Why Surrendering is Not Giving Up

I’m just going to cut to the chase of the article and tell you that the key to an easy life is to surrender… and the hardest thing you will ever do in life is surrender.

I caught the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” on TV the other day. It was right after Julia Roberts’ character Elizabeth– upon having eaten her problems and feelings in Italy– arrived in India. She  was at an Ashram for a spiritual retreat and was having a very hard time letting go. A friend she made there, “Richard from Texas” tells her straight up, that what she needs to do is “Just surrender, Groceries.” This does not go over well.

I giggled and shuddered at the same time as I was flooded with memories of being told the same by the various “Richards” in my life. My reactions were equally charming. I remember at one point while living in Bali being so frustrated at my inability to ‘surrender’ that I threatened to punch the next yogi in the face who told me to do it.

I hated the word.

I hated it because as much as I understood the meaning intellectually, I had NO idea how to actually go about doing it. And no matter how many times I asked and begged for instructions, no one could ever tell me how exactly to do it either.

We are a divided group. Many of us aren’t even aware that there is a force around us or possibly guiding us that needs to be surrendered to. And then there are those among us who were awoken somewhere along the way.

What do we then need to do to make sense of all the things that are happening– the pain, the suffering, the knowing that things should or shouldn’t be as they are but yet they are?

In the circles I’ve touched down into, it’s all about karma. And in order to know our karma, we get readings.

But what kind of reading you ask? Well there’s your tarot, vedic, angelic, oracle, Mayan, Chinese, numerology, Kabbalic numerology, Kundalini numerology, psychics, mystics, fortune teller’s and tea readers. And then let’s not forget the straight up Western Astrological Zodiac readings– I’ll give you bonus points if you know your Sun, Moon and Ascendant signs!

All this is to say we spend a lot of time and money trying to make sense of our past, present and future so we can decide what we should or should not do next. Because we need to know if it is going to be right or wrong, and we need to know which yoga class to go to on Sunday so we can work on our karma.

But just like surrender is the flip side of control, karma too has it’s B-side: free will.

I’ve been getting readings since I was 14 and no one ever told me I was going to get cancer. Not one person ever flipped over a card and said “Hey, watch out for some big heavy illness in your late 30’s.” But every single reading had a point where I was told I needed to find a way to let go of my fear and suffering, to surrender or else I would suffer more. I didn’t understand at the time, but they were all giving me the warning sign; I just didn’t know how what to do with it.

There is an OSHO Zen Tarot card I used to pull. It was a man hanging in the space between two cliffs– hands on one side, feet on the other, holding on for dear life. The card was about letting go. The fear, pain and suffering he was feeling was because he was holding on so hard because he was afraid to fall. If he could just let go and allow himself to fall into the unknown, he would find he was protected and would land on something safe, soft and wonderful. I wanted to get it so badly I even had the Sanskrit word for “surrender” tattooed on the inside of my wrist: Namaha, I bow and surrender with love.

It’s taken a lot of practice. When the shit of life hits the fan I still defer to the readings and karma to try and understand why things are the way they are. No reader worth their salt will ever tell you what to do. Their job is just to navigate through all the story and make some sense of it so we can then make choices to move in a better direction.

I found myself the other day counseling a student who was having a difficult time with a very unhappy relationship. She was trying so hard to control all the parts that she couldn’t see how by just letting go a little bit everything she wanted would fall into place. All I could say to her was that she had to trust and surrender. I had become someone’s “Richard” and she was me all those years ago. When she asked me how, I told her this: Sometimes I forget, and I have to let myself hang in that space between the cliffs until it gets so uncomfortable I have no choice but to let go. And then other times I find myself effortlessly moving through one situation into another.

I’m not sure she got it completely, but at least she didn’t punch me in the face.

Artwork by: James Ormiston.

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