Surrender is one of those words that has a negative connotation in our society and is usually associated with losing, with the white flag of surrender being what most people think.
But in reality, surrender is a powerful action that requires a lot of courage. I’m not talking about the surrender of one side to another or surrendering your dreams or giving away your personal power or giving up. I’m talking about the surrender of ourselves, our feelings, our expectations and our situation to the reality of the moment.
When you can surrender yourself to the moment, you empower yourself and give yourself a great gift. You release yourself of the fears, the “what if’s,” the “should haves,” the anger of “what was” or the anxiety of “what could be” in the future, and instead you can focus on just one moment in time — the moment you have right now. This allows you to open up to opportunities, solutions and connections when you surrender and accept your present reality.
You might not like what your present reality is, but by surrendering you create the space for change. When you don’t surrender, you may end up hurting yourself more than the actual situation does. Let me share a simple example.
I have a friend who is going through a tough time. He is having some long-term health issues related to a rare disorder. Unfortunately, some people think his disorder is all in his head. I was talking with him the other day, and he was complaining because he doesn’t feel that his family members are acting the way they should because of his disorder. This situation has been going on for over a year and my friend has tried talking to them about it, with no changes. I asked him if he thought his family members were going to change. He said no. So then I said, “The only thing you can do is release and surrender your expectations of them. You said yourself that they are not going to change. You expecting them to change only causes more pain to yourself and strains an already tense relationship. If you can surrender to the reality of situation and find other people who can support you in the way you need to be supported, you can remove the pain you have been feeling for the past year because of how you think someone else should act.”
Control is an Illusion
In addition to our expectations of others, we spend an incredible amount of time trying to control every aspect of our lives. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that we have control over things outside of our control and will try to plan for every contingency. We worry or get stressed if our plan doesn’t go exactly as planned, and will go out of our way to force and make things happen the way we want them to.
How many times have you spent worrying about something that never even happens? We’re all guilty of this, whether we’re worrying about a potential snowstorm, a social interaction, or a potential problem at work. We may come up with dozens of scenarios to figure out what we are going to do or say. These scenarios often go beyond simple planning and can become consuming. When we get into this type of state, we can cause ourselves to feel stress, anxiety, or depression.
The truth is that control is an illusion. The only thing we can truly control in life is how we respond to situations in our lives. Control is one way that we try to shut down fear. We tell ourselves, “If I just do this, this, and that, then this thing I am afraid of…fill in the blank here — it could be loneliness, sickness, homelessness, poverty, being a victim of a crime, whatever…will not happen to me.”
While we can’t control things, we can take steps to mitigate whatever fear or thing it is that we are trying to avoid. So, we can cultivate relationships, eat healthily and exercise, save our money, or put sturdy locks on our doors. Taking steps is healthy and positive. Trying to control things, on the other hand, is unhealthy.
Like our expectations, control closes us off. We become hyper-focused on whatever it is that we are trying to do and completely miss out on other opportunities. Control also keeps us squarely in the past or in the future — and out of the present moment. We are busy scanning the environment for all of the “what if’s” that we need to address or are spending time in the past thinking of all the “should have, could have, would have” moments that lead to the situation we are in at the present moment.
When we release our expectations and need for control, when we surrender, we are saying:
I know I am strong enough to handle whatever comes my way. I know and trust that the universe (or God or Allah or Buddha or a higher force) has a plan for me that I could never conceive of fully on my own…and I am open to receiving that plan. I know that I am taken care of and that I have options. I am releasing this fear that is holding me back from enjoying this present moment.
But surrendering can be hard, especially when we are in the middle of a highly emotional situation. I’ve found that it helps to ask yourself, What is the absolute worst that can happen?, and then look objectively at your answer to see how realistic your answer is.
La Bestia and the Boa Constrictors
Let me share a recent example from my life. I recently built a beautiful home in Guatemala. I call it my spiritual sanctuary, and I split time between California and Guatemala. I was down in Guatemala at the beginning of the year, settling into the house and taking care of all the things that you take care of when you are just finishing with the building of a house and are furnishing it to make it into a home. And for the most part everything was good, except for one thing — La Bestia.
La Bestia is my 24-year old Toyota pickup truck that I bought last July when I decided to buy land and build a house here. My friend, Pedro*, who oversaw the building of my house, had suggested that I get a pickup truck that could be used to haul materials to the construction site.
I thought it was a great idea, and he had his son scope out options for me based on the price range I had specified. Once his son found a viable candidate (La Bestia), he then went and checked it out. Satisfied, he then took me to see the truck. (The reason why they went first was to set a price before the seller could see that the buyer was a foreign woman, which I really appreciated). We took the truck on a test drive right over to Pedro’s cousin’s mechanic shop, where it was pronounced a good, solid truck.
And it has been. Pedro had driven the truck every day for the past six-plus months with very few problems. All of that changed when I got there.
La Bestia challenged me every step of the way. Sometimes it would start, other times it wouldn’t. Sometimes it would drive up the hill to my house with no problems, and other times it just didn’t feel like it and would sputter and die halfway up. On those days, I would leave it at the foot of the hill and walk the rest of the way home. It rattled and shaked and wheezed like Hesperus, the old car in the children’s storybook, and half the time it would stall when I was putting it in first to drive. I was afraid to drive it the 30-minutes to the city, and definitely didn’t want to drive it at night, for fear of having it break down and leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Mind you, it would always start, go AND drive up the hill for Pedro, which led me to believe that La Bestia didn’t actually like me at all. I was quick to point out to La Bestia that I was the one who bought the new tires, windshield wipers, spark plugs, air filter and whatever that part was that was replaced two weeks ago. I was the one that gave him a nice oil change. And, I pointed out, life was pretty easy with me since I’m just one person and we typically just go to the city for groceries. But La Bestia didn’t seem to care, and continued tormenting me.
Every time La Bestia wouldn’t start or gave me problems, I found myself getting really upset and wondering why I came down to Guatemala in the first place. I started to ask myself if I had made a big mistake.
It was irrational, and I knew it, so I spent some time trying to figure out why this was so upsetting to me. What I realized was that La Bestia was a trigger for all my fears about safety and security. How could I feel safe and secure if the f#@*ing pickup truck wouldn’t start or go? Especially since I am a single woman living alone in the jungle in a country where the native language isn’t English? My most basic need felt threatened by the lack of control I felt over La Bestia’s functionality…and was most likely a microcosm of the stress I was feeling about all of the changes I have been going through lately.
So I did what I do whenever fears come up for me — I thought through the worst-case scenario and let it play out in my mind. For me, the worst case would be to have La Bestia stop working on the road between my house and Flores (the city), late at night, in an area where there aren’t any people. There wouldn’t be any streetlights, and walking the rest of the way to my house could be dangerous because it is so dark. Of course, in my worst-case scenario, it would also be raining, so I wouldn’t want to walk. And there would be at least one boa constrictor slithering around, which would REALLY make me not want to walk.
As I let the feelings flow over me as I mentally experienced my worst-case scenario, I realized just how ridiculous it was and started to laugh. Even if La Bestia broke down late at night, the likelihood of there being no people, no streetlights, rain and snakes was pretty slim. It’s a busy road and there is always someone on it. And Pedro and some of my other friends would come and get me if I called.
With that insight, I relaxed about La Bestia and knew that no matter what, I would be fine. I realized that one thing I could do is put a flashlight in the cab of the pickup, just in case, and released everything else. I began trusting again that I was exactly where I needed to be, and that I had been led here for a reason. And guess what happened?
La Bestia began starting every time for me. He makes it up the hill without stalling. He goes to town and back without any problems. He still rattles, shakes and wheezes, but that is part of his charm. I feel so happy now that I’ve even had his name put on his windshield, which makes me laugh every time I see it. Even though he doesn’t have a radio, I find myself singing while I drive him…and having faith in my life.
We’ve all been there. And we’ve all seen what happens when we surrender and turn it over. New openings and new opportunities come in — often better then what we originally had in mind.
When we surrender, we create a new state of mind for ourselves that allows us to see clearly:
- We are not surrendering our personal power. Our personal power remains intact. We can still say no. We can still leave the job or the relationship. We can still say we are committed to our dreams. But when we surrender, we are taking actions from a place of stillness, clarity and presence/in the now. We release expectations, judgments and negativity. When we are with “what is” we accept what is. We don’t cover it with judgments, negativity or expectations. We empower ourselves. We may decide to make some changes, but we accept…and that removes a lot of stress from our lives.
- We minimize or release our ego. Our ego thrives in drama. It likes to feel as if it is doing something important. Usually the ego brings a whole host of defense mechanisms and unconscious responses to situations. When we are present and accepting, there is no role for the ego. This means that we have the ability to consciously choose a different response or approach.
- We connect more deeply with our higher self. When we are present without our ego, we can connect more deeply with our higher self. Our higher self is that little voice that whispers to us. Usually the ego is screaming, so it can be difficult to hear our higher self. But without the ego, we can. The wisdom and guidance of our higher self can help us move through the situation.
- We can see other solutions. Surrender allows for opening within us, which can lead to an opening in different types of solutions that we would consider.
So How Do You Surrender?
Like everything in life, surrender takes practice. I suggest you start practicing on “small” things that have less of an emotional charge for you.
The first step is to recognize when you feel like you are fighting against the current. Maybe you’re feeling tense, or sad, or angry. Maybe you’ve had a bunch of things happen that are keeping you down. Maybe you’re losing the joy you felt for this particular activity (if appropriate). Are you thinking about what should be or could be? These may be signs that you’re trying to control something or have expectations of how someone should act or something should play out.
Ask yourself what you are afraid of…similar to how I did with La Bestia. Really dig deep here. If an answer comes to you immediately, write that down, and then ask yourself, what else? And then, go deeper. Keep going deeper until you feel that you’ve reached the end of that fear. In my case, I could have stopped at I am afraid that La Bestia will break down on the side of the road. But that wasn’t the real fear. The real fear was around safety and security in a new country and feeling like I was completely alone (e.g., if I die, no one will know).
Once you’ve defined the fear, spend time with the fear. Ask yourself what the worst is that could happen. Let yourself really see what it is. Feel it, experience it.
Step back and look at your worst-case scenario with an open, objective mind. Maybe even with some humor, if that feels right. If that is the worst that could happen, how bad is it? And, how realistic is your worst-scenario?
Then ask yourself if there is anything productive you could do to help minimize your worst-case scenario. In my example, I now keep a flashlight in La Bestia and make sure my cell phone is charged. Those are the only things in my scenario that I could control. I had already done all the repairs that needed to be done. I couldn’t control the weather. I couldn’t control the locations of the towns. And I certainly couldn’t control where the boa constrictors would be hanging out (not that I’ve seen any here)!
As you consider your potential actions, don’t overlook forgiveness as an action you can take. You may also want to remind yourself of how you’ve overcome similar situations in the past.
Once you have done that, there really isn’t anything else for you to do. You can surrender everything else to the higher power. Walk away from it, asking that the higher power guide and help you as needed — whether that is helping you find an additional solution, helping you find peace, or watching over you. When you do so, when you surrender, you’ll find that your life if less stressful and anxiety-ridden and you feel more empowered.
*Name changed for privacy.