My favorite line from The Princess Bride, my favorite childhood movie, begins like this.
“Surrender!” commands Prince Humperdink, as he and his henchmen surround a battered Westley and Buttercup as they limp out of the woods of the infamous Fire Swamp. With a poise that makes this scene immanently endearing, the bleeding, ragged Westley quips to the opponents who outnumber him, “You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept”.
I have always loved the wit and bravado that Westley embodies in that scene. I haven’t, however, always loved surrender. Wait, let me amend that. I have mostly avoided surrender during my lifetime. At the same time that the spiritual warrior in me knows that to relinquish control is to open to a power greater than myself, my ego has resisted letting go of control with a rigidity akin to iron. I like to rely on myself, get things done and get them done well and then enjoy the accolades on my way to collapse before starting the next project. Sound familiar?
Lucky for me, teachers have come along in my life that have shown me the limits of this style of relating to my world. Most recently they have come in the form of a man I adore and a business that is growing faster than my ego can keep up.
So what is surrender anyway? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says it is “to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed”. The secondary definition is, “to give the control or use of (something) to someone else”.
Now that first part sounds simple; if I won’t win, why wouldn’t I stop fighting? Ahhh I wish the reality were as easy. How many of you have been in the middle of a fight with a loved one while keenly aware that you were riding towards imminent relationship wreckage but that you had no hope of interrupting the engineer of reactivity hauling down on the train whistle. I’ve been there. It’s humbling. Despite the fact that we can see the limitation of our current choices, sometimes knowing we will not “win or succeed” isn’t enough to leave a familiar territory and stop fighting.
The challenge of the second part of the definition is just obvious. To give over control. What sounds attractive about that? Control makes life predictable. I certainly like mine. I’ve always been a natural leader, so I have been heavily rewarded for being in a position of control and have gotten rather skilled at it. This belief system has worked as long as I lived in a small zone of influence and was content with relationships that were “good enough”. But in the past couple of years, both of those have changed. And I can no longer get away with my old operating system (and I have tried, I assure you).
In a painstaking process of updating my belief structures, this is what I am learning. If I want to see what I am capable of in business – and if I really want to have the deep love that gets all the way back into the recesses of my heart – I have to get out of the way. I have to surrender. There is no other way around it. I can’t muscle my way through handling all of the new work on my own; I will burn out. I can’t try to control his every move despite how terrifying it is to love a being who is so wild and free; it’s his very wildness that drew me to begin with. With so much going on, I simply don’t have the energy to control it all anymore. And the irony of course is that such a deep relief floods in when I fully embrace the possibility that I don’t have to.
Control and desire cannot both reign. Control doesn’t let desires breathe. And desires are where our inspiration lies. The intelligence of our desires defies the logic of safety. “You want to be a dancer?! You want to travel around the world or date someone half your age or design a business based on a little boy’s dream? How will you make money? Can’t you just be like your sister?” These fears rattle us and make it so hard to let go.
Do you see the picture at the top of this blog? The woman’s arms are open wide, but almost hanging there, not rigid, almost uncertain, but definitely raised. It is a stance of welcome. It is a living invitation for something beyond what she has known before to greet her. A leaf lilting off of a tree slowly. A surprise visit from a friend. A call from a new client. A song on the radio that uplifts her. Not knowing what is going to come means that something other than what has always happened can arise, and we are ready for it. Surrender is the ultimate mindfulness practice. It says, I do not know what is ahead. And I don’t prejudge what may occur. I do soften into it and say “yes” as I go.
I asked a client this week how much she felt in control. With blood-shot eyes and not just a little bit of anger at me, she replied, “Not at all”. I couldn’t help myself. I raised my arms triumphantly and then felt mildly sheepish. I then asked her, “What is possible from here?” I wasn’t sure what she would say. Her answer settled my body. She said, “Everything”.
I agree with her.
When we let go of trying to control the outcome, despite how unbearable that can feel, we often get the thing that we have most dreamed of. The thing that our vicious forebrain was trying so busily to engineer all along. But it’s usually a better version of what we had even imagined, one we couldn’t possibly construct on our own.
My boyfriend is currently traveling overseas and most days my heart feels strained as if half-way out of my chest. But when I trust that, despite the communication gaps, he continues to prioritize me, he feels in turn so valued and honored by my trust that he shows up as the loyal partner I am most desiring (and then decides to fly me to Paris to see him!)
This surrender work is a practice, and I am a humble student, not proficient in the least, but willing. Below are 3 principles that help me get out of my own way on a day-to-day basis which I hope may soften and open you, too, on your journey.
1. Clear Away the Fears/Don’t Believe A Thought You Think
This is a big one. Our fears don’t like to surrender. In the face of letting go of control, they will conveniently replay all of the times you have been hurt, calculate how likely it is that whoever you care about is cheating on you or insist that the big professional leap you want to take is fraught with so much saber-toothed peril that it is undeniably the right choice to stay in the high-stress job for the sure-thing paycheck. See what I mean? Don’t believe a thought you think. Below is a useful video with simple instructions on how to write what is called a “fear inventory”. The most powerful tool I know for “unsticking” your thoughts from your head and clearing the channel for trust and surrender to come through
2. Surround Yourself With Surrender Examples
Okay, so I know it’s painful to see all of your Facebook friends who have already started their businesses or published their books or found the “One” or whatever you tell yourself you can’t do or have. But I’m telling you, being near inspiration will compel you to follow. Leave books lying around by authors whose lives and message make you want to be a better person. The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks is an amazing one to keep coming back to. Follow the blogs of friends who are living their dreams and ask them for advice. Consider working with a coach or therapist who can support you to unravel the deeper knots that keep surfacing and dream big towards your success and freedom. I recently dove into a two-month mentorship with the San Francisco based business coach, Christina Morassi, whose encouragement, intuition and experience launching female entrepreneurs has already helped fuel me to develop my next new program (see “Couples Intensive”). Surrender can spread; stay near it.
3. Engage Gratitude
In The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks writes, “Arguments are caused by two people racing to occupy the victim position in the relationship”. Nailed! The stance of victim will always legitimize our need to control because as a victim we need protection. When my victim script begins to run – and the more I care about him the louder it gets – if I can remember all he has done for me, I am less likely to cast him (or anyone) in a position of wrongdoer and myself in the position of victim. Gratitude is empowering. If I can see abundance, I can relax and create more. And then I can trust that it will keep coming.
We all share that urge to keep our feet on the ground in the familiar, safe places. But I believe that we are actually designed to raise our arms up and see what gust will carry us. That’s where the little miracles of life unfold. That’s where the Grace that so many spiritual traditions write of, can emerge. Surrender to our true desires and to dreams bigger than what we have known asks every last ounce of courage from us. If you are finding yourself in a time of rapid growth and feeling overwhelmed by the unknown and your inability to see what is coming, consider that instead of gripping more tightly, if you can let go, release your fears, seek inspiration and look for what you do have, there may be gifts beyond your wildest dreams only steps ahead. Then life can say to you, “You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well then. I accept!”
For the complete clip from The Princess Bride, enjoy below!