Discover more from Kindred Spirits
meditations on active surrender
the secret to staying in control is letting go
When you see a therapist for anxiety, the one advice you'll hear often repeated—especially if you're as bullheaded as I am—is to feel your feelings. It seems paradoxical, to willingly open the door to ragged breathing, clammy hands and tense limbs as though they were beloved friends. Instead of allowing them to pass freely, you want to bar the gates with chairs hooked under doorknobs. But let them pass once, out of curiosity, and you will find them to be transient visitors, gone as soon as they arrived.
You will also find that the act of resistance takes more out of you than surrender.
Much of what we think of as 'work' involves control: holding it, wresting it, securing it. All of that is a distraction from the real work: letting go. We tend to think of surrender as a loss, "a roll over and play dead" move that implies weakness. And passive surrender might well be all that. But not active surrender — because that implies courage and trust. It is not the throwing up of one's hands in futility, but a determined choice to give up control and watch carefully as what should transpire, transpires.
It is an exercise, paradoxically, in agency.
From his home in Big Sur, Henry Miller once wrote to former lover, long-time friend and kindred spirit Anaïs Nin:
When you surrender, the problem ceases to exist. Try to solve it, or conquer it, and you only set up more resistance. I am very certain now that… if I truly become what I wish to be, the burden will fall away. The most difficult thing to admit, and to realise with one’s whole being, is that you alone control nothing.
To be able to put yourself in tune or rhythm with the forces beyond, which are the truly operative ones, that is the task — and the solution, if we can speak of 'solutions'.
It's a matter of self-preservation for our ego to furiously paddle against the pull of watery depths when redemption actually comes from actively stopping and laying still. If you have learnt to swim, you might find this is quite akin to going from thrashing around in the deep end to cutting seamlessly through the water or lying on your back, trusting in natural buoyancy to keep you afloat.
To surrender means to take you—and your hyperawareness of the self—out of the equation. It means reckoning with forces more profound and primeval than we could fathom, wisely allowing them to take you by the hand and show you the way.
In the realm of human experience, active surrender emerges as an elegant dance between engagement and acquiescence, a delicate balance that empowers us to navigate life's challenges with grace and wisdom. This artful approach to existence requires us to recognise the inherent limitations of our control and the unpredictability of the world. Rather than futilely attempting to bend reality to our will, we would be better served by embracing the sometimes turbulent flow of life with acceptance and resilience.
Active surrender, then, is not a passive resignation but a conscious decision to engage with our circumstances, while simultaneously releasing our attachment to particular outcomes. Through this process, we cultivate an inner flexibility and openness, allowing us to gracefully adapt to the ever-changing landscape of our lives.
To stop resisting is, paradoxically, the one choice we have.