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Moving through a big life change can be tough. It can resurface deeply buried feelings of discomfort, anxiety, fear, and dread.
When we seek advice from others, our well-meaning listeners usually tell us that we need to surrender. As if it’s a simple matter to let go or release all the pent-up feelings and thoughts that hold us back—and if we do, our lives will immediately improve.
Like we’re hydraulic dam operators who can flip a switch and allow water to flow, bringing life-affirming nourishment to everything it touches downstream. The art of surrender is supposed to turn our gaze inward, like meditation, to draw our attention away from whatever drama is happening in our lives.
It sounds easy enough, but it’s not something we do intuitively. It’s something that has to be learned and practiced.
Remember how the Wicked Witch of the West flew her sooty black broom over Oz and wrote “Surrender, Dorothy” in the sky? I was five years old when I first saw that scene, and I was paralyzed with fear. The way I saw it, to surrender meant that I had to give up all autonomy and choice to someone else. Someone who was unsafe and who would entrap me in some dark and scary place, with no way out. Clearly, in this instance, surrender wasn’t a good thing. The word surrender has triggered me ever since.
It’s taken me many years to disconnect from that old belief pattern and understand that surrender is a process that helps us bridge acceptance and change. It’s a specific moment of doing nothing, a pause that allows us to pivot or shift our circumstances, hopefully for the better.
It’s sort of like breathing. At the top of an inhale, there is a quick moment of suspension where nothing happens—then haaaaah—the breath is exhaled, and another quick moment of suspension happens, before the whole process repeats.
Try this: Take a moment to notice your next breath. Inhale…and hold it. Count to 10. Do you feel a sensation of tightness starting to build in your chest? That’s what happens when we hold on or stay attached to things that aren’t good for us. Now, exhale…notice how that feels. Feel the difference? The sweet sensation of relief from releasing the breath is what is available to our bodies when we surrender. The release comes from not resisting and not fighting to have the illusion of control. It’s the moment we let go without thought or judgment.
The process of surrendering is what allows change to take place. No matter how challenged or uncomfortable we might feel in our circumstances, if we can find a way to let go of our expectations for a specific outcome, we can release our hold on the situation.
We can reclaim our attention, our energy, and our power to choose. This gives us a mindful moment to pause and regroup, so that we have the internal resources to transform our painful experiences into healing, hopeful, and forward-moving ones. It seems easy, but I think staying mindful and choosing to surrender is damn hard work.
While my kids have been transitioning from college to the real world, I’ve had to navigate the empty-nest experience as a single mom. Many years ago, I resolved to be proactive and developed a plan to help me make the best of it: to honor my feelings as a mom whose role was changing drastically, and to honor my feelings as an independent woman who was finding beautiful opportunities to be happy and fulfilled in new ways. I’ve created a hopeful, bright, new outlook to keep me busy and engaged with the world.
Except, that’s not how it’s unfolding in real-time. Long before Marie Kondo-ing became a thing, I fantasized about selling everything I own on eBay and starting over with only simple things that I truly love. There’s a lot of old, stagnant energy in the stuff our family has accumulated over the years and it’s taking way longer than I expected. At the same time, I’m racing against a writing deadline to complete my dissertation and juggling another job while creating content for a new business venture.
For as long as I can remember, I have avoided expressing myself and my feelings. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has suggested that I write in a journal. But, writing and journaling have always made me feel extremely uncomfortable because, as a highly sensitive empath, feeling all the feels makes my throat constrict and a heavy weight settles on my chest.
So, I’m challenging myself to dig deep. I’ve been asking myself to write without my comfortable, safe, academic voice. When I try to do that, I experience a raw wound in my heart. The prickly emptiness of it, like a bad case of heartburn, slowly intensifies as I write, and easily distracts me from my task. My entire chest aches. I can’t think. I can’t focus. Mayday! Distract! Sleight-of-hand: Maybe I should get a snack? Let me just chill for a minute on social media to regroup. I’ll feel better with a glass of wine.
What this is all about, of course, is fear. It’s my ego, being stunningly efficient at protecting me at all costs: Zip it! Shhhh! Don’t say anything. You might get hurt! For God’s sake, hide!!!
This fear is as deeply embedded as the Mariana Trench. It’s ground zero: the core of my being. I don’t recall any specific event that might have caused it, and I can’t remember my life without it. Fear has been the filter through which I operate since I was a toddler.
As Marianne Williamson said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us,” and she’s right. Deep in my heart, I know that I am limitless and powerful. Yet I will go to great lengths to self-sabotage and avoid this truth. Because if I accept that I am limitless and powerful, then I have no excuse to hold on to all the familiar, comfortable, negative coping mechanisms that hold me back. Whoa.
I’m tired of my own bullsh*t. I’m tired of my ego convincing me that I shouldn’t do something. Or that I can’t. I’m tired of not living fully. I choose to double down on joy. I can start with radical maitri—practicing heartfelt, intense, loving-kindness, and compassion with myself. The more I give myself, the more I have to give to others.
I didn’t plan for everything to happen at once, but life loves to challenge me just to make sure I’m paying attention. Reinventing my life is supposed to feel exciting and liberating, but I just feel anxious and stressed and exhausted. I know I’m supposed to take my own advice. To release my expectations and surrender to what will be. It’s a slow process. It’s led to some juicy arguments with my inner-saboteur to stay on track, feel all the feels, and be mindful, and present.
It takes effort and willpower and conscious decision-making every day to soften and relax and allow. It also takes a lot of chamomile tea, lavender oil, and Junior Mints. I’m doing my best to remember that surrendering doesn’t mean that life is over, it means that it’s just beginning.
Helpful tips to facilitate the surrender process:
Be still: Take 10 minutes to mindfully sit in silence, allowing the body to rest and recover without thought or judgment. Repeat often, daily.
Reflect: Mentally ask or write out a question and then write down any impressions or answers. Express your feelings, even if they’re just one-word bullet points.
Move: Spend time in gentle movement like swaying to music, yoga, or your favorite exercise to help emotional energy move through, instead of being stuck in, the body.
Take notes: Jot down any idea that feels different or new, and set it aside for later meditation or reflection. It may be the clue needed to shift your mindset into a new direction.
Go for the small win: Acknowledge accomplishments, no matter how small. Make note of it to boost your confidence that progress is being made!
Keep moving forward and know that you’ve got this! Be well.
If you’re on a journey like this, please share what has worked or what hasn’t, in the comments below. Let’s take this journey together.