~ by Sue Staropoli, October 2022
In the busy and fast pace of everyday living, the annual tradition of stopping to give thanks together is an opportunity to slow down and reflect on our lives and what gives them meaning and brings us peace. This message offers an opportunity for you to listen to your own heart, perhaps stopping at a phrase or a quote or particular exercise that catches your attention to just be with it.
Our dominant culture tells us that we are worth what we earn and achieve, and that our lives are what we make of them, using our power and control.
I learned this way of living well, and I have spent most of my life trying to control things and make things happen through the force of my own will.
I excelled in high school and college, both academically and in extra-curricular activities, and I found a big part of my identity in those achievements.
I was married at age 21 and had 6 children in 8 years (yes, I was certainly an over-achiever!) — so that part of my time on earth was full, managing a household and trying to keep my family life under control.
As my life continued, I found myself broken along the way with situations that I couldn’t control. I had to learn how to surrender to life in new ways. I found 12 step programs, with messages about powerlessness and accepting what I could not change — other people, circumstances, and so much more. I learned that to surrender is not necessarily a step back; it can be a step forward into a new way of being.
This reflection is an invitation to explore what it means to accept what one cannot change —to surrender – and how it relates to our own lives.
The following powerful quotes invite you to begin to explore the meaning of surrendering:
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” (Thomas Merton)
“In our willingness to step into the unknown, we surrender ourselves to the creative mind that orchestrates the dance of the universe.” (Deepak Chopra)
“Sometimes surrender means giving up trying to understand and becoming comfortable with not knowing.” (Eckhart Tolle)
“Stand tall in front of the unknown and instead of trying to analyze it, embrace it. Jump head on, into the abyss. Let the Universe catch you and take you where you’re meant to go.” (Esther T.)
When I was involved in twelve-step programs, one of the basic messages was that we are powerless over whatever we are addicted to, whether that be alcohol, drugs, work, achievements, people, sex, gambling, or shopping, etc.
I know many people in the program really hated the word powerlessness, but I remember really loving it. When I finally got to the point of ADMITTING I was powerless, I didn’t have to carry the illusion and pressure of being able to control or understand or fix anything! I felt amazing relief and freedom — like the weight of life had been lifted from my shoulders. I could trust something bigger than myself (whatever you might call it – the Universe, God, etc.) and live life with joy and peace and gratitude.
Another part of my spiritual journey involved two words – force and allow.
I invite you to think about it for a minute.
Think of a time when you were trying to force something, to MAKE something happen. It could have been a project of some kind at work or home, or any situation when you were working hard to accomplish something. What were you feeling in those times (perhaps stress, anxiety, worry, frustration)? What were the messages in your head at those times (such as,. “I have to do and figure this all out myself,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t have enough time,” etc.)?
Now think about a time when you were relaxed and allowed life to happen beyond your own agenda or control. Again, what were you feeling (perhaps relaxed, peaceful, or grateful)? Again — what were messages in your head (such as, “things will work out somehow,” or “I am open to whatever way this unfolds,” etc.)? As you think back, did you receive unexpected gifts from surrendering control?
When we are in a forcing mode we are like a small boat paddling upstream, against the current. It’s hard. It’s a fight.
When we choose to allow, to let go and surrender — it’s like dropping the oars and allowing the stream to take us downstream, in harmony with the natural flow of life. It opens doors for new beginnings and possibilities.
Einstein said: “The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” It is trusting in a friendly universe that allows us to give up control and let things go into the bigger movement of the universe.
A big part of control and anxiety for me is my need to figure things out, to understand, to know what is going to happen — both in my personal life and certainly in the unsettled and uncertain times our society is living in. It’s so easy to fall into anxiety and fear and the stress of trying to make things happen for the sake of the better world we all want. This is where I feel most called into surrendering into not knowing.
When I accept that I don’t and can’t know what’s coming — and relax into the present moment — I am invited to live fully what is, not what I want to be. That is where I find my freedom — surrendering my need to know and living each day in gratitude, love, and connection with all life, without knowing the outcome.
As I live in the present moment I can celebrate wholeheartedly the beauty of this world, while grieving and standing in solidarity with all who are suffering.
Now I’d like to invite you to do some personal reflection of your own. As you think about what I’ve been sharing, what are some of the things you might want to let go of to bring you more freedom and peace?
Letting go of control — do any particular circumstances come to mind?
Letting go of expectations — of self, others, life
Letting go of worry — a tendency to live in fear and anxiety
Letting go of urgency — rushing, being controlled by time
Letting go of trying to fix or save other people
Letting go of obsessive action — keeping busy, perhaps to earn your worth or distract you from your pain
Letting go of the future — your own or the future of life. Living in the future robs us of the joy of today.
How can we practice surrender in our daily lives?
Surrender literally means to stop fighting. Stop fighting with yourself. Stop fighting the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop resisting and pushing against reality. Here are 8 ways to practice surrender today, including excerpts from gratefulness.org.
Notice when you’re looking to control things and are living in a forcing mode. Instead, just pause. Take a deep breath and choose to let go, consciously and deliberately shifting into surrender energy. One phrase that might help is “Let go of the oars.”
Practice patience with whatever is occurring. Ask yourself if you need to back off from putting pressure on yourself or a situation you are handling right now.
Seek moments of solitude and silence. Practice mindful breathing throughout the day by stopping and taking three deep breaths at your desk, in between phone calls or meetings, or before you get out of the car to go to work, the gym, or the grocery store. Have faith that small moments add up.
Suspend judgment of yourself and others. Be kind to yourself and those around you. A simple practice is to smile more, and to allow a soft and sincere smile to change your entire energy. Throughout the day, smile at yourself and others with gentleness.
Relax your body when possible. Notice if your jaw is tight and release it; notice if your shoulders are hunched up towards your ears, and drop them. Notice when you’re leaning forward in your chair, and sit back.
Be grateful for all the little things. A cup of tea, comfortable shoes, a poem or a prayer, or helpful words from a friend. Make grateful living a way of life.
Stay in the present moment. Bring your attention with wonder and curiosity to what is in front of you — appreciating the beauty or grieving the suffering
Meet your resistance with an open heart. Think to yourself: Oh, there’s my resistance. And then ask yourself: What’s the invitation here for surrendering?
Within each day is an invitation to embrace surrender and open up to more joy and gratitude in big and small ways. Surrender is a grace and a choice we can make every day.
For me, surrendering into not knowing has become the path to true satisfaction, contentment and gratitude — finding myself held, led, and fed by our magnificent, benevolent Universe. For this, I am deeply thankful.
I’d like to close this message with a beautiful poem:
A Blessing for the Inward Way by Tracy Shaw
May you learn to dwell Below the surface of the days At home with the ebb and flow of Your own heart’s tides. May you find the womb space at the center of your Life, There grow wise in the sacred rhythm Of filling and emptying, Emptying and filling. There, held safe, May you surrender to the unknown As completely as the dark moon Empties herself into the secret embrace of her Beloved, the Sun. There may you cherish hope of renewal As tenderly as the crescent moon Cradles the dark in the curve of her arm, Enfolding, quickening with life new born. And may you always open to the flow of love As voluptuously as the moon at full, Until filled, overflowing, you pour Love’s gifts out into the world. So may you grow ever more intimate With the inward way, the deepening way, Where filling is emptying, emptying is filling ~
At one with the mystery, at one.