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What the Ocean Can Teach Us About Strength

Life is full of waves, but you have choices when it comes to how you handle them.

Learning about strength from ocean waves
Credit: Getty Images

The ocean is full of stories, lessons, power and mysteries. Among the most compelling, for me, is the notion of waves.

If you are able to spend time at a beach this summer and go for a swim, you’ll find yourself facing a number of choices when those inevitable waves arrive. The options reflect our decision-making powers in life when challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, are often described as coming in “waves.” 

How do you face them? You could try one of these four possible responses:

1)  Seek Out Calm Waters
Beyond the breakers, the ocean slows and calms—and so can you. The sea will never be completely still, but the ups and downs of the waves are far less dramatic just a few feet beyond the point where the waves tip and crash. There, the ocean almost feels like it’s breathing. As you bob up and down, you can breathe with it. Of course, you have to be a strong enough swimmer to support yourself in deeper water—a reminder that calm waters don’t just offer themselves to you. You must seek them out and maintain the strength to sustain your peaceful buoyancy.

2)  Get Knocked Over—and Come Up Laughing
I’ve taught my 9-year-old son the same beach safety rule my mother taught me: If you get knocked over by a wave, find the sandy bottom with your feet so you can push off and break through the water’s surface. A healthy fear of the ocean is a good thing, but when you swim in safe conditions, experience the joy of getting knocked down and finding your way back up again. You may learn something that will help you navigate the next wave. Or, you may simply realize that you can handle waves that are momentarily just a little bit stronger than you

3)  Stand Up to the Crashing Surf
Waves will eventually crash, it’s just what they do. Embody your inner strength by standing right in that moment, steeling yourself to resist the impact. Let the surf slurp your feet into the sand with each passing wave; feel how much your legs and core muscles offer support, no matter what swirls around you. You can’t control the sea, but you can place yourself strongly within it.

4)  Ride the Waves
Being at the beach is an opportunity to turn your back on life, so to speak. Facing the vastness of the sea from the shoreline, confront what’s coming and reflect on what’s behind. Just as powerful, though, is to enter the water, turn landward and ride the waves toward the shore. That same sort of wave that may have knocked you down, that you worked to paddle past or that you steeled yourself against, can now become the momentum that carries you forward. Set aside the resistance of confrontation and radically accept the help of each wave as it comes. Where will it carry you? And the next wave? And the next?

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