The Joy of Daring

Photo by Elle Hughes from Pexels
No matter what sport or activity you enjoy, or how much you concern yourself with exercise as a part of health, daring, itself, is a big part of health today.  I spend some time on this blog worrying about whether health policy writers are being honest when they give out advice, and whether they are just mistaken about some things (listen to the near-panic in the tone of the last paragraph in this article).  I occasionally buck the mainstream advice because I think we can do better.  So as part of that, I'll attempt to show that self-challenge, and confidence building is just as much part of your health, as remembering to eat your greens and drink water every day.


So let's think about that.  What do people often do when they commit to health?  They train for a 5k race, or even a marathon, right?  Or they do as this body-positive athlete does and train for an Ironman competition.  Though she obviously isn't doing that to "lose weight" I think it's daring for sure.  Having a "stretch goal" is motivating and creates a natural accountability process.  This kind of goal is not the kind where someone else judges you, it's you against your ability to withstand the elements or the stresses of the challenge.  It pits your will against the vagaries of fate.

I admire many kinds of athletes, especially extreme athletes.  But today's Google doodle  reminded me of the surfers in particular.  Yeah I know, you just pictured some wavy-haired white guy with a good tan, right?  Natch.  But the very first widely admired surfing movie from 1966, showed a group of athletic surfers traveling in The Endless Summer (1966), and their first stop was Africa.  (Note, that particular video will probably be removed by YouTube eventually, but the movie is widely available.)

Eddie Aikau, the subject of today's Google Doodle, was a person of superlative daring and compassion.

Since the classical days of surfing, women have become big wave riders, and women of color have exemplified what I consider to be the soul of surfing.  When you try your luck against the elements, it's not about your skin color, or about your culture.  It brings us all into contact with our essential humanity and brings our expectations in line with reality.  This happens in a way that isn't about what group or person is in power. It's you against your own skill, in a deep negotiation with nature. And the outcome, good or bad, is something nobody can take away.

To me, the soul of surfing isn't just water and sunshine, it's the inclusion and daring. (Next video - Notice that one of the women has white hair? I did.)  We all have moments when doubt catches us and we don't know which way to turn.  The simplicity and daring of surfing has a way of blowing away the cobwebs of fear and showing you that you're powerful, for this moment. And maybe, the next moment too. The rest follows naturally. 




So, what is a highfalutin' concept like "confidence building" anyway?  And what does it have to do with health?  And what about those who can't surf for whatever reason?  

It's been my observation that the most daring people are often healthy.  And if you take the lifestyle of surfers into account, with their early adoption of strength training and raw milk, plus "woke" attitudes, they've been quietly ahead of the curve  for decades.  It's not an accident that during the Civil Rights era, a group of white guys who surf, decided to make a movie, and chose Africa as the first stop on their endless summer.  They could've chosen South America, or Australia.  They were making a point that needed making.

Daring Becomes Trust

It must have been a bit intimidating to be in a foreign country and doing something stunt-like in front of strangers who may or may not appreciate it.  They might've been viewed as arrogant.  Probably they were, by some.  But all life is risk.  And until you risk trusting "the other" you don't really know how it will turn out.  Even among people who are the same skin color, have the same culture, and share a language, there is risk in human relationships.  It's unavoidable.  As soon as you start testing your confidence, you are presented with situations that also test your trust and faith.  If not faith in a deity, then in your fellow humans and  in your own ability to handle it.

Without daring a little, a person can't develop trust and faith, and these two things will do more for your stress levels than hundreds of hours spent in quiet meditation. That's why mindfulness is all the rage now.  It's active and involves more risk.  Risk of failure, risk of annoying others, risk of not receiving a benefit. If you can handle that, then you're closer to daring.  And I think that's the point of meditation.  To give your mind the space it needs to dare.   

OK, but why daring?  Why not face the daily stresses of life with faith and trust? Why not face inner demons with psychotherapy?  That's risky too.  OK, true.  But when you've wrestled an emotional demon and won, your confidence happens later, after you realize you've won and processed what it means to have won.  I'm not saying you shouldn't do that.  I think it's healthy.  But daring to do things you "maybe shouldn't" will give you the confidence to free you from your fears.  It's temporary, but it's vital.  I think it's misused at times, but the concept remains.

There's no need to take up surfing specifically.  But find something you want to do, that is perhaps a bit inadvisable (surfing, bodybuilding, carpentry, writing a song, painting one of your living room walls as a fresco, etc), and take precautions as the practitioners of the activity normally do, and then go for it.  You'll notice other things in your life are changing.  You may notice you no longer crave cigarettes, or you now believe that, to keep up with your new, more demanding schedule, eating green leafy vegetables is central to your health. If you do something creative, you'll notice how fragile inspiration is, and you'll appreciate the effort of others more.

Daring is Caring (about you, about others, about excellence)


There is a domino effect that extends from daring.  It doesn't happen when you view meditation as a way of generating "self control" over a junk food habit (for instance).  That feels like self parenting and is just as successful as parenting was when you were a kid. It's not unsuccessful, nor is it unrewarding, but it's not fun.  But if I tell you, you can have the joy of daring, if you maintain your health in other ways... now it's fun.  Now it's a goal that brings a smile to your face. And you'll be much more motivated to keep doing it.

More about Surfing in Africa today:


A woman in the same town as the previous video:



Mister Rogers, an icon of American wholesome values, said something like, in scary times, look for the helpers.  This doesn't only mean looking for those who are doing the necessary work, but also look for those who inspire others to be their best selves, and to reframe their lives in more empowering ways.  And when you see children smiling, you know something good is happening. 

I'm deeply cheered by stories of people breaking with a limiting tradition and realizing their fullest potential.  This includes the "limiting tradition" of growing up in the US, expecting that life will offer no more than a chance to work a routine job, have kids and ultimately retire.  I would rather rewrite that to say, "have a chance to help make a difference that matters to you, raise children who are capable and confident, and ultimately retire to a life of personal creativity and travel."

 Imagine if every one of the 7 billion humans on earth right now, had an equal chance to contribute to solving world problems.  Imagine what we could accomplish.  This is why top-down power structures, identity politics and Neo-fascism are ultimately self defeating.  They're wasteful and limiting attitudes.  We can do so much better together.  

If you prefer to hear that concept from the Bible, it's found in the story of the Tower of Babel which perfectly illustrates the difference between confidence and overconfidence.  

Daring in North Carolina

If you are inspired to try, or watch, some surfing this summer, the place to be on the East Coast just happens to be NC!  Check out this map.  If surfing isn't your thing, do that which makes you feel competent and empowered.  Even if you only watch, it'll probably start a stepwise process of self improvement and most of it won't feel like work, but fun. 

I wrote this today because I am too sick to go to the Dragon Boat kickoff picnic.  I'm really disappointed because, even if I had just watched, it would've been an utter thrill.  I got to thinking about daring and how taking a step like participating as much as I can in the Dragon Boat festival is a daring thing for me.  It's very likely they might take issue with my weight.  And now I've backed out, so they may criticize my commitment.  Social participation is never easy if you're a "spoonie."  But I can't let might've been's intimidate me into not trying.  I'd rather look foolish, than do nothing at all.

We all fall on a spectrum from daring to timid.  And most of the choices in between the extremes are ok, even if it feels like they're not ok at the time.  This is my one chance, my one life, and my choice is to do what I can as often as I can.  I hope that's your choice too, and I hope I've inspired you toward a bit more daring. May your health and mine benefit!

Epilogue

These days we are often looking at surfing through the lens of sponsorship and ESPN, but the soul of surfing is the sustaining element of compassion.  Look into the eyes of any surfer and no matter who they are, there is a deep spark of happiness. And frequently that sense of fulfillment leads to a desire to help others achieve more.  In a way, happiness is the spark that leads to compassion.  (I think I read that in a Dalai Lama book too.)




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