WHY CONCRETE IS THERAPY
PSYCHOLOGY + PROCESS
My first attempt at skateboarding was in 1997. My friend Jeremy invited me to join him and a bud after class to skateboard around the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. I had just bought a skateboard and before YouTube et al, heading out with a friend was really the only way to learn. I quickly came to realize that this so called lesson was really Jeremy and his bud skateboarding ahead and yelling to me down the street to just get on and push. I finally joined them about 30 minutes later at a bar, skateboard under my arm having walked the entire time. Concrete hurts.
I grew up in a place where skateboarding was mostly relegated to convenience store parking lots. I knew kids who skateboarded or what I thought was skateboarding, which was really just sitting on a skateboard in a 7-11 parking lot sipping spiked slurpees. It wasn’t until I moved to California in the late 90’s that I had even seen a skatepark. And it wouldn’t be until 2021 at age 45, when I would finally step on a skateboard with a deep intent to learn.
Pandemics lift a veil. For me at least. Things that used to seem scary, both internally and externally, ah not so much now. Skateboarding, sure. What’s the big deal really?
Well, I would soon find out.
Skateboarding is hard. Really fucking hard. People that do it, are relentless in their attempts. And the ones that make it look easy, they are really, really, really good. It is a sport for those who love eternally being green. There is always more to learn, you are never ever done. And I love this. But also, this sucks. Just standing on a skateboard is hard, never mind moving, on concrete. It’s terrifying, miserable, and also, wonderful.
Jerry Sienfeld has an old bit about skateboarders. The insanity of it all. Jumping over concrete on an 8 inch wide piece of wood connected to 4 small wheels. It’s totally stupid. But Seinfeld points out that it is also illuminating. The end of his bit hints at the tenacity of skateboarders. Something to the effect of, those kids, they are going to be alright in life. They fall and get back up over and over again. They’ve made a sport of failure. And that’s really something.
Failure on a skateboard is confronted on the daily. Minute by minute actually. And constantly compounded by fear. Real, deep fear. If you spend enough time at a skatepark, you’ll no doubt overhear the word fear a lot. Only to be outdone by the word commit. You just have to commit. Yeah, it's scary, but you got this. Just commit. You will feel like you are going to die, but just commit, you’ll make it. Fear and failure are possibilities for anyone on a board, pro or ametuer. It’s what is done with the fear that dictates whether or not you stay on.
For an adrenaline fan like myself, skateboarding is pretty much the perfect mix of exhilaration, fear and bliss. The possibility for fight or flight at every turn, it’s like being the rollercoaster, instead of just riding on one. But damn if it isn’t really hard and slow. And this has been my miserable struggle. Just trying to stay on the board. Stand on the board, turn on the board. The basics have been my make or break commitment. The process is slow. Like really slow. And I don't like slow, I mean that’s why I want to skateboard, right? But then there’s concrete and my age and being a mom and all those things make me consider very carefully the significance of taking it slow. Helmet and Michelin man sized padding and all.
That’s not to say there haven’t been improvements. They’ve been slow and in very small increments. First holding on to the wall, letting go of the wall, moving away from the wall, making a tiny turn, making a big turn. Falling. A lot. And what I’ve learned is that the process is long, slow, deliberate, and takes commitment. To your body, your potential, and uncertainty. And this makes skateboarding a lot like therapy. Very small movements and lots of unexpected circumstances. We enter therapy to learn about ourselves. To be able to better respond to what we confront in our lives, whether by choice of whether it is thrust upon us. And what I’ve come to understand about skateboarding is that it works the same way.
Here’s how. I’d say on average I am able to get my feet on the board in the perfect position about 4 percent of the time. When they are I can feel it. Everything makes sense. I can close my eyes and my body just knows what to do. There is balance. There is groundedness. There is flow. The other 96% of the time, my body is making all the adjustments for my feet not being in the optimal position. I am teaching my body to be flexible. To respond to numerous scenarios. To trust. To compensate for my feet, gum, a stone, an acorn, a twig, another skateboarder. And it usually is able to, but sometimes the hazard comes too quick, and I’m knocked on my ass. My body shakes. Sometimes I cry. There is great discomfort in body and mind. I doubt everything up to that moment and inevitably decide to try again. I’m better at falling now, and I have the support of padding. You get better at response. And this is everything and exactly what we learn to do in therapy.
Life is hilarious in that the potential for misunderstandings in connecting with another person are practically infinite, all the while, we are a species whose survival is dependent on connecting and collaboration. Here’s what you need to survive. Good fucking luck doing it. OMG. Essentially, like skateboarding, therapy teaches us how to stay on the board when our footing is less than optimal. When our footing is miserable and there are hazards at every turn. Through therapy we learn flexibility, boundaries, and a better sense of our capacity in times of both celebration and grief.
I am not a big fan of the phrase, we can do hard things. Duh. Of course we fucking can. We are human. It’s all hard. Every single damn day. But we also love, and laugh, experience pleasure and joy, and this makes the hard shit survivable. And the depths of how skateboarding has been hard for me run deep. The internal baggage I have to stare down each day when I step on that board is enormous. I do not like those internal demons. I never find them funny, and they have been with me for so damn long. And I doubt if they will ever go away, but every morning I step back on that skateboard, I’m saying, not today devil, not today.
And this is the same for therapy. I think oftentimes the vulnerability and humility of learning something new awakens our demons. And a lot of the time we don’t know which demons and exactly what level of drama they will present with. But should fear of demons convince us to deny ourselves an experience? Especially one where the benefits drastically outweigh the risk? I guess we are asking ourselves that question a lot right now.
The conclusion I’ve reached is to lean into what I’ve learned at the skatepark. Do it anyway. Trust your body, even if it feels impossibly vulnerable to do so. Know when you are ready. And when you are ready, chances are you'll still be scared. Being ready does not mean being void of feeling. Being ready sits next to doubt, fear, and mistrust. Being ready is doing the slow and hard work and having faith in that work. Our mind. Our body. To be scared and do it anyway.
Life is hard, but so is concrete and I’m living proof we can dance with hard immovable forces.
Thank you for being here.
Listen to this episode of JOY IS NOW here.