Surrender is the inner transition from resistance to acceptance, from no to yes.
For most of my life I had no idea what that meant. I knew I was in emotional pain. I knew it had something to do with my thoughts. Beyond that I was lost.
In 2007 I found myself at a Zen center in Utah. One afternoon the Sensei was teaching a group of monks about surrender, a foreign concept to me. Finally, beyond frustrated, I raised my hand. “I don’t know what surrender means. I don’t know what we’re surrendering to. I can’t even let go for long enough to have an orgasm!” The monks burst out laughing. Which royally pissed off the Sensei. He said, “You don’t know what it means because you’re not far enough along. You may never be. I’m not just speaking to you here.”
That burned. But the burning showed me something. It pointed to a force of resistance inside me so powerful I’d become an unconscious prisoner to it.
That summer a writing program brought me to Russia. One of the teachers was a semi- famous, philandering alcoholic. For some stupid reason I allowed him to lure me back to his apartment. As he showed me the stack of books towering near his bed, the alarm bells finally went off, and I started to back out of the room. He grabbed my arm. “I get that I’m kind of gross,” he said. “But I want you to know something. I see you. I see you resisting your life. And it makes me so sad.” I jerked away and left.
But he wasn’t wrong. I was resisting my life. And it made me sad too. I just didn’t know how to stop.
Fast forward to last week. Coronavirus fever. My husband was stocking up on meat and zinc and taking loads of cash out of the bank. I was still hosting in-person workshops, taking restaurant meetings, and going to the gym. In the middle of the workday he texts me 2 scaremonger articles with a note that says, “Sanity check: Maybe no yoga tomorrow.”
I nearly fired back: “If you want to control me you’ll have to lobotomize me first.” But a little voice stopped me. It said, ‘Don’t react. Go down. Feel what’s there.’
What I felt down there, in the physical space of my body, surprised me. In the midst of heat and tension packed as solid as concrete was an unbelievably powerful resistance. Not to my husband. Not to being controlled. But to experiencing the anger.
I always thought I was a rage expert. God knows I’d been temperamental since age 3. Turns out I hadn’t been experiencing the sensation of anger so much as my resistance to it.
How was I resisting? Any number of ways. Blaming others. Blaming myself. Trying to stuff it down. Justifying my position with stories in my mind. All strategies to not feel uncomfortable feelings. I might as well have shouted to my husband, “When you say things like that I feel sensations in my body I don’t like because my mind tells me they mean I’m a bad person. So stop it!!!”
Why couldn’t I just feel the feelings, have a civilized conversation, and be done with it?
And then it clicked. What letting go really means. It does not mean screaming, “stop trying to control me!” and breaking all the furniture in the house. And it doesn’t mean giving up willpower and becoming a limp dishrag. It means letting go of resistance to just feeling the freakin feelings.
What I’m saying here is everything has to be felt. All the emotions, no matter how wretched, have to be embraced. How else will we burn up the story that’s igniting the emotion in the first place? How else will we stop pointing fingers and ignoring the true causes of our own pain? How else will we mend the divides that are cracking up this planet?
So let’s do it. Let’s feel it all. And help heal this world.
See here for An Exercise in Letting Go