Hearing the word invokes an image in my mind of a person on the ground with a hand up, holding a white flag with one hand using whatever energy they have left to wave it. It also reminds me of many times as a kid playing board games with my brother Mario where one of us was winning so far ahead of the other that the loser decided to surrender, to not waste any more time playing a “losing hand”.
The word always felt like defeat to me, but now I see it differently. I view the word as honesty, truth, and innate beauty.
As I described it above, surrender can also mean not wasting any more time. Surrender can mean being honest about what isn’t working and accepting what really is. Why waste time doing what isn’t working? Why not be honest about the situation and go from there?
I subscribe to Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. Each week is themed. This week’s focus is on Spirituality and Addiction. Today’s meditation is about surrender. In it he writes “Surrender is the strongest, most subversive thing you can do in this world. It takes strength to admit you are weak, bravery to show you are vulnerable…”.
There were two days earlier this March where I “surrendered” and literally felt a physical shift due to a change in my mental thoughts. A shift so powerful that it tangibly exhausted me.
The first was a day while I was living alone in East Haven and coming to grips with a pending divorce and newly achieved sobriety. I picked up a Dialectical Behavior Ttherapy (DBT) workbook that I hadn’t touched but owned for a few years. I decided to do some exercises in this book each day. I was a few days in when I came upon the term “radical acceptance”. I was performing the radical acceptance exercises and was challenged to fully accept my current situation. I looked around and cried. I didn’t want to. I could NOT accept where I was at that moment in time. But I wanted very badly to experience radical acceptance, as there were so many benefits to doing so.
I closed the book and contemplated this. It felt like an angel and devil on my opposite shoulders as my mind shifted back and forth about whether or not to accept my situation. At some point about ten minutes into a mix of contemplation and crying, the angel suddenly made perfect sense when she said “But it’s where you are!”.
It occurred to me that whether or not I accepted it, it IS where I am. Why am I not just accepting that this IS my reality at this moment in time? Whether or not I accept it, it doesn’t change a single thing.
I’m going to write that again – Whether I “accept” it or not; it doesn’t change a single thing.
I’m still where I am. So why not surrender to accepting my actual reality? When I realized this; if there was a visual of two parts of me that were in conflict; one literally faded into oblivion while the other filled in what just left. In the next minute or two I began to feel whole; lighter, and open. A physical shift materially took place once I changed my mind and surrendered.
In A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson says, “Until your knees finally hit the floor, you’re just playing at life, and on some level you’re scared because you know you’re just playing. The moment of surrender is not when life is over. It’s when it begins.”
The next moment for me was about a week later. It was a dark early evening on a Sunday night when I just had to get out of the apartment where I was staying. I left – with nothing but my wallet and phone and drove off. It was cold and I didn’t know where to go. I suddenly had the desire to just write. I drove over to Walgreens and purchased a notebook. I grabbed a pen from my glovebox and a blanket from my trunk and sat on the town green with the light of my phone. I put the phone on airplane mode and just started to write. And write. And write.
I wrote about “poor me”. I wrote about how my kids and husband would tell me these things about myself that “weren’t true”. I stopped. I thought about what I had just written and I thought about radical acceptance. Again, I had an angel and devil on my shoulders in conflict. What they said was not true, I thought, but should I accept it? I remembered surrendering the week before to my reality and thought about surrendering to this. I cried. I didn’t want to, but this time it was easier to imagine just accepting this, to explore it completely, and perhaps write about it.
So I put pen to paper and shifted my thoughts to how this was their reality and wrote. And wrote, and wrote, and wrote… Until it occurred to me that there was truth in what they were saying. Whether or not I liked it didn’t matter. This is what they experienced and it was true despite why or how it came to be. The explanations didn’t matter- it all happened. I radically accepted this.
It happened, and whether or not they want to accept what my reality was or why, I needed to accept my part in it wholly. And I did. In a very distinct moment I didn’t care anymore when, why or how; I understood them and understood it all completely.
At the time my son was off from his job on paid leave because of a COVID outbreak at the place he works and was staying with my husband. I decided to write him a letter explaining that I understood him and understood everything he has told me 100% inside and out. I wrote my heart out. I wanted to write a letter to my husband too but my energy had waned, so I decided to just rip out the pages that I wrote and share with him my thoughts and how they had shifted to an understanding of him. I added a few lines to explain why I was sharing and made the decision to drive the letters over and leave them in the mailbox.
By this time it was fairly late in the evening. I felt so amazing. Lighter. Freer. I went into Stop & Shop to buy them some cookies I was obsessed with at the time and I drove over to my old neighborhood. I saw the trash and recycling bins out front since it was Sunday night, and for the briefest moment I felt jealous that I didn’t live there and wasn’t part of putting out the trash. But more so I immediately felt radical acceptance that I didn’t live there and I imagined a world where I’d be in a new place with maybe a different trash pick-up day; and alone and even dare I say… happy?
I was able to surrender. I was able to accept my circumstances. And you know what? I was really ok with it!
I put the letters in the mailbox and sent my son and husband a text. I drove home in an almost bliss-like state. I felt light, tired, and hungry. Really hungry! I saw a McDonalds sign and craved a Big Mac! I hadn’t eaten meat in a very long time, but my body was just spent and I just wanted something highly caloric and comforting.
Surrendering never tasted or felt so good.
The first of the 12 Steps of Recovery is to admit we are powerless. I first learned of the 12 steps on a spiritual Podcast around 2014. The speaker convinced me that every single one of us is addicted to something (drugs, drink, tv, shopping, money, obsessive thought patterns, etc) and that the first step is to admit powerlessness. Is that really different from surrender or radical acceptance?
The moment I let go and opted to understand, somehow it gave others around me permission to do the same. The universe knew what needed to be done. When we admit where we are and our part in it, miracles happen. The happiness behind it just pours out because there is nothing, not a single story, holding it back. It’s acceptance of the present moment. Radical acceptance. It’s surrender. Surrender changed everything and every important relationship in my life.
Fast forward several months down the line. Daren and I have never been more understanding of one another. We renewed our vows a few weeks ago. We wrote our own to one another. I referenced the song “Moment of Surrender” by U2 and read out loud the portion
The stone was semi-precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too smart to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day
10 years before on our wedding day we were like two robots going about in the world doing things that adults do because it’s what adults do. As the years passed I started to spiritually wake up and perhaps took him with me. We are now so aware and conscious of what our biases were; how they played a role in our history and what we do in the present moment.
“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are” Stephen Covey
Don’t we all perceive things based on our own knowledge and circumstances? Couldn’t it perhaps do us good to know what our biases are so when we assess a situation we know our perspective and can imaginatively consider ways others see this same thing? The only way to do this is to surrender to the knowledge that we have biases in the first place. We are attached or addicted to the way we think or want something to be. Accepting it is freeing. Don’t we all want to be free and feel ok with life as it is?
Later in U2’s song the lyrics state:
I’ve been in every black hole
At the altar of the dark star
My body’s now a begging bowl
That’s begging to get back, begging to get back
To my heart
And to the rhythm of my soul
And to the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control
Our bodies want that freedom. Once you experience surrender it’s hard to come to grips with that fight in you anymore because you know what is on the other side and it’s so much better to just let go and accept life as it is. If you fight this and you are aware of yourself, as Bono sings, you can actually feel your body begging to get back to that open good place where love and the soul accept life on life’s terms. The Marianne Williamson quote above is from A Return to Love. Because surrendering brings you to love.
I will not pretend that I don’t forget this a lot. But I can tell you that once you do, you know freedom and once you do, it’s far easier to do it again and again. I’m not saying this is easy, but I can promise you it is worth it.
I’m going to end this blog with the refrain (below) which reminds me of the Safire Rose Poem “She Let Go”. Only you know when you surrender. The world goes on. The moon shines, and you – you are FREE.
At the moment of surrender
I folded to my knees
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me