6 Lessons I Learned About Surrender from My Walk in the Woods
The other day I went for a walk in the Wissahickon woods near my house. I was thinking about the final Niyama that we will be exploring this year on our podcast Wonder Your Way to Brilliant – Ishvara Pranidhana or Surrender.
What does the word Surrender evoke for you? What does it make you think of? How does it make you feel?
I have a deck of Angel cards at home (small deck of cards about ½ inch by 1 inch that have words on them like Honesty, Expansiveness, Joy, Synthesis. When people come to my house they often pick one or more and we talk about why this angel (energy) might be appearing in their lives right now. There is an angel of Surrender in the deck, and it is interesting the range of reactions that it draws when this card is selected. For many people, this is an uncomfortable card because people often think of Surrender as having the connotation of ‘giving up.’ For example, when two siblings wrestle with each other (as my brother and I often did), when one is done, they bellow ‘I surrender.’ At the end of a battle, one team would wave a white surrender flag to indicate that they ‘gave up.’
But perhaps we can all expand our understanding of Surrender because as part of a spiritual life, it is a truly powerful concept. So I invite you to join me on my journey through the Wissahickon where I looked toward the trees and the woods to deepen my relationship with the concept of Surrender.
1. Loss and Letting go is normal, healthy and inevitable. As I entered the woods on this October morning, the path was covered with fallen leaves. Do the trees grieve for the leaves that fall and leave them naked, or do they surrender to the fact that each year leaves fall and each year leaves return, and this is the normal, healthy and inevitable cycle of life.
Courageous Question: In what areas of our lives do we struggle to see the letting go and the falling away as a normal, healthy and inevitable part of the cycle. How can we trust more in the growth that comes with the next season?
2. We don’t really get to choose. One of the things about us humans is that we like to make plans and have things go according to our plans. We like to think we are in control. And life reminds us again and again that we aren’t. Sometimes when things end, fall or die, it is clear and clean. It was time. Maybe we graduated from school and felt ready. Maybe we got a promotion and left an old job behind. Sometimes, however, it is messy. Sometimes we don’t expect it, want it, and even feel threatened by the change. As I walked in the woods, the debris of some fallen trees was messy and sometimes it was clean. The woods did not struggle. The woods adapted. This is surrender. The falling was not bad or good, it just was, and adapting is the next step.
Courageous Question: How can we surrender more easily to what is and adapt rather than resist?
3. Sometimes the path is windy and unexpected. When we look at how we typically plan for something, notice that the plan is always linear. We plan one step that leads to the next that leads to the next. Isn’t this the point, after all, so we know which way to go. And how often does the plan EVER follow all those steps in order in the way that we imagined. In my experience – NEVER, but we keep planning that way and we continue to get very attached to our plans. Tree roots will also grow in the path of least resistance and toward the greatest amount of nutrients. They will grow straight if that’s how they achieve these goals, yet they will twist and wind and even leap out of the ground when they need to, and they never lament the failure of a plan.
Courageous Question: How can we get more comfortable planning and then letting go of our plan? How can we come to expect the windy and unexpected so we do not have to suffer so much?
4. The path does not need to be perfect or clear in order to move forward. As I have been walking in the woods for years, I notice that sometimes when trees fall, the stewardship personnel choose to leave the tree exactly where it fell rather than clearing the path. They only do this with trees that are smaller and can easily be traversed by the walkers and dogs who use this path, but they leave it be. Rather than exerting our dominance over nature to move the tree, we allow it to be in our path. We allow it to serve as a reminder that things fall and that we do not always have to do anything about it.
Courageous Question: In what cases can we let the fallen things be – without having to clean anything up – and just continue on our way?
5. Something always grows in the space where something dies. Most of us tend to have a challenging relationship with death. And when I refer to death, I don’t just mean of people. I am referring to the ‘death’ of anything that has been a certain way for a long time. We tend to get used to things, attached to things, and then we cling to them. We try to keep them the same and ‘alive’ at all costs. As I passed this on the way, I was reminded that when we surrender to the death of something that is no longer meant to be alive, we can then step back and see what magnificent things grow in the space.
Courageous Question: Where can we step back from something that has fallen or died and attend less to what was lost and more to what may grow or be growing in its space?
6. Corpse Pose is One Way to Practice Surrendering. Every yoga class ends with the same pose: Savasana. People love it because you get to lie on your back in a dark room with nothing to do but breathe after a long practice. In English, we translate this pose to ‘Corpse Pose.’ Over the course of the last year, I have taken on the practice of allowing each of my Savasan experiences to be a rehearsal for my death; for the moment when my body will become a corpse. It is the ultimate surrender. It reminds me every time both of the preciousness of my life as well as the temporary nature of THIS lifetime. THIS is not going to last forever, nor does it have to. I practice so I can live fully and let go gracefully.
Courageous Question: How can we live in greater ease with the unfolding of life? How might our lives be transformed if we accepted the temporary nature of this existence?