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I’ve always struggled with the whole “surrender” thing.
The idea that one can have complete and total trust in the universe, regardless of what happens. The concepts of “letting go” or “giving it up to God.”
It’s not that I don’t have trust or faith…but I’m an anxious person, so I also have questions.
It reminds me of that meme:
“I’m not a ‘Ride or Die’ chick. I have questions, like ‘Where are we going?’ ‘Why do I have to die?’ ‘Can we stop and get food?'”
When I’m going through a tough time, I try to remind myself that everything happens for a reason. That although things might feel sad or uncomfortable or even awful in this moment, this feeling won’t last forever. And that maybe this feeling is here to teach me a lesson that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn otherwise.
While these little pep talks can lower my anxiety from a 10 to a four (on a good day), I still find myself asking questions. Why is this happening to me? What lesson am I meant to learn? How long will these crappy feelings last? Is there any way to speed up this suffering and get to the healing phase?
And when I run out of questions, my brain starts looking, desperately, for solutions, ways to fix what I’ve decided is wrong or unfair or frustrating about my situation. Oftentimes, we convince ourselves that this is what “doing the work” or being self-aware or taking control of our destiny looks like.
Sometimes this works in my favor. Sometimes my persistence to ask questions and search endlessly for solutions does help pull me out of difficult times. But sometimes, that persistence simply leads to more struggle. More anxiety. More suffering.
Because not every situation can be managed or overcome. Not every situation can be cured by thought and logic and simply willing ourselves to make it better.
And this is where surrender comes into play.
I was reading an article by Amy Bloom in O Magazine last night when I came across a quote from Sylvia Boorstein, an author, psychotherapist, and Buddhist teacher.
I’ve always equated surrender with giving up. With allowing life to happen to me. With a complete loss of control. But Boorstein’s quote helped me realize that surrender is sometimes the most logical and emotionally healthy response we can have to an experience.
Honestly, it’s the best definition of surrender I’ve ever heard:
“I’ve discovered there are only two modes of the heart. We can struggle, or we can surrender. Surrender is a frightening word for some people, because it might be interpreted as passivity, or timidity.
Surrender means wisely accommodating ourselves to what is beyond our control.
Getting old, getting sick, dying, losing what is dear to us, is beyond our control. I can either be frightened of life and mad at life—or not. I can be disappointed and still not be mad. Stopping being mad—when I can—translates, for me as being compassionate, to myself as well as to other people.”
Tough times are always going to exist, no matter how much we may try to avoid them. (And believe me, I’ve tried…relentlessly.) But when we approach life with the idea that there are only two modes of the heart, the choice becomes clear. We can either struggle by asking ourselves questions we can’t have the answers to and trying to micromanage each moment of our lives, or we can mentally and emotionally adjust to the fact that certain things are out of our control.
Surrender isn’t giving up. It’s giving in. It’s recognizing when we’ve done all we can. It’s accepting where we are in this moment.
And it’s from that place of acceptance—of acknowledging our sadness or discomfort or disappointment with life instead of fighting against it, even under the guise of “doing the work”—that we can decide what the next best step is.