“If Life Gets Too Hard, There’s Always the Ocean”
US and UK army vets, wounded physically and mentally on the dry battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan are finding deep healing by getting wet, specifically surfing. One third of all vets suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, but organizations like Warrior Surf are helping vets learn to trust, breath, focus and even get a good night’s sleep, by surfing together.
In a new film, “Resurface” by Josh Izenberg (available on Netflix) one vet, double amputee Bobby Lane, says, “When I came back from Iraq, I started drinking a lot to help me with those issues, memories, pain. Then I was just drinking to get to sleep, but sometimes you don’t want to close your eyes.” Bobby had never surfed, but joining Warrior Surf helped him find peace.
“After that first wave I have such an overwhelming respect for the ocean, it is so gentle and so fierce. When I caught that wave, I felt like a part of me died and I felt like I was reborn. Now I see it, if life gets too hard, there’s always the ocean.”
Warrior Surf was founded by another veteran having a hard time learning to live again after Iraq. A surfer before the war, when he went back to the sea he could calm down, trust, breath. His therapist had already suggested a support group with other vets, and when he told his group about surfing they wanted in. They found surfing teachers who were vets and could understand their challenges. Soon their families wanted to join in. A new healing community was born.
I first learned about Warrior Surf and other groups like it from the book Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols, an intriguing celebration of “your brain on water.” He recounts the many scientific studies in neuroscience, psychology and sociology about the healing power of water. Simply living near the ocean, spending time in any kind of water, or even painting your room blue not only improves happiness, creativity and reduces stress, but actually can heal. Nichols has listed all the peer reviewed research studies, therapy programs and medical endorsers in a project called “Blue Mind Rx.” http://www.wallacejnichols.org/116/1098/the-blue-mind-rx-water-is-medicine.html
Filmmaker Izenburg says surfing heals trauma and stress several ways. The ocean is cathartic and as Bobby says, seems to wash negative emotions away. Surfers in the film describe being in “the zone,” focused and completely in the present tense; they say this alleviates their painful memories. Also that surfing simply exhausts them - insomnia is one of the most insidious aspects of PTSD. “Surfing,” he says, “is a drug free sleep aid.”
I write here each week about our Blue Theology Ministry, where we encourage folks to heal the ocean, and learn how the ocean can heal us. When youth and adults spend a day or a week at our Pacific Grove Mission Station we share how we can heal the ocean of the damaging effects of climate change, pollution, overfishing and other human caused injuries. But we also encourage all people to experience the healing power of the ocean in their own lives, by walking along the shore, as Jesus and so many holy ones have, or even by diving in and feeling the power and uplifting awe of the deep. Perhaps we should offer “surfing as a spiritual practice!”
In my own much easier life, I too benefit from that Blue Ocean Rx. When life gets hard, there’s always the ocean.
Bluetheology.com. I write here and on Facebook every Wednesday. Our summer service trips and pilgrimages in Pacific Grove are almost full, but think/pray about an overnight, with a spiritual visit to the Aquarium and a walk by the sea.