Surrender!

As I mentioned in my last post, we did a LOT of meditation during my teacher training in India. Several themes came up for me during all of that meditation and self-reflection, and one of the most prevalent was the concept of surrender.

To digress a bit, I’ll dive a bit into another insight I have gained over my years of meditation and other personal work- that the more it hurts to hear a critique from someone else, the more truth it likely contains. To the point that if I feel myself getting defensive about something- anything- it means that I definitely need to pay attention to what it is that person is telling me, and to why I am feeling such a strong need to refute what they’re saying. The more angry it makes me, the more I need to listen. It’s true, even if it hurts. Especially if it hurts. Trust me.

Ok back to India. We all leaned on each other for support while we processed our own stresses and issues, and one thing I consistently heard from my classmates and my teachers was ‘let it go’ and ‘surrender’. It drove me crazy. First of all, I’m a doctor, and it took me years to understand how to surrender in the context of my job- notably with teaching and patient care. I’m the ‘laid back’ one in my circles back home. I’m a meditator. I’ve got this. So shut up already with all of this surrender stuff. I don’t need your help.

Second- I’m a doctor. We’re (mostly) all overachievers who have been trained to try to control and fix everything. Manage pain. Control high blood pressure. Calculate risk factors and risk scores to best treat our patients. Cure infections. We like to be right, and we work hard to minimize risk to our patients as we make treatment decisions. ‘Letting it go’ basically goes against everything we are taught.

Third- stop telling me to surrender! Not that you’re right, or anything, but… tell me how to surrender. Like, walk me through the steps. Cause maybe I don’t actually know how to. How can I recognize when I need to surrender?

Surrender during testing, Rishikesh, India

Surrender during testing, Rishikesh, India

As I discovered, just when I thought I was stripped down to my most vulnerable, surrendered self, there would be something else that needed to be let go. Little picture all the way up to big picture. The testing and training in India was quite rigorous, and also quite different from anything I had encountered in medical school, so it provided a whole new set of challenges and fears. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassing myself in front of my classmates. Fear of not passing quickly enough. Fear of passing too quickly. Fear of caring too much. I didn’t even recognize the biggest fears- that I somehow wouldn’t pass my testing at all, and that I wasn’t worthy of doing any of this. That stuff was so deep inside me that I swore up and down that it wasn’t the issue. Until, one day, after a brutally honest and ultimately life-changing conversation with one of my instructors, I realized it totally was the issue, and that I needed to let it all go.

Ok, so seriously- how do we surrender? First off, it requires trust in those around us. Many people suffer from the ‘imposter’ complex- feeling afraid that, with enough time, everyone will figure out that we aren’t really good enough to be doing... whatever it is that we are trying to do. From what I gather, every person in the world feels this way, and they all think they are the only ones to feel that way. So, even if we don’t believe in ourselves, we can trust in our education, and trust in the ability of our supervisors to recognize our talents and our worthiness. We can trust that our friends have good enough sense to recognize someone who is worthy of their friendship.

Surrendering is also much more intuitive (and easier to swallow) if we have some trust that everything is going to turn out exactly how it is meant to turn out, in a way that will be the best for our personal growth and evolution. Even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time. This trust can be based on life experiences (remember that break-up that you thought you’d never get over…?). We may also find this insight through a spiritual practice, or religious faith, or based on the advice of someone we respect. It helps also to acknowledge that none of us actually know how anything should turn out, even if we are convinced otherwise.

And, finally- recognize when we have an opportunity to surrender. Take note of how we feel when we’re not getting the outcome that we want, and when we try to force our preferences. Pay attention to the physical sensations in our bodies- does it make our chest ache, or our throat tighten, or our muscles tighten, or our heart race, or our fists clench? And whenever we start to feel those sensations, do 1 of 2 things. First- we can just decide to let go no matter what. When we feel ourselves resisting something, we just do the opposite. Try this a few times- it’s so liberating and can even be fun!

Or, if we’re not quite ready to take that plunge, we can ask ourselves- what am I holding on to? Why am I holding onto it? What would it look like if I just let it happen, and didn’t try to control the outcome? What if I stopped worrying, and just let the situation unfold? What if I trusted those around me, and if I trusted nature, to take care of it? What am I afraid of? Keep questioning through the end of the scenario, force ourselves to let go, and witness how it turns out. Eventually, once we have more experience, we can skip all the questions and just use those body sensations as a trigger to immediately stop our pushing and controlling, and just witness it.

Why does all of this matter? Save the energy and stress of trying to ‘fix’ a situation that likely does not need fixing. Our newfound sense of calm and relaxation will give us access to the present moment; when we are no longer distracted and stressed, we can give all of our attention to a friend who needs us, or to the beautiful world around us. Life is so much more interesting when we surrender! When we trust that a situation will turn out the way it is supposed to, we can relax and enjoy no matter what the outcome. We may even prefer how things turn out.