The Tao of Skate

I wrote an article for the January 2010 issue of Concrete Wave Magazine the publisher decided to call “The Tao of Skate,” which I have referred to in many posts. I finally realized I should just post it here rather than ask anyone to visit another website to see it. Since it’s publication, I have made a few minor changes. I hope you enjoy it…

The Tao of Skate

Someone said, “The sage has fun, but he never has a good time.” A Taoist has a dual  purpose to everything he does, in that he sees everything in life in part, as an opportunity for spiritual development. As someone with a deep yearning for spiritual growth, I’d like to share with you how I am approaching skating. I hope this article is insightful and fun.

In the interest of self-disclosure, and so you know where I’m coming from, let me say the following; I became interested in skateboarding, specifically longboarding, a few years ago at 40 years old. It came to me strangely, out of nowhere; something I had never considered before. I went into a skate shop I had passed hundreds of times before, looking for a pair of flat soled shoes. The guy who helped me was really cool and I was immediately taken in by his vibe and the vibe of the store, so much so that I looked around at the longboards. I told myself I couldn’t afford an impulse purchase of $150 or more on something I’d never use, and left figuring this impulse for a skateboard would go away soon. It didn’t. I kept thinking about it until a week or so later I saw a kid cruising along in my neighborhood on the biggest board I’d ever seen ridden (probably a 45″) and the impulse grew stronger. I grappled with it for a few weeks more figuring it would go away, and eventually bought my first complete; a Sector9 38″ general purpose deck. Today I have 5 completes and I want 3 or 4 more, all different and for different purposes. I use my boards just like everyone else, for transportation, exercise and fun. I love cruising and pumping, carving and bombing to wherever I’m going, and inevitably have on a backpack loaded with books to read at a coffee shop or groceries from the store. I’m also a beginning speed boarder and have reached 40mph on straights, and 30 through turns. This is the area I’m focused on improving, although I’m taking it slow and aiming for really incremental improvement in order to avoid injury. I must admit, pulling turns at 30 mph is the biggest rush I get from skating.

I became interested in Taoism in 1988 in college when I first read the Tao Te Ching, one translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English. Something about the poem really piqued my curiosity and “touched a chord” or “rang true.” Today I have 8 translations of the Tao Te Ching and 13 of the I Ching. When I first began studying Taoism, I had no idea what I was getting into. I suffered from anxiety and depression and was seriously struggling in college and looking for something that made sense. Gradually over the years, I began to deepen my interest and my understanding. Today I’m just beginning to feel like a real student of “The Way,” and I have a genuine concern for my spiritual development, the condition of my death and how I live my life. The object of a Taoists’ life is to realize The Way and achieve immortality. This partly involves aligning oneself with The Way, or God, or Truth, so that one is merged with it. This is done through specific energy work, which is supported by accumulated and realized virtue. Essentially, one tries to learn positive truth and accumulate it and then eventually outgrow the need for it. One attempts to build oneself up in a positive way and then to transcend being anything at all and achieve emptiness. In advanced stages, one also learns and engages specific energy disciplines that lead to immortality. Taoism is very integrative and regular or normal; in that it does not ascribe one must try and achieve enlightenment through austere practices somewhere in retreat, but portends that one may achieve oneself spiritually in the midst of the grind of everyday life. There are layers upon layers upon layers upon layers in Taoism, and I am not an immortal or a realized teacher, so the goal of this article is to share some solid, basic principles to integrate into your consciousness & life to help you enjoy the stoke and exercise of skating and infuse your skating with spirituality that furthers spiritual growth.

When I decided to buy a skateboard, I cast the I Ching about it several times. I was actually scared to get involved in something just for fun. I had spent about 8 years living in an area outside Baltimore I didn’t like, feeling isolated, working a job I didn’t like, and generally living a grey life. I was working hard at my spirituality, but I was missing something important, something I never really had before in my life; joy. Skating has brought me immense and indescribable joy. I knew somehow it would be fun, but I was scared to lose control or to lose my spiritual edge or impetus, so shortly after I started skating, I began working to infuse my skating with spirituality and to have skating serve my spiritual development. I’ve come to realize joy is spiritually important, and not just as a way to refresh yourself for further work, but as an expression of your inner self, a way of opening up to and experiencing the divine within yourself.

As skaters, we call joy “stoke,” which although I don’t know the etymology, I assume refers to a fire burning hotter when you stoke it, a pretty apt way to describe how we feel during and after a good session. I have found 4 primary ways of getting stoked from skating: 1-by doing something dangerous and invoking adrenaline, which is a sharp high that can cause giddiness and depending on the intensity or severity of your activity, lasts for a matter of hours, 2-by doing something you couldn’t do before, developing greater skill at something, causing a less sharp high that doesn’t seem to last as long, 3-by physical exertion, causing a high that is more subdued and lasts a long time, likely similar to “runners high,” and 4-by the simple act of moving through space and time on a skateboard, not particularly fast, but just enjoying the lack of goals or striving; the childlike pointlessness of it, which causes a light buzz. I’ve had a distinct experience where I got totally stoked just to put my foot on my deck before I even pushed anywhere. I literally put my foot down on my speedboard and before I even began pushing, I felt a huge and tangible sense of relief. This happened after a long period (2 weeks) of no sessions due to the weather. Other ancillary things can create stoke too; meeting people along the way, having someone give you the thumbs up or beep their horn at you or when a pretty girl smiles as you go by. Enjoying the scenery, whether it’s a new neighborhood you haven’t passed through or a beautiful full moon, or sunset, and for me, enjoying the wildlife. There are neighborhoods near me where there are lots of deer, red tailed hawks and pileated woodpeckers. Once I turned onto a hill and stopped at the top because at the bottom was a doe and several fawns in the middle of the road. I waited for them to move off and when I bombed past, I counted 5 fawns! I’ve even seen foxes in my area while cruising back from the grocery store late at night, which surprised me and most of the people I mention this to since I live in a suburban, but fairly populated, area.

Getting stoked is a wonderful, necessary part of living. It adds color to life and makes life worthwhile. Joy and love are truly what make life worth living. Joy can even help make us better people, as we are only able to share and spread the joy that we have ourselves. But while getting stoked is significant, it’s not enough for my life. I’m concerned about my death, concerned about my character (the kind of man I am) and very curious about the Truth. What’s beyond my senses? What is eternal or constant? Study physics & you’ll see physicists are finally butting against walls that are causing them to sound like philosophers & mystics. What’s the real nature of reality? Due to all this, for me getting stoked isn’t enough and I don’t believe it’s the ultimate pursuit for one’s life. If one applies Taoism, one realizes the ultimate for skating is also blending or integrating whatever is happening in skating with what is happening in your normal, daily life; “the grind” if you will. Its taking what you learn in life and applying it to your skating and taking what you learn from skating and applying it to your life, with an eye towards your ultimate spiritual achievement, whatever that is, depending on your path or discipline. So the question becomes; how can one enjoy the stoke and exercise of skating and infuse skating with spirituality that furthers spiritual growth? Shortly, we will discuss several principles one can learn to apply to life and skating, which will further one’s spiritual development, and likely improve one’s skating; at least that’s what they did for me.

Before discussing the principles, let’s explore one other idea. Many of you are aware of the similarities between surfing and skating. In Steven Kotler’s book, “West of Jesus,” he attempts to describe in part, the spirituality of surfing. In this vein, he mentions the 2 primary factors contributing to stoke in surfing: 1-fear and adrenaline, and 2-intense focus and concentration. Both of these together create a state of joy and one of flowing with the moment, where the surfer, the board and the wave are one, and where time seems to slow down dramatically. “Be the ball Danny,” was how Chevy Chase’s character described it in “Caddyshack,” and “Its that place where you lose yourself and find yourself,” was how Patrick Swayze’s character described it in “Point Break.” I believe psychologists call it flow state, while laypeople call it “being in the zone.” In any case, this state is accessible to skaters, and I can say for sure that I have tasted it, albeit not in quite the intense way Kotler describes it. Once again, while this flow state is very compelling, it’s most beneficial if one is able to integrate it into one’s life. What can one take from the experience of this state to help in one’s spiritual development? Can one learn to live this way? Although this is purely speculation, I believe so. I believe one who has achieved enlightenment, lives in a “state” similar to the flow state. It would not be a “high” like the adrenaline high for reasons explained later, but the state an enlightened one would live in is “no-state,” having transcended all the ups and downs and different states most of us live through. I do know that accessing the flow state is made easier through implementing the principles I’ll mention later, just like falling asleep is easier for people who are relaxed and not nervous, anxious or angry. There’s actually not a single aspect of life that the principles will not affect. Kotler also described how chemically and otherwise, the brain of someone deep in meditation is very similar to the brain of someone high on certain recreational drugs and very similar to one who has just achieved that flow state. Meditation as a discipline is a useful tool just like skateboarding, but both need to be seen not as ends in and of themselves, but as processes and as learning tools, if one is to achieve what Taoists intend. Meditation is a mechanism that can create or induce enlightenment by using ego to transcend ego, but before reaching enlightenment, the meditative state is often seen as refreshing and nourishing, helping one to learn stillness and quiet. Taoism however teaches one that the intention is to integrate that state into ones very way of being in day-to-day life. This is realizing The Way or enlightenment.

Before coming back to our question, let’s go on one final detour I realize will be a little tricky to understand, but seems necessary background. The I Ching is the source of all philosophy and religion that is uniquely Chinese. The I Ching was published about 1500 BC but has origins dating back a few thousand years earlier. In fact, only the Vedas of India are older than the I Ching and also gave birth to a philosophy and culture that still exists today in Hinduism and Buddhism, vs. Chinese Taoism and Confucianism. (I realize Buddhism is often attributed to the Chinese influence on Hinduism, but it nonetheless, has it’s roots in Hinduism.) The lessons of Taoism are aptly described in the I Ching, although they require much reflection and contemplation and are best championed with the help of a teacher. As I said before, I am not a realized teacher, but I have been studying Taoism since 1988 and been working with the I Ching intensely for several years and have arrived at several lessons that can help one enjoy skating while infusing it with spirituality. The I Ching is a binary system of on and off much the same as the binary system underlying all of computer technology. The black and white serpentine, yin/yang symbol used by Town and Country Surfboards and found in other corporate graphics describes this on/off binary basis and how it translates into the 64 conditions in the I Ching and helps provide the basic lessons we can apply in our skating. To describe the yin yang symbol or more appropriately the “Tai Chi” or “Supreme Pole” let’s start at the beginning, which is whatever the underlying circle is represented on, e.g. paper. This represents emptiness or something completely beyond our mind and imagination. It’s the source of the universe or multiverse or whatever exists. This emptiness I believe can include the concept of God (as a being) and Truth, although one must be careful not to project certain qualities onto this source as Taoists believe this emptiness or source is neutral and impartial; beyond good and bad, male and female and beyond all opposites and ideas that spring from the discriminating ego-mind. Next, comes the underlying circle. This represents wholeness, the underlying metaphysical unity or oneness of everything that exists. Next are the two serpentine halves of the circle, one black and one white. (This level is before the addition of the smaller opposite colored circles within the two halves.) These two represent duality, or the existence of the two polar opposite energies or concepts in their pure state. These two are what are used to create the “10,000 things” (mentioned several times in the Tao te Ching) or myriad realities, in the universe which are represented by the third level with the addition of the smaller opposite colored circles into the two serpentine halves. This third level represents the departure from wholeness and emptiness to the discriminating ego-mind that recognizes all the objects in the world and puts a desirable or undesirable spin on them, i.e. labels them as “good” or “bad.” So the Taoist philosophy represented by the Tai Chi goes from emptiness to wholeness/one, then to duality/two, then to three, which represents every individual thing in existence.

The 64 conditions or hexagrams of the I Ching are created by multiplying the 8 trigrams by each other. These 8 trigrams are created by taking the 8 possible combinations of three of the on and off (binary) possibilities. These 8 combinations of three are created by adding each one of the original pair to the 4 possible combinations of two of the original pairs of opposites. This explanation of the development of duality or two to the 64 conditions or hexagrams is all best represented visually, so for a good description of this, please refer to the preface of “The Living I Ching,” by Deng Ming-Dao. (Please note; all I Ching’s are translated differently from a different adept’s interpretation. They are NOT created equal. I do not personally use Deng Ming-Dao’s version, but his visual representation of the binary-duality concept and how it relates to the supreme pole is useful.)

Before mentioning the principles, we should discuss the natural laws that are implied by the Tai Chi. 1-The creator or source is beyond our cognition to understand and beyond all duality, singularity and concept. 2-Underlying all realities is a wholeness or oneness. 3-Realities or things exist in relation to their opposite, or put another way; one can only know a reality to the extent one knows it’s opposite. 4-Opposites are in and seek a balance. 5-Realities constantly wax and wane. They are not static. 6-Every reality contains something of its opposite. 7-A reality taken to its extreme, becomes or gives rise to its opposite. 8-Energy put out or channeled out into the universe comes back or is reflected back. These eight natural or universal laws apply to all of creation, particularly to humans and are inescapable. The first 7 laws flow logically from the Tai Chi if one considers it carefully. The eighth law, often referred to as the law of karma, exists, although I have been unable to pinpoint how it is represented in the Tai Chi; maybe it isn’t.

If one carefully considers these laws, one may arrive at some sound advice as to how to proceed in one’s life assuming one wishes to live in harmony with the laws. The interpretations of the 64 conditions or hexagrams in the I Ching and the 384 pivotal specific situations or lines, are based on these laws and do not violate them. Further, if one studies the I Ching sincerely with an open heart and mind, one will expand on that sound advice, as there are many themes or principles found throughout the I Ching’s 64 conditions. The principles are all designed to assist one to live in harmony with The Way (natural law and your own uniqueness or individual path or way) and ultimately to realize The Way so that one naturally harmonizes with it without trying to. I have pulled out 9 principles based on the universal law and outlined in the I Ching that I have been using in my life and in my skating in an attempt to realize The Way and live in harmony with natural law, with people, the flora and fauna and with the universe in general. These 9 principles are explicitly explained and described in the I Ching as numbered conditions or hexagrams, so you could look them up in a copy of the I Ching and review the “judgment” and the “image,” (the commentary) for yourself. (If you choose to do this, please realize each I Ching is interpreted differently and then translated differently, and if you want my input regarding the translations, you can contact me through this blog.) The 9 principles are listed in their order of importance for me, but they are all important and probably have more or less relative importance depending on one’s stage of development and individual path.

#52 Centered, quiet, still, calm

#20 Aware, observe, contemplate

#60 Discipline, regulate, moderate

#61 Open, empty, authentic

#25 Natural/spontaneous, faithful, authentic

#30 Desperately channel/embody positive energy

#11 Balance opposites, yin and yang, especially strength and flexibility

#15 Modesty with people, reverent with God, the source, truth

#53 Constant progress, not fast or slow

Whereas for me, this list has tremendous meaning, upon reading this, you may feel unaffected or nonplussed. This is partly because I have used language that I believe is most appropriate and makes the most sense to me, and partly also, because these principles came to me over time and study. It’s likely improbable to simply read this list and begin to apply them, but hopefully you’ll begin to wonder about them and maybe look into it a little and hopefully some of the following examples and stories as to how I’ve been applying them in my skating will help. I really like skating in part, because I get immediate feedback as to whether or not I’m applying the principles. For example, when I’m sort of “in the zone” or going with The Way, I feel I’m able to smoothly move through traffic, I don’t get stopped at red lights as much or have to stop to wait for people driving cars or avoid cars parked on the side of the road when I’m carving hills or whatever. Thus far, I’ve noticed when traffic and other obstructions seem to be slowing me down; those are days when I’m just not following my principles. If I’m mad about something or frustrated, it just seems like everything’s conspiring against me, like gusty wind slowing me down, or I keep hitting red lights or I have to foot brake a lot because cars keep cutting me off or whatever. But when I go out and it feels right and I’m not “forcing it,” because I have time in my schedule and no other obligations, and I’m well rested and applying my principles, I might get stopped once in a while, but more often, I have these really groovy sessions where I cross intersections without having to slow down or arrive at the top of a hill just on time to bomb down without waiting much for traffic. I’m not saying this is scientific, just an example of law #8, or karma. The energy you put out into the world is reflected back. In any case, I’ll try and offer examples of how skating helps me understand these principles. The object is for one to strive to emulate these principles until they become a part of you, so you no longer think about them and they become non-issues or second nature. Harmonizing with the 8 universal laws via the 9 principles allows you to continuously maintain a positive connection to God, or constantly channel positive energy. This is absolutely critical & the basis for all spiritual achievement & quality of life.

#52 and #20 I’d like to discuss these two together, as they are so intertwined. Essentially, these two are the basis for any spiritual achievement. Without them, one is like a cork bobbing on the ocean, with no knowledge of where one is going or why and with no sovereignty. When you follow The Way, you don’t go aimlessly through life, you deliberately seek to apprehend the law or rules and harmonize with them. Take sailing for example. When you sail, you are at the mercy of the wind (natural law), but you do have a rudder and sails and you should learn how to use them (deliberately harmonize). You don’t go out in the ocean without a sail or rudder and bob around and see where you end up. You practice sailing and using the different sails and learn how to harmonize with the wind and the currents. For purposes of this metaphor, you also try and take your cues as to your destination from within and without; from your heart and from where the wind seems to want to take you. In any case, none of this is possible without being centered and aware; without constantly exercising your awareness. Being centered allows you to listen to your heart and differentiate the impulses you have that are from conditioning and society vs. those that are uniquely and naturally you, and to differentiate the negative/destructive impulses from the positive/creative ones. Furthermore, these two provide the foundation of the other 8 principles as it is necessary to be fully aware in order to even remember to apply them. These two involve being centered, which basically involves not being attached. I try not to be attached to skating in general because I’ve found my mood goes up and down with the weather. When skating I try and avoid being attached to how gracefully I’m carving hills or to how fast I am pushing up hills, to how fast I am bombing down them, or to how smoothly I am moving through traffic. I try not to get attached to these things and have found this helps prevent me sometimes from taking unnecessary chances like bombing a hill that’s “closed out” due to too much traffic or gravel or rain. It helps me to remain cautious and check the pavement on hills for new potholes or gravel or tree branches before I bomb them, and not to bomb hills or go on long pushes when I’m tired and am not at 100%. It helps me to maintain my concentration when I’m carving aggressively so I keep my speed down and don’t fly into an intersection, especially with distractions like a girl walking on the sidewalk or a dog running towards me barking or a car that pulls out of a driveway. Sometimes I feel I’m skating gracefully where my footwork on the board and my balance is on, and other times more clumsy. This usually has to do with my level of concentration and focus. One can be too focused or not focused enough, as was brought to my attention in the book “Zen in the Martial Arts” by Joe Hyams where he uses running fast down a set of steps as an analogy. If you try and focus on each step you will trip, (over-focused) but if you’re preoccupied by another matter and not concentrating, (under-focused) you may also trip. In the book “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey, there is a lot of discussion about this appropriate level of concentration. Being in the zone or focused appropriately is a function of being centered, aware, relaxed and detached.

#60 This involves being disciplined and employing moderation in one’s life. Sometimes I have to force myself to cut a nighttime session off so I don’t stay up too late. Or I must be patient standing at the top of a hill, waiting for a safe opening in traffic before I bomb it. Sometimes I also push myself a little to increase my skill and make sure I’m not skating lazy. Sometimes, cleaning my bearings can be a chore and I have to push myself a little to do it. In the winter, when it’s 25 degrees or less at night and I really need a session, I have to dig deep and get out there on my favorite night hills that have adequate street lighting. #60 is a big one for me particularly regarding adrenaline. Adrenaline as most of you know is an incredibly powerful drug, and it can be addictive. It’s a powerful high that can last for hours. Sometimes, I will uncontrollably burst out laughing after I do something and get a big shot. The problem for me is I have to be really cautious due to my age (Younger guys reading this will find out. The body doesn’t heal as fast and injuries hurt more as you get older.) and the fact that I’m currently without health insurance. So I have to really be disciplined to not go crazy taking chances in my skating. Fortunately, I also feel a certain amount of fear that helps balance the desire for that adrenaline high. Fortunately further, developing myself spiritually has caused me to outgrow my desire for various intoxicants, recreational drugs and some of the “good time” things I used to engage in. I generally lead a sober lifestyle where I’m really interested in embracing reality and the truth, whatever they are and this also lessons my susceptibility for going for that adrenaline high. I’ve found I can get careless sometimes and neglect to do my safety checks before I bomb a hill during a night session. It’s easy to shrug it off and assume you’ll be ok rather than make sure you’ve given a good look to the pavement to make sure there are no potentially dangerous surprises down the hill in your path. Just the right amount of discipline is important and productive. The classic application of #60 is being able to do something you don’t want to that you know is best, and being able to delay your gratification. However, one does not want discipline to degenerate into mere drill or austerity which is as equally damaging to one’s well-being as hedonism.

#61 and #25 These are taken together as they involve sincerity, which is particularly important to Taoists. This involves having 100% unadulterated authenticity in your life, being yourself, channeling your inner divine spirit, expressing your inner truth, and doing so spontaneously, naturally and faithfully. This involves using skating as an expression of yourself, following your natural inclinations and developing your own skating style. I realized my style involves using my boards for transportation and exercise. I’m usually going somewhere on my board. I don’t enjoy driving to some hill to bomb or free styling around my neighborhood as much as I enjoy going on errands, or going on my workout loop or going to the coffee shop, etc. I had to realize that I wasn’t going to pursue some ideal of trying to go as fast as someone else or buy a certain board, truck or wheel because someone else looked so cool riding it in a video. It involves riding what you like because it feels right and riding how you like for the same reason and not caring what others think. Find your own way or path and follow it. Furthermore, #61 involves being empty, open and unattached, which is particularly important for getting in the zone & approaching your peak performance. You must have technique & skill already, but being in the zone allows full access & realization of whatever skill you have. Being empty/open is very high on the ladder of spirituality. It involves not being attached to outcomes. So if you’re competing, you skate without caring if you win or lose. If you’re out with friends, you skate without comparing your skill level, or at least without caring or being attached to whether or not you are better than them. So ultimately, you just skate. Furthermore, at its highest level, being empty/open means not being concerned with gain or loss in one’s life and not even entertaining likes and dislikes. This is a very high level, not approached by many people in the world, even in a generation.

#30 This involves deliberately choosing to follow and channel positive energy rather than negative energy, and appreciating how deeply you need this energy and its sustenance. Positive energy is life affirming and creative while negative energy is destructive. Positive energy makes you expand and feel buoyant while negative energy brings you down and makes you contract. I don’t want to mislead people to think positive energy always “feels good,” cause while this is generally the case, sometimes learning to cultivate virtue can involve challenging and even painful learning experiences. In any case, I am reminded of the lesson of #30 when I feel myself getting rigid and hardened (which I am prone to doing). I am pretty optimistic, but tend to be serious and even brooding, so skating is like therapy for me and it seems I need regular doses of the therapy. Skating helps me to stay open to others and upbeat about my life and open to good things happening in it. #30 means one must pay attention to the types of thoughts one has and how one feels and how one affects others and other life in general. Sometimes it’s very difficult to channel positive energy. When others are attacking you physically or non-physically, or during a time when the economy is down and money is difficult to come by, one tends to react negatively. This principle can require great strength and perseverance to integrate. Once when I first began speedboarding, I was bombing a short hill in a nearby neighborhood practicing and trying to pull a right (backside for me as I’m goofyfoot) turn. I made the turn the first time and went wide and then looked up and was staring at the grille of a minivan that had just crested the next hill heading right for me. I had a split second to notice a soccer mom driving that I don’t think even saw me. I bailed into the grass and thank God, she didn’t run over my board although she passed over it. Anyway, I kept practicing the turn when a lady came out of a house across the street giving me a hard time because I was making her dog bark inside her house. At one point I thought she was going to call the police which although I didn’t want to have to deal with, I agreed was fine with me as I felt confident I wasn’t breaking any laws. I did my best not to respond in kind and empathized and realized I was in her neighborhood and despite feeling she was being unreasonable about it, I finally negotiated an agreement with her; I would not play on that hill on weekdays after 4pm cause that’s when she got home from work. The point is that I was able to respond positively to her negative attitude and make an agreement with her that was satisfactory to both of us. She is the only person in my two years of skating that I’ve remotely had a problem with, a record I feel good about and really want to continue. This principle is especially important when one remembers law #8 or the law of karma. If the energy you put out is reflected back, it is wise to be careful about what kind of energy you’re going to harvest in the future.

#11 I am not interpreting this in strict accordance to the I Ching’s commentary. This lesson is all about balancing and integrating opposites in one’s life. We all must balance skating with other obligations we have. Sometimes I must forgo a session in order to fulfill a family obligation or because I need to do errands or work or because my roommate (cat) needs some attention. Further, this involves meeting life and the situations in life “just right.” Taoists call it the middle way, avoiding extremes and excess. You want to meet whatever you are doing with just enough of whatever it takes. In cooking, if one uses no salt, food may taste bland, but if one uses too much salt, it tastes salty. Either one is undesirable, only just the right amount of salt works. When I’m standing at the top of my favorite aggressive carving hill, or when I’m about to bomb down and pull some turns, I try and meet the situation just right, being confident and not pensive or overconfident. I’ve found if I’m pensive, I fall just as readily as if I’m cocky. Today I’m working on my speedboarding and being fully committed once I start down a hill or once I start into a turn. For me sometimes it requires me to really “muster up” the intensity necessary to make turns at my skill limit. When I first started skating I fell a lot because I would have success on a hill and then on a subsequent session I would go down too cocky thinking “I own this hill” and seconds later I’d fall. So caution and aggression need to be balanced. It’s the same with everything in life. Everything must be balanced and integrated.

#15 This involves humility with others and reverence towards the creator or source of creation. In Taoism, humility is paramount and likely the most important principle with sincerity (#61) a close second. The Tao te Ching says that the high is lowered and the low is raised. Essentially, Taoists aim to harmonize with heaven, or positive energy from God or the source. When this is done, Taoists enjoy a flow of positive energy as indicated by #30. It is impossible to harmonize with heaven and enjoy the flow of positive energy if one is not humble as being humble is what makes one open to this positive energy and virtue. As I mentioned before, when I’m skating, I’ve learned that if I approach a hill overconfidently as if I “own the hill,” I often fall because I get reckless or careless. Furthermore, when I’m skating, I’m often away from home so as I pass through a neighborhood, I realize it’s not my neighborhood and I go out of my way to be friendly and wave to almost every car and certainly every person I pass. I try and make people comfortable that I’m only there to skate and I’m very respectful towards property and cars and try not to take the right of way from motorists. (This of course is also a good strategy for my safety.) Due to the energy I emit or channel, I have really enjoyed smiles and good wishes from 99% of the people I’ve met thus far. There are several people I know by name that I see regularly as I pass by. I’ve met many pets, mostly dogs, and met their “owners,” and have been encouraged by the “owners” to go in their yards to pet the dogs whenever I pass through. I believe all this is due in part to humility. In life, humility makes people warm up to you while arrogance almost universally puts people off. I’ve found some street style skaters have an attitude about longboarders. Some seem to look down on me as I pass, usually I wave, and usually I get a wave back, but once in a while they’ll make a derogatory comment or ignore me. Some are longboarders also, and some I can just tell it would be pointless to try and start a conversation with. It’s great to enjoy your chosen style and work at improving your skills, but dangerous to be proud of or full of yourself. The reason is that pride will prevent you from learning new skills and usually from making new friends. There’s a saying “Empty your cup,” I learned about in the book “Zen in the Martial Arts,” by Joe Hyams. Essentially, if you’re full of yourself or proud of your knowledge, you are like a coffee cup that can’t fit any fresh coffee in. You won’t be able to learn anything new. Academics and PhD’s are particularly susceptible to this.

#53 This involves making constant, gradual progress, not too fast and not too slow. I have tried to emulate this principle in my skating by using this to guide my skill development. I’ve only been skating about two and a half years, but I’m sure my speedboarding skills could be greater if I’d have been more aggressive. I have chosen to progress more gradually and err on the side of caution, so I am healthy enough to go to work and skate again the next day. There have also been times when I realized I was being too cautious and not letting myself take some fun calculated risks. Part of the image describing this principle in the I Ching describes the difference between a tree and a weed growing. The weed grows much taller, much faster, but has a poor root system compared to a tree and is easily uprooted, while the tree grows slower and grows down almost as deep as it grows up and is thus much stronger, more stable and longer lasting. This is the idea behind this principle. I try to be constantly growing in my life, but not so fast that I hit a wall and crash, and not so slow that I lose my momentum. This is especially tricky for me, as I tend to push myself pretty hard and this principle is one of many I need a lot of work on.

Throughout this article, we’ve been indirectly talking about “feeling good,” we’ve been discussing getting stoked and the different highs one can experience through skating. Tony Robbins in his book “Awaken the Giant Within,” first brought this concept to my attention; that most of our behavior is motivated by a desire to feel good. I’d like to close out this article by guaranteeing everyone certain results from embarking on a spiritual path or furthering their spiritual development, but this would be very misleading. Remember what Morpheus told Neo in “The Matrix” when he offered him the red pill? He said, “I’m only offering you the truth.” Engaging this spiritual process should not be done lightly. This process has been highlighted by some extremely painful experiences for me; I’ve been forced to confront things about myself & life I would have most definitely avoided and further, using the I Ching has brought me to some really low points, due to my negativity & flaws being reflected back at me. Besides that though, these principles have helped keep me safe in my skating and helped me to do it harmoniously with people driving cars and with homeowners while skating in their neighborhoods. The principles have become a major part of my spiritual process and made me feel connected to God and really improved my overall quality of life. However, I don’t advise anyone to adamantly expect specific results. I should also say that, life has its ups and downs and you will likely continue to experience the ups and downs even after you begin working with these principles. As you progress, you tend to smooth out the ups and downs and I believe eventually reach a constant state or mood devoid of ups and downs. This may not sound desirable and ironically it’s not, it’s just what happens. It’s sort of like Christmas as it is celebrated in popular U.S. culture. Just for the sake of this metaphor, let’s set aside the religious significance of the Christmas holiday. When I was younger, I was very excited about Christmas and getting presents. It was a very ego-centric perspective, but perfectly appropriate for a young child. As I got older, I learned Christmas is also about giving gifts and as I got older still, I became more interested in the giving than the receiving as I felt blessed in so many other areas that presents seemed less important. Then as an adult I began to see Christmas as not about giving or receiving presents, but about being healthy and being together with my family. Then I began to realize Christmas is just another day of the year and notwithstanding the religious significance, to make such a big deal about it is sort of silly, and that whatever pleasant stuff we feel or do at Christmas, we should be doing and feeling all year long. Throughout all these stages of my “Christmas evolution” I became more and more regular or constant about the holiday and less and less excited and “high” about it. Today, I celebrate Christmas because everyone else does, and I enjoy it. Many of us have undergone this same “evolution” regarding Christmas, but if you were told about this evolution as a child, you would not find it desirable. So goes the ups and downs of life, and happiness. Most of us are either feeling unhappy, trying to be happy, or feeling alternately happy and unhappy, or we’re struggling to maintain some happiness we feel. As you’re reading this, how you receive these ideas, assuming you haven’t heard them before, depends on where you are right now regarding happiness. If we apply law #3 to happiness, we must accept that in order to be happy we must also be sad. In order for happiness to have meaning, one must have felt sadness, and in order for sadness to hurt, one must have felt happiness. In the Tao te Ching, it says, “happiness is rooted in misery and misery lurks beneath happiness.” Further, if you apply law #5 to happiness, you must accept that happiness cannot last forever. Regarding joy and happiness, the harder one looks for joy, the more elusive it becomes. You cannot try & find happiness, you can only be happy. This is a paradox & cannot be explained. You’ve got to struggle with it until you’re done with it, but here’s a hint: “the sage is sick of sickness, therefore he is not sick.” Fortunately, what you find when you outgrow this cycle is something else. A sort of happiness, but defined differently, not according to having certain material things or people or even your health, but it’s defined as “what happens.” I do not remember where I first heard this definition, but happiness is what happens. This is a very advanced stage, and I believe this is how an enlightened one would define happiness. In any case, it’s perfectly healthy and natural to really enjoy skating, and there is a positive energy available to someone who practices spiritual development. Spiritual development does feel good, but it’s not an emotion like happiness or joy and it’s not related to any external thing but is related to how you respond to your internal and external environment and to how you relate to the source or god or truth. It’s something you enjoy and feel very deeply inside. It’s not superficial.

When I first started deliberately practicing spirituality, I thought enlightenment was a plateau or an end, but now I know enlightenment is a beginning and that furthermore, enlightenment happens moment by moment (“Zen Mind Beginners Mind,” Shunryu Suzuki. pp86). I speculate that it’s sort of like standing on a beach ball submerged in the water. Gravity and the force that pushes the ball to the surface are acting against you and you must concentrate constantly to maintain your balance. Enlightenment is like learning to maintain your balance on the beach ball indefinitely. It’s not an end, it must continue moment by moment.

Writing this article has been a help to me, as the old saying goes, “whatever you really want to learn you must teach.” The process of explaining this & putting it into words has really been helpful. I hope it makes you think about or question you own spirituality & make your skating more spiritual. I really feel blessed to have gotten involved with longboarding. I hope this article was entertaining and insightful. Keep on pushing.

About J.A.P.

intending to live a life free of regret, learn the Truth/truth and align with it. focused on spiritual development and having fun. maybe something i have to say here will help you on your path of growth and living in peace and joy.
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3 Responses to The Tao of Skate

  1. Chris Krash says:

    Glad you picked up skating as an adult – need more people like you. There’s nothing else like it as I’m sure you’ve figured out. Glad you approach neighborhoods,streets, and roads, with humility and respect. I do the same but the sad truth is that many do not and give our sport a bad reputation, especially in the downhill/freeride disciplines of longboarding. You clearly put a lot of time and thought into this post and it was a refreshing spin tying Tao fundamentals to skating. I’m not familar with Tao but know from my own studies into Buddhism that it can be difficult to reconcile spiritual practices with the rush you get bombing hills at high speed and dropping into a nice layback slide. Take care.

    • J.A.P. says:

      Thanks for your comments Chris. This was originally published in concrete wave mag in feb 2009. Since then i have a new job and not as much time to sk8. Bummer dude!

      • Chris Krash says:

        That is a bummer. Bills must be paid. I met Mike at at a Longboard retailer luncheon down in Long Beach in January. Cool guy. Concrete Wave is right-on. Skate when you can. Take care

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