Mindfulness of Surrender

Photo by Melissa Askew

There’s a particular kind of letting go we call surrender – a word that triggers aversion in many minds. Yet, surrender can be life affirming and even sweet, when what we’re letting go into is inevitable. Surrender is the relinquishment of the illusion of control. The problem is, we often ignore or fail to recognize inevitability when it shows up – and sometimes we perceive it when it’s not really there.

Surrender is not about giving up, but about letting go of counterfeit control.Brene Brown

There are circumstances in which it makes sense to delay the inevitable. Sleep is a useful example. Every human needs sleep, even if most of us aren’t getting enough of it. Sooner or later, sleep will come whether we want it or not, so fighting against it is usually wasted energy. Of course, there are times when putting up a fight is the right thing to do. For example, if you have major depressive disorder, habitually succumbing to the urge to sleep too much can make things worse. And if a newborn baby is crying in the middle of the night, we push back sleep to attend to their needs.

Mortality is another useful example. On the one hand, some people with life threatening illnesses are able to gain many more quality years of life when they endure extreme measures to reclaim their health. Other times, quality of life and longevity are reduced by painful, expensive and futile treatments. Loved ones may simultaneously wage their own battles with the inevitability of strong emotions around death and dying, such as fear, anger and grief. The question is, do we realize surrender is a legitimate choice – that wise discernment may prevent unnecessary suffering?

Surrender is not offered as a celebrated choice in mainstream American culture. Fighting until the bitter end to hang onto what is wanted and repel what is unwanted is seen as the courageous, valiant, and “right” thing to do. Yet, nothing can be held for long because everything is unfolding, changing, and transforming. Whether sweet or bittersweet, we’re always at the mercy of forces greater than ourselves. In many more situations than we’d like to admit, the struggle, the resistance, the grasping and clinging, serve only to distract, distress, and deplete us. As we begin to discern and accept the places where we aren’t really in control, we learn it is better to relinquish our grasping and to yield our resistance. In this way, surrender becomes a hero’s journey.

When we’re in flow, we surrender to the joy of each unfolding moment. When we create, we surrender to the call of the muses. When we give birth, make love, excrete waste, and breathe, we surrender to the compulsory functions of the body. Surrender in the face of what is unavoidable or inevitable becomes an act of self-compassion. It frees us up to be present with what is, to experience greater ease, to listen to our inner wisdom, and to direct our full energies where they are most needed.

When we make the choice to surrender mindfully into the unavoidable and the inevitable, it can be a great act of mercy for ourselves and others. We make the choice to abstain from the understandable, instinctive urge to avoid at any cost what seems threatening and instead accept with compassion and equanimity what is already here. This type of surrender liberates us from an unwinnable war so that we might meet what awaits with skill and wisdom.

A mercy puts a thing
on my palm and
it is my childhood
Its tiny endless moth city
Its rind like grace
or tenderness or sorrow

In the red brick room, my father cries.
His cries are small, lonely animals.
I carry them with me
like an inheritance.

Once, I ran out
of a room
because the song
on the radio
was a fist
in the nook of my neck.
I stood
on the street
quietly weeping.
Though when a woman said to me:
“Child, are you well?
I said it was the waters
within me that wanted to
make themselves known.

Some nights are like that. They do not let you go
until they have broken into the secret July in your heart where you hide all things.

All I wanted
was to be home,
so I dipped myself
under the earth.
By which I mean
I entered the subway station.

It was there I heard him.
A man that was also a sound.
He was singing. Tree
branches broke
inside his voice.

There was, in his chorus, the quietude of a thing that was coming to an end.
This song he was singing, he said it was not a dirge.
Though he sang it to a thing that was dying.

Which in a way
was the kind of song
my father sang
as he lay dying.
My father said
his song was not a dirge.
Though he sang it
to a thing that was dying
in himself.
He said son.
my song is a joy.
But a joy with sharp knives.

So, my laughter is a thing with a sharp edge.
And my joy a trembling.

This man I saw,
his locks of hair
which ran down
to his neck
were the
visible borders
of a country
that was inside him.
And the sound he made
was the secret language
of a nation unto which
immigrants were called.

It was as though I had sliced through the ocean and arrived here,
only to run into my childhood.
And I did not want to make myself open. But I was made open
for certain songs do not ask your permission.

I raised my hands
and moved toward him,
naked before the song.
I said:
Dear Music, dear childhood.
Take me.
Take me.

– By Gbenga Desina, Surrender

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