Around my house, it’s time to get serious about trying to get pregnant. I’m terrified, and I realized last night it’s because I will have to give up so much control over my life. How do you do that? How do you go from “I make my own destiny” to “Let’s see what happens…” over night? I don’t know if I can do it.
After this, my friend Melanie and I had an email exchange about surrender too, so I thought, what the hell, let me tell you all my views! Oh, the infinite narcissism of the blogger. The last year has helped me understand the concept of surrender a little better, but it’s still something I struggle with.
I guess it’s a contextual thing: sometimes it’s appropriate to surrender, and sometimes it isn’t. My understanding of the concept of surrender can be summed up in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
It’s discerning what we can and can’t control that makes the whole thing so complicated. Because it seems rather silly to surrender in an unacceptable situation when it can, in fact, be changed, with enough perseverance. Witness the efforts of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. They did not surrender. They could have, the outlook didn’t look marvellous for either of their cause. But. It was an unacceptable situation. Which could, and eventually did, change. But pregnancy? Some of that is in the hands of the Divine. Same with relationships, I believe.
When my marriage ended, I had been trying very hard, for quite some time, to make it work. Eventually, I let go, I listened to the (very, very loud) messages my body and soul were sending me, and I surrendered my idea of a Perfect Life. I remember walking through the park one day, soon after we split up, and feeling this tremendous sense of lightness. The worst that could happen had happened, and, here was the exciting bit, at that moment, I didn’t care at all what people thought about me. I was free. Just me. Because I had let go, opened my hands and surrendered.
Unfortunately, I soon started to care what people thought again. Deep pattern, hard to break. I just don’t care as much as I once did. This is such a relief, and now I consciously practice letting go of my attachment to other people’s approval. What they think of me has, in fact, very little to do with me. I do the best I can. It’s enough. I know that. Even if I have to repeat it to myself rather often.
This is what I believe about surrendering, letting go: if we know that we are enough, just as we are, if we believe this in the core of our beings, then we can let go of many of the things in this life that cause us suffering. The need to always be right. The need for more money than we actually need (not that a little bit of a buffer is a bad thing). Worry about our physical attractiveness. Worry about our competence to have and raise children, hold down jobs, pay the mortgage. Worry about what the future holds. Worry that we didn’t do the best we could in the past. Worry about being loved. Or not. Both seem to cause suffering. I know: when I am loved I tend to spend a lot of time worrying about the situation changing, and when I am not, well, I worry that I am unlovable. Clearly I haven’t quite got a grip on this one yet, but I am trying!
For me, the essence of surrender is encapsulated in this sutra:
1.12 abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah
The mind can reach the state of Yoga through practice and detachment
(This is from TKV Desikachar’s translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)
I love this sutra, and, like the Anthroyogini, I feel that perhaps if I get ‘vairagyam‘ tattooed on my person, it will serve as a reminder to Let. Go. I know that surrender can mean other things than letting go, but for me, surrender as a practice of power is a practice of releasing rather than subsuming or submitting. It is a practice of forgiving, because when we hold onto anger, it makes us sick. Sick in our emotions, certainly, and sick in our bodies, often.
This is how I choose to understand the above sutra: When we do the very best we can, judged by whether we are fully present in the moment, and then let go of the fruits of our efforts, the appropriate result is guaranteed.
I say ‘appropriate result’ because things don’t always go the way we think they should, but if we did the best we could, that’s enough, and we can surrender.
When I was 21, one of my closest friends killed himself. He left a note for me. It was more than a year old, left over from the first time he had tried. I was devastated. I had known he was depressed, and he was certainly behaving more strangely than usual, but then, we were young and strange. Both of us. I had a boyfriend who needed my time, I had my final year of university to get through, and although I pressed my friend to talk, he didn’t want to. I backed down, thinking he would talk when he was ready. It took me a year to get over the guilt of not being able to see his suicide coming. When I finally realised that I had had no control over the choices of another adult, even one I loved, I was free of the guilt. It was when I surrendered my desire to have things be otherwise that I began to heal. I did do the best I could for my friend. I was fully present when I spoke to him. His death was not for me to control. So the appropriate result here was not that he lived, that was not his karma, but rather, that I remember him now with great love, and I remember the girl I was in that grief with great compassion.
That was my first lesson in letting go. There have been many since, just as I am sure there have been in your life!
If we can survive the really hard stuff: the grief, the bereavement, the pain of divorce, then maybe we can forgive those we love for the small things they do that irritate us, we can let go of the idea of conventional adulthood (married, mortgage, 2.5 kids) as the only valid way to be, we can surrender, even just a little bit, our holds on the steering wheel of life. Provided the situation is not violating us on some level, of course.
What do you think?
- Making a Yoga DVD: Lessons in non-attachment (yogawithnadine.com)
- It’s all about the heart (yogawithnadine.com)
- OK, Universe, Time Out! (yogawithnadine.com)