There are things I am great at: working hard, disciplined daily yoga practice, working hard…
And things I completely suck at, most of which involve letting go of control. I comfort myself with the idea that it’s a contextual thing: sometimes it’s appropriate to surrender, and sometimes it isn’t. Which is actually true. Cough cough.
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.
It does seem rather silly to surrender to an unacceptable situation when, with enough perseverance, it can be changed. 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.
Some things though? Are in the hands of the Divine.
Even my order-obsessed brain can grasp this. When my marriage ended some years ago, 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 my husband and I split up, and feeling this tremendous sense of lightness.
The worst that could happen had, and (this is 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 reverted to type and started to care what people thought again. Deep pattern, hard to break. I still care, just not as much as I once did. This feels so good that 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.
Here 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 compulsion to always be right.
The desire for more money than we actually need (not that a little bit of a buffer is a bad thing).
Dissatisfaction with our physical appearance.
Insecurity about our competence to have and raise children, hold down jobs, pay the mortgage.
Fear of what the future holds.
Regret that we didn’t do the best we could in the past.
Worrying 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 yoga 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! Maybe if I get ‘vairagyam‘ tattooed on my person, it will serve as a reminder to detach. 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.
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 no control over the choices of another adult, even one I loved, I was free of the guilt. At that moment of surrender, I began to heal.
I forgave myself: I had done the best I could. I was fully present when I spoke to him. The timing and manner of his death was not my choice.
So. The appropriate result 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: grief, 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. And in those moments, we will remember that we are always in the sate of Yoga.
So simple! Pity simple doesn’t always mean easy, eh?