from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Thursday, 6 August 2015

catching the wave

I’m not sure whether I’ve posted this excerpt, below, before, or not. Apologies if I have.

Surfing has been on my mind a lot lately; more metaphorically than literally. I am, personally and professionally (well, my whole life, really) in deep waters at the moment, with my head being ducked frequently. I say this not with self-pity, but rather as a statement of fact: I have chosen adventurous paths which are not based on material or emotional stability, and my temperament and therefore the situations I find myself in are reflective of that. It's uncomfortable, but I trust the ocean to wash me up where I need to be. At the least, I shall be scoured of an old skin and maybe find a new selkie-skin to swim in.

I relate to Laurens van der Post’s words: ‘And so I came to live my life not by conscious choice or design, but as someone following the flight of a bird.’ (My paraphrase.) Adam Nicolson in his wonderful book Sea Room says something similar.

I believe that psychological growth requires putting oneself out on a limb now and then. Times of stability need to be interwoven with times of risk. To be creative requires this, too. It's not so much that this is a conscious choice; it's just that creativity as a priority, as a modus vivendi, will require this of you.

I have a deep sense that the soul, each lifetime, always knows what it needs to bring us to wholeness, integration and self-realisation; the trick, of course, is to get out of one’s own light and learn to listen.

The good news is that with age comes the ability to trust that I can breathe underwater. And I have been repeating to myself a mantra that I think I’ve mentioned here before more than once: you can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf. Boy, am I learning to surf better.

Below is an excerpt aimed at writers from my book Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers. It comes from a chapter that considers the risk-taking necessary for the creative process to unfold, and how planning, so necessary later in the process, can get in the way of creative expression if it’s the starting-point.

'Years ago I was learning to surf. I love water, but my preference is to be on or near it. Being in it, though exciting, holds a bucketful of fear for me if it’s deep and wild water (which, it being the North Devon Atlantic coast on which I was brought up, it was). I also love waves; but being tossed and thrown by big breakers a long way out of my depth, with my head continuously thrust underwater, is a terrifying experience.

'So since surfing involves – in my experience! – a great deal more immersion than buoyancy, you can imagine how I was pushing my fear threshold every time I carried the seven feet of fibreglass which represented my notional terra firma down over the sands. And, though the exhilaration of catching a wave is unlike anything else, and worth all the duckings, I found it quite hard to get myself to the stage where I could let go into it. I’d shiver on the shoreline, dig my toes into the sand, allow myself to be distracted by shells and pebbles – anything rather than notice how the undertow pulled at my ankles, and just how many hundreds of miles and billions of gallons of water swayed deeply and horribly between me and America, with only the three miles of Lundy Island to break it... (The procrastinations, of course, were a precursor of my life as a writer.)

'Slowly then you edge towards the water, wading until the surf is beginning to break against your knees, then creeping up your thighs, and you’re raising yourself on tiptoe or jumping to avoid that first cold slam of water against your lower belly.

'By this time you’re far enough out to launch yourself belly-down on your board and paddle out past the waves. Then you meet the first serious breakers roaring towards you, enormous as you’re lying prone, mountainous glassy walls about to crash; and either you breast them into a moment’s stillness the other side before the next one towers, or they pour their icy weight over you.

'And you paddle and duck, paddle and duck until finally, eyes stinging, arms tired, you turn, pausing in the quieter waters, keeping an eye out over your shoulder for a promising swell. It’s tempting to stay here, where it’s calm. This is where the waves are born, first as gentle undulations, then rollers, then the fearsome elemental breakers, which charge the shore and dissolve, before sliding back home to start the cycle again.

'The aim is to catch a wave just before it breaks. As a likely-looking swell rolls towards you, you paddle like crazy towards the shore to be travelling at the right velocity to catch the wave just as it peaks. If your timing’s off, you will be thrown, tossed under like flotsam, separated from your board and tumbled, flailing in cubits of opaque choppy water; of no more note than the kelp and bladderwrack with which you might share this tumultuous break of water.

'You’re trying to catch your breath and the board before the latter catches you; ribs can be broken, temples smashed, eyes taken out, even, by the sharp hooked fin that stabilises and steers the board (I had surfing friends who’d suffered these injuries, and more). You wonder – in between fighting for air and desperately struggling to get your head above water – why you ever thought this might be fun. You wonder whether you’ll drown.

'But if you catch it, you’re borne in like a bona fide part of this watery world towards the shore, sweeping in like a sea god(dess) on this flimsy piece of board. And – like after childbirth – you soon forget the terror.'

© Roselle Angwin, 2005/2015


  1. I understand what you're saying, but the prospect of my 'sweeping in like a sea goddess' seems remote. I'm stick to dry land, getting my feet wet from time to time. Of course, whether I like it or not, I am knocked off my feet and when I paddle- for safety's sake- I wear water wings. Nonetheless, I get to strange places. I wish you well and lots of love, Marg

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  3. Well, Marg, it's 10 years+ since I wrote that, and – er – it seems pretty remote to me too. Some days it's more like a swamp-thing crawling to shore! But I tell myself there's a sea-goddess inside trying to get out. Once, it felt like a massive achievement to stand up for a couple of minutes without falling off the board! Now I don't bother to try.

    Meantime I'm back in the beginner's pool with floats myself. I'll wave at you with your waterwings over there keeping an option dry!

    With love


  4. A beautiful article Roselle, thank you.

    And timely too.

    Edging towards 50, a wonderful young family still at home, coming to terms with emotional waves and arresting health news (non terminal), I find myself stuck'ish at a crossroads of sorts, in slight conflict between trusting in life's unfolding and striving for change in career, with core values in conflict with ethical practices of current leadership.

    Your writings help me make sense of where I am and I wonder if I can continue to trust the potential benevolence of what may unfold, to remain with risk and surf a certain amount of uncertainty. Even expressing this is helpful and a little nourishing, assisting to realise where I may be.

    Wishing you well,

    Thanks again...Alan.

  5. How kind of you to take the time to comment, Alan. And I understand these inner conflicts – I like the psychotherapeutic approach – perhaps it was Robert Johnson, Jungian, I can't remember – that suggests we need to sit with a both/and attitude until a new thing, the Third Thing, the middle way in Buddhist thought, arises and shows us possibilities we hadn't seen before. So easy to get stuck in false binaries, and assume things are incompatible, when maybe it means smaller shifts and subtler nuances than that?

    For myself, I'm challenging the whole notion of striving – I say this as a driven person who was brought to her knees by family illness and then, like you, arresting health news (I'm sorry to hear about yours, but mine has been, as people so often say and it's not easy to imagine how they could say that until it happens to you, a good thing; forcing me to be quieter and really look at my life). It's hard in my case to really trust the river of one's journey, but it is such a relief to try! Stepping into the Tao.

    Do we have any alternative to remaining with risk, other than closing down?

    I do wish you well; hope that you find a way through this, and find the waves not only surfable but gratifyingly so!

    Best wishes


  6. Thank you Roselle,

    A while ago, you recommended studying 'Wherever you go, there you are', this has been a good companion, almost like reconditioning my way of thinking and being.

    I wish you well,


  7. Ah! Oh yes, I remember, Alex. So glad you found it useful. It is still my bedside companion, maybe 25 years on...


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