Photo by Piscilla du Preez on Unsplash
By Morella Devost
Some years ago, as the dream of a particular relationship was slipping through my fingers, I wrote a poem of agony that started like this:
I know there’s a way to transcend this
I can feel the soft edges of illusion
Surrender, you say
Surrendering to the pain; the hopelessness…
The dream that will never come true
The solo dance, like the woman tonight
In the middle of the barn
It was the heart of the years where I desperately wanted to find a soulmate, get married, and start a family. I had met someone; it looked promising for a few weeks, and then it came crashing down. In one conversation about how the relationship wasn’t working, he uttered the word “surrender.” It made me want to vomit. Surrender to what? To the thing I least want? To being single?
Surrendering is a bold, powerful action that makes us sick to our stomachs. So, if at this very moment you’re feeling queasy, or you have the urge to slap me as you read the word surrender… you might want to read on. When we have a visceral reaction to the idea of surrendering, it’s often because that’s what we need the most — to give ourselves permission to surrender.
Think about something you really want to change. Perhaps a relationship that isn’t working, or maybe the fact that you’d like to have a relationship but you don’t. Perhaps you have a health problem you’d like to be free of, or maybe it’s your finances that are in not-so-great shape.
Why exactly do we hate the thought of surrendering? We resist it because of what we believe it means. We think surrendering means we’re claudicating, we’re giving up hope. We’re settling for something we don’t want — and by doing so, we’ll never have what we truly want. The fighter inside us wants to keep fighting.
In the spring of 2019, I found myself yet again in the depths of surrender. I was watching both my marriage and my motherhood dreams dissolve. At 45 years old, it was pretty self-evident that once the marriage ended, I wouldn’t exactly go on the hunt for a baby-daddy. It was done. The dream for marriage and having a family… over.
Yes, I can tell you from experience that sometimes surrendering feels a lot like death. Though poetically beautiful, it’s not typically pleasant. And the fact is this: there is an implied death in surrendering. We are letting our attachment to things being a certain way die, and our belief that we can control everything in our lives dies with that. So, we resist surrendering because we want to hold on to control; but in reality, we have to let go. It doesn’t mean that things won’t change — everything always changes, but it does mean that we let go of our expectation that they change on our terms.
The fact that surrendering is a lot like death is precisely what makes it a powerful spiritual practice. The more we surrender, the more we allow grace to flow into our lives. The more we learn to die with grace.
Tibbetan Buddhism pays a great deal of attention to death. They emphasize the value of meditating on death and the impermanence of all things. When we fully grasp that all things are transient, we more fully appreciate the sacredness of each moment and each thing.
Sit with the impermanence of the thing you want to change for a few moments. Is it your relationship? Is it your health situation? Is it your finances or career? Sit with the reality that it will change, no matter what. Nothing is permanent. Furthermore, at some point, sooner or later, it will cease to be completely.
Now notice that if you start to feel anguish or despair, it’s because you’re projecting the current moment into the future. You thoughts might sound something like “But I don’t want it to be this way forever,” or “I don’t want to die without experiencing x or y.” If this is what’s happening for you right now, stop. That’s a mental trap. Take a breath and come back to this moment. The future isn’t happening now.
Surrendering is only about making peace with this moment. Right here, right now. All you need to do is look around you and see if you can surrender to this moment as you read this. Can you accept things as they are in this precise moment? Can you be at peace with the truth that all things will come to an end?
When we fully accept the impermanence of all things, we begin to touch the depth of life everywhere, in every instant. We begin to accept all things as they are, no matter how imperfect they appear, and we begin to learn to be at peace with death.
Which brings me to the deeper motivation behind this article today: humanity needs to make peace with death. Collectively, we need to accept death as a normal part of life. As scientific and medical advances have been made, we often hear expressions that reveal how many people want to believe they can “beat death,” and therefore come to regard dying as a failure, as a tragedy.
Sometimes big losses can certainly be described as tragedies. One family losing several loved ones at once is indeed a tragedy. It multiplies the grief and the magnitude of the void they leave. Or even an accident claiming the life of a child as a result of a relative’s error — it’s hard to call that anything other than a tragedy. And yet, that is not what most of us will experience in our lifetimes.
The reality is that the majority of us will live through the normal losses that all humans face. We will all lose relationships. We will all have dreams lost to time. We will all lose our loved ones to death, unless we’re the ones to go first. And some of us will live through significant material losses. This is the nature of life.
We can practice surrendering to the death of life in minute ways every day. We can contemplate the death of each day as the sun sets. We can release a page-turning novel as we come to the last paragraph. We can treasure each phone call with a loved one as if it were our last. This prepares us for the big losses, the big exercises in surrender.
The reality is that as of this writing, it’s April 6, and we’re still in the early weeks of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have yet to see what losses we will individually and collectively sustain. The more we surrender, the more we accept the impermanence of all of life, the more we will live and die with grace. And the deeper truth is this: when we surrender to both the small and big losses in our lives, we discover a deep, unending peace. That is the biggest gift of surrendering.
Morella Devost helps people turn their pain and challenges into their greatest source of strength. After receiving two masters degrees in counseling from Columbia University, she became a Clinical Hypnotherapist, NLP facilitator, and Reiki Master. Morella is a Venezuelan-Vermonter who works with people all over the world from her RV-office as she travels the US with her family. She is the host of the Thrive With Morella TV-radio-podcast show.
Facebook personal: @Morellad1