Laird Hamilton is without a doubt one of the greatest surfers ever. He holds the world record for the heaviest wave ever ridden and is constantly pushing the limits of the sport by innovating new ways to not only surf but to train as well. Upon hearing of his many feats, its tempting to think of the man as a fearless man filled with bravado and machismo. However, a closer looks reveals a philosophical, sensitive, and profound individual. Its utterly fascinating to learn about the way he perceives the world around him.
The interview opens with a discussion on Laird's "relationship" with fear. Most of us are familiar with the idea of a comfort zone, an area within which we feel safe and secure. Outside of this comfort zone exists thoughts and ideas that bring us discomfort. We've all heard about how the greatest discoveries, achievements, and states exist outside of this bubble of comfort and yet few of us are able to push those boundaries in a consistent manner. Laird offers a gem when he states that fear can be perceived as a tool, something that can make us better if used in the right way. He goes on to say that we can begin to cultivate a relationship with fear with small but continuous steps which over time result in tremendous results. Imagine if we began to see fear as more of a friend and less of an enemy. What would happen to the ominous walls which regularly confine us in our comfort zones? We don't have to be extreme athletes to implement this idea. It can applied to every individual, business, and relationship. Trying a new activity, talking to a stranger, being vulnerable, and considering new ideas are all things that naturally evoke fear within all of us.
"I like to take it back to the caveman idea"
Laird brings up a very interesting thought process he uses to analyse behaviors. By reframing our behavior in a caveman context, he's being open to the idea that perhaps there are powerful subconscious processes which dictate our behavior. There's far more going on in our minds than we're aware of. Fear is an incredibly powerful primal response that causes drastic changes in our neurochemistry by pushing us into a fight or flight state where blood is redirected away from the brain and into our muscles. Our heart rate and respiration increases, pupils dilate. These reactions aren't very beneficial in today's day and age when we encounter fear or discomfort with a friend or colleague, but imagine how useful they were back when we were constantly exposed to this state as cavemen when a tiger or enemy warrior confronted us.
Try and recall the last time you had an argument with somebody. Did you become angry and frustrated? Did that make you less reasonable and objective? Perhaps it was your primal instincts being evoked in response to a perceived threat. Laird is hinting at the possibility that most of us are so vulnerable to fear because we have the wrong relationship with it. The more willingly we expose ourselves to it, the more we comfortable it becomes to us.
Maybe the best way to get in touch with this primal nature is by engaging in primal activities where we're forced to react in the present moment. It doesn't have to involve 60ft waves, it can be any sport or movement, but the risk factor certainly helps. It can also be attained with any form of meditation. Wim Hof's breath holding method is another excellent way to tap into the amygdala, our fear center. Cultivating a relationship with this primal fear center of our brain has enormous payoffs in every area of our life, resulting in more peace, objectivity, and understanding in every moment. Once fear starts to work with rather than against our best interests, then new avenues of possibilities begin to blossom. Dean Karnazes, an ultramarathon runner, wisely said "Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness."
"The superior man is distressed by the limitations of his ability; he is not distressed by the fact that men do not recognize the ability that he has."
Laird states, "the competitive man wishes to beat his competitors, but a creative man wishes for accomplishments". Put another way, Laird chooses to perform an action for the action's sake rather than the associated rewards. The act itself becomes its own reward. It's easier to be in the present moment with this mindset because then we are not swayed by the outer whimsical nature of competition, but rather propelled forth from our own infinite inner motivation.
"Sports are a form of an active meditation"
Laird's description of the tranquility he experiences while surfing is marvelous. It's as if the skies are parting for him, the waves flow with him, and time grinds to a halt. Science calls this flow state. The area of the brain associated with our self's identity goes dim. We leave the confines of our minds and begin to experience the true beauty around us. Getting to this state becomes easier once we begin to quiet the complex thoughts in our minds. Bboy remind has a wonderful description of movement as meditation.
"We create complexity to disguise imperfection"
I missed the significance of this quote on my first few viewings because he passes over it so quickly, but its incredibly powerful. We often want more possessions and power due to the fear of not being good enough. In the same way, our minds create more chatter and distractions in order to avoid dealing with the ever-present fear of the unknown. We run from the perceived imperfections of the present moment due of the constant allure of perfection elsewhere.
"The formulas to success are very few and very simple"
This is a hard concept to understand with all the complexity both in our minds and in the world around us. We are inundated with so much information that it becomes difficult to connect the patterns between the data points. We continously purchase self help books without realizing that the formulas all remain the same. The biggest of these tenets is mentioned by Laird:
"As long as you tell the truth then you'll always remember what you said"
Boom! There it is. One of the most important tenets to live by. Laird rephrases it another way in this amazing interview: "If you can't be true to yourself then you can't be true to anyone". Being accountable and honest with ourself impacts all areas of our life. Here's a wonderful excerpt from The Four Agreements that elaborates on that idea:
"Wherever you go you will find people lying to you, and as your awareness grows, you will notice that you also lie to yourself. Do not expect people to tell you the truth because they also lie to themselves. You have to trust yourself and choose to believe or not to believe what someone says to you. When we really see other people as they are without taking it personally, we can never be hurt by what they say or do. Even if others lie to you, it is okay. They are lying to you because they are afraid."
Laird goes on to close that interview with a fascinating point of view:
"I'm around some of the most wealthiest people in the world and I feel sorry for them because with all that abundance of wealth, they don't have what is the greatest gift, the greatest treasure, which is ultimately first having great relations but ultimately great experiences because you can't buy this stuff. You can't buy skill and you can't buy experience. You have to earn it."
Excessive wealth has the tendency to make us miserable because of all of its associated complexity. This complexity makes it harder to detach from our egoic selves in order to experience more of the beauty and truth within and around us. With less complexity comes greater clarity. As Laird mentions in the interview, "we used to be in the aha moment and then we got knowledge". Excessive knowledge and chatter in our minds creates a blanket of fog around the truth. Once we begin to strip everything away then we can get to the core of our fears, insecurities, desires, and why we sometimes lie to ourselves. It reminds me of my favorite passage from The Power of Now:
People would occasionally come up to me and say: " I want what you have. Can you give it to me, or show me how to get it?" And I would say: " You have it already. You just can't feel it because your mind is making too much noise."
With peace comes understanding, and vice versa. Laird also states that the best surfers he's met have a sense of calmness and stillness to them which allows them to be give all their attention to the task at hand. Imagine if we could all begin instilling this stillness in our everyday life, imagine the profound impact not only in ourselves but for humanity at large.