Surfing the Waves of Change

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life  Spring Issue 2014

“Wave Riders are curious people possessed of an innate capacity to go with the flow, constantly seizing upon opportunity when others see no possibility, or even disaster.” Harrison Owen

We are truly living in interesting times. Our economic system is broken, jobs are being lost with many more threatened and levels of anxiety are high. No one can predict the future but what is certain is that we are in the middle of a storm that shows no sign of ending any time soon. To ensure a good quality of life in this context we will need to adopt new ways of living and working and build our ability to cope in these times of rapid change. With a little ingenuity and collaboration we could design community systems that will allow us to not only survive but thrive in this changing world.

Change is, and always has been, the only constant, however the pace of change seems to be speeding up. This can feel overwhelming but we cannot afford to indulge in despair or be paralysed by fear. We are not helpless; human beings are the most adaptable species on the planet. The present challenges provide an opportunity for refocusing how we want to live together. By nurturing our personal and community resilience we can surf the powerful waves of change with confidence and optimism. With an economy in free fall, a changing climate and resource scarcity on the horizon we will have little choice but to build our capacity to respond in a creative way.

This period of extraordinary global change is an opportunity to ensure that the places we live in are vibrant, innovative and full of life. A resilient community is one that takes action to enhance the personal and collective capacity to cope with the unfolding challenges. Adaptability is at the core of resilience and emerges either in response to, or in anticipation of, a challenge. But where do we start? How do we take the first steps to ensure that we and the places we are living have the ability to get by in times of abrupt change?

The basis of a community’s resilience is the quality of the interactions between people in that locality. At the heart of the Transition Towns movement is the building of relationships with our neighbours and working with them on projects of common interest. The Transition process is a way of thinking about community readiness for abrupt change. It started here in Ireland less than five years ago and is now taking root throughout the world, with thousands of communities adopting the model.

Transition initiatives and people everywhere are beginning to support their local economy and develop all sorts of sustainability projects. These include local food initiatives, programmes to retrofit homes, exploring community energy systems, initiating local currencies, starting car clubs, and establishing social enterprises.

Learning how we can navigate this change and prosper during these turbulent times could be compared to surfing. Waves, like the challenges we face, come in all shapes and sizes and riding them require the skills and attitude of a good surfer. Here are some attributes of a wave rider that are vital for a change maker to cultivate.

Before paddling out an experienced surfer will first observe the sea, spending time just sitting on the beach watching where the waves are breaking, the direction of the wind, and identifying where the easiest place to paddle out might be. Similarly with change making and resilience building we need to begin by observing the challenges we face and understanding their context and the risk they pose. Surfers are constantly scanning the horizon and positioning themselves to catch the best waves. Through observation competent surfers are able to catch and ride waves that others miss. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time.

Good wave riders are well prepared. They have checked the weather charts and know if there will be suitable waves, have the skills and the right board for the conditions and their wet-suit fits snugly. Possessing the right skill-set and having the right tools will be essential in dealing with whatever challenges emerge. The competencies, knowledge, skills and tools needed by effective change makers need to be identified and cultivated.

Active Learning
Learning the basics of wave riding early on helps improve a surfer’s performance and gives them the confidence to attempt to catch bigger and bigger waves. Surfers don’t really practice, they learn in action, or by doing. They build their competency and skills through the experience and the enjoyment of surfing itself. This is an important lesson. Using action-research or active-learning methodologies in our work could help us engage in the world while building our knowledge and developing our capacity for change.

Wave riders have a capacity to be fully present and go with the flow. This is a key skill for a change maker to possess. To catch and ride waves it is critical for a surfer to be focused and being totally in the moment is essential whether you are riding waves or making change.

The wave is not static. It changes in relation to internal and external factors. To maintain balance the surfer has to be constantly shifting his weight and adjusting his stance. This flexibility and sense of balance ensures we have the ability to respond to the various difficulties that confront us.

Letting Go of Control
When a surfer catches a wave and accelerates down its face, he may seem to be in control but he knows he is not in charge of the wave. Aligning himself with the waves force and power allows him to maximise his ride. The surfer is sensing and going where the wave suggests, moving and flowing with effortless engagement, not controlling the wave.

Surfers have a ‘go-for-it’ attitude and take the potential of disaster as an opportunity to further master their art. A surfer is not fearful of making mistakes; even falling off the board or ‘wiping out’ is an important part of the learning.

Wave riders have a genuine passion for the art of surfing, it is a way of life for them. A good change maker needs to respond to every situation with creativity and enthusiasm. Although the ride ahead will be challenging, enthusiasm rooted in action will help get us through.

We all need to be better at resilience building and the abilities of the surfer may hold a key to managing change. He goes with the flow and has the ability to adapt and change effortlessly. The secret of a wave rider is a deep awareness of natural systems and the skills and tools to deal with unpredictability. Although we don’t know what the future holds we can map out some likely scenarios, develop our necessary attributes and build our resilience to prosper in a changing world. Go for it!

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