A Different High – Tom Carroll and Meditation
The first instalment of A Different High – Ray Collins and Jiu Jitsu – provoked a spirited comments section where we wrestled (see what we did there?) with the pros and cons of a pursuit where injury appears inevitable.
For this iteration of A Different High, TC yaks with us on the blower about the role meditation’s come to play in his life.
Just a note, the purpose of this column isn’t to ‘compare’ pursuits against each other, or size them up as substitutes for surfing, rather to explore different things surfers do when they’re not surfing, and how such pursuits might enhance a surfer’s life.
Tom Carroll. 59, meditating for 14 years
I came to meditation through recovery from addiction, and my head was a mess – you don’t come out of that sort of stuff in a nice serene state.
Though it was suggested and talked about in the treatment centre as a great tool for recovery, it took a while for me to come to it. At that time my head was so busy I couldn’t pay attention to anything or anyone, so it felt really hard to start.
So, there was a person hosting a meditation group in the treatment centre, it was a five-minute practice, just sitting in a chair, in a circle, (not sitting on the ground in lotus position or any of that), just five minutes of sitting still, eyes closed, noticing your breath, counting the exhalations. That was my first experience, in one of those classes.
I’ll never forget thinking, “fuck, there’s NO WAY I can sit still for five minutes!” My gluey mind was so caught up in addiction, and so attached to the thoughts I was having, I could barely sit with myself at all, but somehow I knew it was what I needed.
I’d see it in it in some of the older crew, cleaner members, some with over twenty years of sobriety, who were practising meditation – they had a real calmness about them, and I was like, “I want THAT!”
So for me, I guess I had to be in that dire situation to wake up to the possibility that meditation could offer me anything… But really, you don’t need to reach the state I was in to come around to it.
And so, the five minutes started, and I was off and away.
I was instructed that – despite the ADHD or whatever I might have had – to do whatever it took to stop and sit, and that the regular practice of putting myself aside, and just noticing my breath and my thoughts would, over time, be beneficial to the rest of my day.
It takes effort to get into a rhythm of doing it every day, even just five minutes. It’s amazing how the mind can try to convince you there’s other things to do instead.
And it seemed brutal at the time, because I couldn’t sit, but I got past that in about two months.
Lo and behold, within a few months, I started feeling the sense of getting some space between my thoughts – and between my first thought and action – which was hugely important for me, because I was compulsive and, well, just disastrous really!
I started to feel the difference, and other people saw it, so they were confirming it as well. It was like, ‘fuck this is actually working!’ – it was very cool.
It’s no instant thing, it really does take time. (That said, after meditation, I always feel nice and settled, so there is kind of an ‘instant’ effect at work.)
But meditation isn’t so much about that sense of relief, it’s more about how your mind operates and reacts for the rest of the day – how it is, Right Now.
There’s 1000 different styles and ways to meditate, but what it basically is, is allowing us to be the witness to our thoughts.
It’s sitting and opening up the space beyond that constant dialogue of thinking in our minds.
Like, there’s something in me, something pulled back, that’s aware that I’m talking to you right now. Something detached from my thoughts and actions, that goes to the core of who I am. This is consciousness.
And an awareness of that consciousness, an ability to understand it, even in our limited way, gives us a method to not get so caught up in the dramas playing out in our minds.
It’s a beautiful place to become aware of, and allow to be aware, because that’s who we really are, it all manifests from there. We THINK we are our thoughts… but what’s actually thinking that? It’s kinda trippy but that’s why we meditate, to not be so vested in every thought that comes along – and then we impose that illusion on the world.
Fact is we actually have no control over the thoughts that come into our mind, but we CAN control how we react and respond to those thoughts, by being able to observe them. It’s best described by a term used to the point of cliché these days – mindfulness.
It feels to me like there’s an urgent calling to be a witnesser of our thoughts. To be able to pull back and witness gives us the choice to place a space between our first thought and action. There’s real freedom in that – there’s NO freedom in constant thought – “I’m just thinking too much… I can’t stop… Aaarrrgh!”
And that freedom we gain – by being able to step back from ourselves – translates into a super important transformation, allows us to REALLY engage with where we want to go in our lives… which might be frothing over something we really love doing. Whether it’s art or music or dancing or surfing or training or whatever.
Mindfulness is generally perceived as something soft and mellow, but it actually sharpens purpose, potency and froth.
Whatever we need to increase that level of froth… Mindful Frothness! Ha!
The meditation I practice is the Vedic technique. I’d been meditating for about a decade, and my practice felt like it was starting to wane, (despite the fact I knew it was very important to me), when someone came into my life four years ago and showed me the Vedic technique.
The Vedic technique involves using a mantra – a repeated word-sound vibration that has inward orientation, which is the opposite, neutralising direction to the outward orientation of our thoughts. This kind of ‘charms the mind’, to go to that transcendental source. Transcendental meaning ‘to go beyond’ – beyond the thinking mind.
For me it’s twenty minutes, twice a day. Every now and then I’ll miss a session but I’m devoted to it. That’s been playing out for the last four years.
Recently I’ve started teaching meditation (since last October) and it’s been an amazing thing to share, as I keep learning myself.
The biggest requirement for meditation to be effective is – now this is a word that turns people off because it’s got so many connotations to it – but it’s about discipline.
It’s a discipline that turns into a devotion – because it’s such a positive thing to put into our life, that after a while you think, “I’m definitely gonna get my meditation in before anything!” That’s devotion.
You get to see clearly, “this is how I function WITH meditation, and that’s is how I function WITHOUT meditation” – and for me at least, it isn’t as nice an experience of life.
There’s a few understandable misconceptions around meditation. The first one’s, “What’s it doing for me, just sitting down, breathing and doing nothing?” We’re all so busy, and many of us get by absolutely fine without meditation in their life, so it’s hard to see where it might enrich their experience.
But I think no matter who we are, many of us have anxieties in our lives that we can’t quite shake off, they might be small and subtle, but they’re there. And they might drive us in a certain direction, or disconnect us from other parts of ourselves we’d love to give expression to. So meditation’s not just a way to help get a life back on track, it’s also a way to optimise even the most well-adjusted existence. In a way that can keep going as long as you want it to.
Another classic misconception is a lot of people write themselves off and say, “I’m a shithouse meditator, I can’t stop thinking, I can’t sit still,” and so they give it away before giving it a chance to gain traction.
The fact is everyone wrestles with themselves at the start. This is where guidance comes in, and I think that’s why having a group meditation experience, and personalised instruction, can help people gain a foothold.
Surfing and meditation go beautifully together I reckon.
People often say, “surfing is my meditation” and it does have a meditative affect, because our mind is filled with something all-encompassing, so we get relief from the constant barrage of ourselves, our thinking. This is why surfing’s such a lifeline to so many people.
Almost without us understanding why, or being able to articulate it, surfing’s kind of an incidental meditation.
It’s funny, you hear it expressed in the sometimes cosmic language used: “Gotta be in The Now… I got in the barrel, man… the whole thing slows down… I’m tripping out!” We’re so connected to the moment. It’s similar to meditation, which is available to us any time, anywhere.
By its nature, meditation takes us further down the path. We create a discipline around it that becomes a devotion with enough time, and being the witnesser gives us the beautiful distance from our constant thinking that allows us to really be, and look after, ourselves.
I’d recommend meditation to anyone, from those experiencing anxiety, or are overstressed, to those who are seeking more creativity, coherence, adaptability. There’s so many benefits that come out of what you’re prepared to put in.
// TOM CARROLL (as shared with GRA MURDOCH)
• Through the month of February, Tom will be hosting ten-minute breath-based ‘Stage One’ meditations, three mornings a week (Tues/Turs/Sat) at 5:50am on IG Live @thomasvictorcarroll. Tom’s sessions are bookended by some classic, warm-hearted and often whimsical TC musings. Check it out, and tell Tom Swellnet sent ya.
• If you’ve got a question for Tom about Meditation, post it in the comments here and if we get a coupla we’ll have a follow up yarn with TC.
• Also recommended by the interviewer is the ‘Waking Up’ guided meditation app hosted by neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris.