A Lesson from Waves

I’ve had the opportunity to be within ear shot of the Atlantic and Pacific ocean on several occasions this year, including later today as I drive from Fresno to San Francisco. Staring at and listening to an ocean calms me. This year it also ignited an internal philosophical conversation.

Consider, for a moment, how waves can be a metaphor for life’s difficulties — including how to properly manage chronic pain.

  • Waves are relentless. They have come ashore, they are coming ashore, until the earth is no more waves will continue to come ashore.
  • Waves are dispassionate. They don’t care who you are, your height or weight, your family history, your goals and aspirations for life. They don’t care how much money is in your checking account, the size of your house, your pigmentation, or whether you’re athletic. They just keep coming.
  • Waves are uninvited. They come whether you want them to or not. They don’t care whether you “deserve” the waves. They don’t care whether you are prepared for their arrival. They come anyway.
  • Waves are unique. Each wave is different based on just-in-time dynamics (time of day, rip tide, current, wind, position of the sun and moon, the preceding wave, level/angle of sand, size and shape of rocks, water temperature, etc.) Just like a snowflake, no two waves are identical.
  • Waves are unpredictable. Their size, their width, their depth. The level of foam on top or the undertow underneath. What may appear calm on the surface can be wreaking havoc below. What happens when they arrive is unpredictable.
  • Waves change your location. They can either wash you ashore or drag you out to sea. Playing in the water requires a landmark because you move (often times without even noticing) along the beach. Where you start is not where you finish.
  • Waves are impactful. Calm waves can boost the value of real estate and provide lasting positive family memories. The tragic results from Hurricane Florence and Michael this year remind as to the potential for death and destruction and long-lasting change. Either way, they leave an imprint.
  • Waves are temporary. They come from places unknown and once they reach their destination they recede. Often the proof they arrived is quickly erased. By the next wave.
  • Waves elicit different responses. Some people ride the waves. Some resist the waves. Some run into the waves. Some run away from the waves.
  • Waves bring stuff with them. Tiny crabs, seaweed, salt, plankton, maybe even messages in a bottle. Stuff seen and unseen. Stuff anticipated…and not so much.
  • Waves can knock you down. But it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down. It’s how many times you get back up.

Think about the above and replace “waves” with “chronic pain.” Or more broadly, challenges in life. Stuff – voluntary or involuntary, positive or negative – happens. And because stuff happens, change happens. Change can also be voluntary or involuntary, positive or negative. In fact the only thing constant IS change.

It’s not whether stuff happens or changes occur. They do. Constantly. Just like the waves come ashore. Constantly. Our response is what determines their impact. When it comes to living, how you respond can determine the outcome. Especially when related to chronic pain.

So what’s the key?

#Resilience (“an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change“).

That’s the lesson from waves.