfing experiences and pleasures with a big spoon—to the point where I can calmly say “yes” or “no” to all this, control it in a poetic agreement with everything that takes place around me.
Such control is a great source of joy. It includes the ability to say “stop” when the time is right: either when the experience rounds up or when some signals in any of the five key elements let you know that the favorable conditions are coming to an end. At that moment you say thank you for all the available pleasure, sail to shore and put away your gear. Your joy is pristine when you’re able to control the control and take from what you’ve got exactly what’s your due. In Slovenia, there’s a saying, “When you’re having the best time, that’s the time to stop.”
As I’m driving home after a wonderful windsurfing day, a red ball of sun follows me above the sea on the western side of Istria. It’s slowly sinking into the surface, the lake of blood around it swallowing the blue heaven above. The redness will seem invincible until the black night strikes from the other side. In my ears I carry the rustling of the waves, mingling with the engine’s buzz, while vibrations under my feet wash away the freshness of the sea. I got what’s my due, I say to myself, and quietly repeat a quote I memorized long ago, attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “A seashell everyone may take, but not the sea.”