23. Stop and Smell the Roses

“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10 (NIV)


We planted a red rose bush in our front yard when my dear mom passed away in January 2007. Anyone who knew Char was aware of her passion for the color red. That rose bush has been in full bloom on her birthday every year since. It has been a remarkable reminder to me of her spirit. Yet often, I zoom in or out of our driveway, too hurried to take notice of the latest bloom, let alone pause for a few seconds to savor the fragrant aroma. I am too stressed out for that.

Stressing Out
Growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s, I don’t think the word “stress” was in my vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong; we had our challenges. It was mostly around money. We didn’t have much! Our parents grew up during the depression and knew how to get by on nothing.

Today, my kids tell me that stress is in their DNA. It is unavoidable. I get stressed just thinking about their worries. I think we all would agree that stress is a byproduct of living in today’s world. So much seems to be out of whack. In surfing terms, life can be gnarly!

One only needs to look at our children in the school system today to see the depth of our predicament. Their challenges are earthshaking compared to what I faced at that age. How is it that grammar school students have to worry about a mass shooting at their school? (1) Middle school students today are questioning their gender identity. (2) College students are increasingly turning to suicide (3). We have a high school in our backyard that has a suicide rate that is four times higher than the national average. That is not something anyone wants to discuss, including the media.

I meet many parents and teachers from this high school at Trader Joe’s, and everything I see tells me they are doing a great job with these kids. But that does not remove the burden. The anxiety associated with living in today’s world is literally killing us.

We need a way to cope. “Slowing Down” (4) is a part of it, and having “Marathon Faith” (5) can surely help the long-term view.

But I need to get through today!

Sitting
A valuable tool for dealing with our burdensome world is learning to pay attention to the moment you are in. “Being present” is a nonjudgmental phrase allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, which Wikipedia defines as “The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment. (6)

We miss so much about ourselves in a day because of our desire for forward motion. As human beings, we are constantly striving to improve and get ahead in life. But amid our forward progress, we tend to miss what we feel in our innermost being.

“Sitting” is a simple form of being present that I often recommend to my coaching clients as a practice for learning to pause in the midst of their hectic lives. I discovered the sitting practice in my training to become a New Ventures West “Integral Coach” (7). Our instructor Steve March requested that we spend thirty minutes every day sitting for the entire year of our training. Thirty minutes a day seemed far-fetched to me. I quickly did the math to tell Steve he was crazy if he thought I had a surplus of 182 hours this year to sit!

Fast-forward one year. Sitting had become a personal highlight of the training class for me. I worked up to thirty minutes a day in quiet and found that time to be transformative in developing myself as a human being who could help others find themselves. Sitting allowed me the freedom to connect with my spiritual center while feeding my soul in the stillness. I cannot recommend it enough, even if it is for just five minutes a day.

“How wonderful it is to have a moment in time where we don’t have to be anyone.” 
Anonymous

Today I practice a daily ritual of sitting in the early morning for fifteen-plus minutes. I make a cup of green tea and then retreat into my sanctuary in the dark quiet of dawn. This time spent alone in perfect peace calms my heart for whatever God has in store for me that day. I have always felt that prayer should be a two-way conversation with God. Sitting provides me the margin to listen to what God might have to say. I come out of these sessions feeling refreshed and encouraged, with a sense of purpose around the upcoming day. The days when I have to miss my sitting practice are the days I feel the most out-of-tune with the world around me.

Sitting in the Surf
Depending on the interval and size of the waves, sitting can be a critical skill for surfing. It isn’t easy to properly position the surfboard for an incoming wave if you cannot effectively sit upright while doing the eggbeater with your legs to turn the board toward shore. I am always amused when we take a first-timer out to learn how to surf, only to realize how difficult it is for them to simply sit upright on the board in the water. I must contain my laughing out loud as they continually tip over, trying to find equilibrium on the board. Learning to sit on a surfboard can be a humbling experience.

I will admit, I am not naturally inclined to just sit on my board in the water, waiting for a wave. I get a bit anxious during a long lull between sets. If there is a wave anywhere on the beach, I am likely to paddle after it. Isn’t that the point of surfing—to catch waves? Yet, as I have grown in years, I am learning to appreciate that time seated on my board. It can be a rewarding meditative experience. In my stillness, I sense the presence of God amid His amazing creation around me.

Recently, my son Matthew and I were out at Pleasure Point (Santa Cruz) at sunset, and I experienced sitting on my board in a special way. I paddled into a space where no other surfers were around me. As I scanned the horizon to see that no waves were coming, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding sea as the sun began its disappearing act below a thin line of clouds on the horizon. The streaked cirrus clouds above me began to light up with bright orange and yellow behind the darkening blue sky.

An endless bathtub of dark magenta-colored salt water carried me into another world as I listened to sea otters cracking open their fresh seafood dinner in the distance. The lull synthesized my sense of peace and tranquility as if I was floating above it all. A seal quietly popped his head above water to greet me, just a few feet away, as if on cue. I settled into my sitting pose to soak in the unfolding experience as if I were watching a movie all around me. I did not have to be anyone. I only had to be. God was speaking to me. I was all ears.

I began to enjoy the lull and hoped it would last. I wanted to grab onto this moment and keep it forever! I had stopped to smell the roses, and it was heavenly.

“Peace” – Sitting tandem with Mark Magiera; San Onofre, July 18, 1991

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What Is Sitting?

  1. Sitting is a simple skill that involves focusing your mind on the present.
  2. Sitting is a practice of observing and discovering our true nature in the here and now.
  3. Sitting is like exercising a muscle you’ve never worked out before. It takes consistent practice to get comfortable.
  4. You do not have to believe anything to do sitting – it does not exclude any religion.

How to “Sit”:

  1. Find a quiet and private place where you can be comfortable and free from distractions.
  2. Sit in an upright posture with a straight back in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hand’s palms down on your thighs; be relaxed yet dignified.
  3. With your eyes open, let your gaze rest comfortably as you look slightly downward about six feet in front of you (you can close your eyes if there is a visual distraction).
  4. Take a few deep breaths, and feel the contact points between your body and the chair or floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting–feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibration, etc.
  5. Bring your awareness to your breath.  Do not change your breathing; begin to observe it without controlling its pace or intensity. Simply breathe naturally.
  6. Focus your attention on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly.
  7. If your mind wanders with thoughts, sensations, or emotions, gently let them come in and then release them with an exhale. Return your focus to your breath.
  8. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute to become aware of where you are. Then get up gradually.
  9. Do this for 4-5 minutes at a time to start, and then gradually increase the time as you get more comfortable. Be patient with yourself. Like any new skill, it will take practice.

————-Footnotes——–

  1. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of U.S. teens fear a shooting could happen at their school, and most parents share their concerns, 2018.
    Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/18/a-majority-of-u-s-teens-fear-a-shooting-could-happen-at-their-school-and-most-parents-share-their-concern/
  2. Gender Dysphoria in Young People: A Model of Chronic Stress, 2021.
    Source: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/520361
  3. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), Suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students in the U.S., 2021.
    Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/suicide-rates-overstated-in-people-with-depression-2330503
    Rosiek A, Rosiek-Kryszewska A, Leksowski Ł, Leksowski K., Chronic stress and suicidal thinking among medical students, 2016.
  4. See Chapter 14: Slow Down
    https://surfingforbalance.com/2022/03/23/14-slow-down/
  5. See Chapter 25: Marathon Faith (TBP)
  6. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness
  7. The focus of “Integral” Coaching (a New Ventures West trademark) is not as much about being more effective or accomplished in the world (the “what” and the “how” of life), although that often will come about.  The intent is to assess the individual and design a program that provides freedom in their being; in “who” they are in the world. I call this “developing the individual.” This process is unique to each person I coach and typically takes a minimum of 3-6 months (meeting bi-weekly) to get deeply connected to the “Integral” Coaching approach. The outcome of this process is for the client to achieve long-term excellence with an ability to self-correct along the way to stay on track for whom they want to be in life.