Several years ago, I was helping one of my counseling clients learn how to cope with overwhelming emotions connected to the hard times he was going through. As I searched for a way to help him, a picture popped into my head: ocean waves. This was quickly followed by the awareness that emotions are much like ocean waves. Ocean waves come in many shapes, sizes, speeds and intensities. So do emotions. Ocean waves are influenced by many things including the gravitational pull of the moon, the tides, the shape and movement of the ocean floor and the weather. Our emotions are influenced by the gravitational pull of our relationships, the ebb and flow of our health and energy, the “weather” of the events in our lives. Sometimes life can seem like the experience of a surfer caught in the “washing machine”, a phenomenon in which you get caught in wave after wave and can have trouble even coming up for air.
My brother Glenn lived in Hawaii for several years and became a surfer while he lived there. He tells me that in surfing, the washing machine is when you have ridden a wave toward shore, or are close to shore and want to go back out beyond where the waves are breaking, but before you can get there, another wave comes and drags you under. Glenn also says that when you are in the washing machine, what you need to do is to relax, take a breath when the wave brings you back up, and don’t fight it when the wave set takes you down again. He says that there is no way to know how many waves there will be in the set. You can know that there will be enough time to get one or two breaths each time you come up. If you relax and don’t panic and don’t dissipate your energy unnecessarily, you can hang in there until the wave set is done, and you will come out of the washing machine okay. My husband Gary adds that you’ll also come out of the washing machine with a great story to tell.
So here’s how to ride out life’s tough times:
• Remember that life has its “washing machines” too.
• Coping with life’s washing machine is the same as coping with the ocean’s washing machine.
• Relax, take a breath or two when the wave brings you back up.
• Don’t fight it when life’s wave takes you down again.
• Don’t panic; panic will dissipate your energy unnecessarily.
• Hang loose until the life-set is done, and you will come out of Life’s washing machine okay, just like you can in the ocean’s washing machine.
• Capture your story and record it-write it, sing it, paint it, photograph it, weave it, make music with it, draw it, collage it, speak it-use whatever media suits you.
• Share that great story with others to encourage us all to ride out life’s tough times by hanging loose in the washing machine.