Surrender constantly calls to me like a bright sunny winter’s day. It asks me gently to let go of whatever I’m grasping at the moment, just as I long for spring in the midst of January’s snowfall. No spirituality worth its name, including twelve-step recovery programs, fails to name surrender as a key ingredient.
In surrender we let go of giving into the temptation at hand. But that doesn’t mean we give up. When I surrender I acknowledge that I’ve done the best I can. Now it’s time to stop and reflect and wait for whatever shall next arrive. Surrender is not a half-way friend. It asks for radical (to the root) pulling up and letting go. It cannot have strings attached, otherwise I’m tempted in my tricky passive-aggression to fight back, acting as if I have given in but secretly arming myself with the firepower to deliver a counter blow.
My specialty is in coaching men, particularly highly sensitive men. I suspect both men and women have a difficult time in our culture coming to grips with surrender but go about it in different ways. It seems to me that women generally have a larger capacity to surrender when they find it necessary, than men do. They have also been coerced, sometimes violently, by male-dominated situations to buckle under. But I think women also recognize that life is a series of battles and each battle requires somewhat different tactics. Some are fought quickly with a clear result. Others battles require surrender…for the moment. These are useful for wearing down the opposition and ultimately prevailing. I’ve seen this time and again in marriages.
Men tend approach their battles differently. Our society teaches them, if they are to be “real men”, to view surrender as defeat rather than as a possible tactic. Thus when faced with the possibility of surrender, I suspect that many men fight to the end as the only honorable option. When forced to back down and give in, even as a tactic toward ultimate victory, many men simply become angry and depressed. They would prefer to fall on their swords.
In my personal and professional lives, I have attempted various avenues to achieve my goals. I often came up against impenetrable road blocks in the form of authority figures and power plays, the equivalent of the kid on the field who owned the only ball and bat. In these cases I rarely surrendered and did not give in. Instead I gave up, feeling defeated, angry, shamed, isolated, rejected, and/or resentful.
James Dickson, in his ninth powerful word needed for spiritual fulfillment (see previous post) writes: “Finally, you surrender. Sometimes because you just can’t go another step. Sometimes because you have tried every other way possible and they didn’t work. When you get here, do nothing. Be present.” I find this last bit the most difficult for me. How do I do nothing and be present to the surrender, to the emptiness of not having or getting what I wanted? This includes being totally present to my unfulfilled expectations, to my need for self-compassion, and a renewal of hope for integrity.
Interior surrender to what life is offering me in this moment seems impossible to an action-oriented guy like me. I worry that I’m wasting time and watching opportunities evaporate. Yet I must let go of outcomes and allow my heart to settle into this empty moment, to feel deeply the desolation, fear, anxiety, and the real sensation that life is passing me by. And then to watch what happens next!
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(Original Artwork by Michael Parise)