The Power of Surrender & Letting Go

As I wrote last week, there’s a post-it note on my desk with the quote,

“Everything I’ve ever let go of has clawmarks in it.” David Foster Wallace.

Letting go of anything means change. Change is constant and uncomfortable. Very few human beings are wired to thrive on the thrill of the unknown. Most of us believe forewarned is forearmed and that minimising change is the utopian dream. We crave stability, without realising that stasis is the first stage before death.

While I echo Wallace’s sentiment, I can’t support his implied proposition – that to fight and cling is somehow noble. But Wallace committed suicide in 2008, having lived much of his adult life with depression and under medication in order to be able to work. I think Wallace’s fight to hold on and to resist change ultimately contributed to the ongoing breakdown of his life. You see, what we invest our energy into grows.

Change that we resist is usually an external pressure or energy; something that comes upon us. When you resist external force with internal force, the energy evaporates in the combustion of that reaction, but the energy is also lost. No one party gains from the other.

Over time, a resistance or refusal to respond to change depletes your energy and resource.

I experienced this a number of times in my early working life. The loss of a project, the change in a plan, the loss of a job. I clung and fought but each battle became harder to fight and each victory less sweet, such was the price of the battle.

So now, instead of fighting to resist change – I’m learning to surrender to it.

It may feel uncomfortable because in the Western world, our idea of surrender is most often associated with loss. We only surrender when we are in a losing position. But in Sanskrit, the word ‘surrender’ is translated to ‘give yourself wholeheartedly to something, to embrace the flow of your life.’

This idea of surrender is about where you put your energy and what you resist instead of embracing, what you embrace instead of resisting. A negative attitude towards change is a toxic learning environment. Learning should always be a by-product of change. A negative attitude towards change alienates and disengages you from those who would help you navigate it.

Surrender is powerful because it reframes our thinking away from bad conflict habits.

Surrender is powerful because you cannot embrace again without first letting go.

Surrender is powerful because it truly is the path of least resistance. Resistance is the enemy of hope in the face of change. We get to keep our energy for other battles.

Surrender is powerful because it focuses us on the posture we taking in learning, the resilience required to live with inevitable disappointment and the power of humility.

It is in surrender that you are embracing humility. Knowing yourself truly; good, bad and ugly. Confronting the secret and alone parts of yourself that are still laced with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of being unsuccessful, fear of being unloved, fear of being wrong.

When I was confronted with the biggest change I’ve known as an adult; I fought it with all my might. I rallied in every conversation, I maintained an excruciating level of intensity because losing this project was not an option for me. I fought myself, my mentors, I fought with my friends and then I lost it anyway. I entered the dark shadow cave; confronted with loss and with blame. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t held onto what I had clung so tightly too in the past. Letting go felt like failure, but later I realised not letting go fast enough meant I had no time or capacity to embrace the lessons right in front of me. Change came and continued out without me, because I wouldn’t allow myself to get on board the train.

No matter what kind of change you’re undergoing, major or minor – we yearn for peace. We find it in surrender. Surrender to knowing that while we may not see the end result of change; change is assured. Change in of itself is not scary. Change can open new doors of discovery. Change can also be very, very wrong. But like a tsunami wave, it will not be stopped once started. Accepting change is a doorway to peace. Surrendering to the flow of your life is peace entering in.

Surrendering to change pushes us into the unknown, which is where we must be if we are to learn something new and to learn something new, we must ask the right questions.

  • what will I learn
  • how can I learn best from this
  • how will I respond
  • how will I help others

Surrender is the art form of leaning in, a gateway to vulnerability. As the world responds to us, change is quickened. As change is quickened, we are more truly ourselves. The more change we embrace, the more we have the opportunity to embrace the lessons that come with it.

What do you think?