Monday, February 1, 2010

'My belief is that heaven and hell are metaphorical terms for what you make of your life - in any instant, you have the ability to make your life total pleasure or total hell'. The words of the nine times world surfing champion, Kelly Slater, resonate. We are used to the wisdom of spiritual teachers. We are not, save the odd victory speech in a moment of glory, in the habit of looking to our sporting heroes for spiritual guidance. In an era where sport breeds celebrities, Slater has yet to be conceived. He excels at a sport that has not yet reached the mainstream, though it's on its way. His relative anonymity outside of the surfing world contrasts with footballers like David Beckham, whose empire and lifestyle overshadow his sporting achievements. Slater, born and bred in the sunshine state of Florida, has all the ingredients that would qualify him as a celebrity (good looks and major sporting talent), yet there is a difference. Whilst other sports professionals might bask in the glow of their accumulated material wealth, and the lifestyle it affords them, Slater basks in a positive mental outlook. Surfing for Slater is simultaneously his raison d'etre and his escape. What is it about surfing that makes it an internal, and therefore essentially spiritual experience? Surfers are at the mercy of the ocean, they have to relinquish control to nature, a 'higher' force. Staring down a 10 foot high wave is terrifying, even for the professional and they will experience fear in the same way as you or I. The difference is in how they deal with this fear and their trick is turning it into excitement. Notoriously it is the lack of control, the not knowing what the wave is going to do next, that defines the experience as exciting.Surfing and spirituality have shared 3000 years of history. But it's Slater that spearheads the current revolution. In a world which glorifies physical highs – be they alcoholic, narcotic or materialistic, Slater, whether he realizes it or not, is championing a spiritual form of hedonism. Through surfing Slater shares one of the secrets of the universe: the ability to turn each millisecond on a wave to his own advantage. It is this which at the age of 36, ensures he is invincible in the face of competition, and has been for the past 16 years. It's also a brilliant metaphor for our day to day lives. We also can learn to ride the wave by the moment. We can know that within each a millisecond we know all there is to know about our life. We can have confidence in the choices we will make accordingly, whether to swerve right or to swerve left. All the power we posses is instilled in the current moment: It's ours to champion, to exploit, but ultimately, to make sense of. It's the total hell, or total pleasure, as Slater describes.