For a long time the Buddhists have reminded us that it is attachment and desire that causes us emotional distress. From unhappiness about current circumstances, to anxiety about the future – as humans we are plagued by the distress of things not being how we want them to be. How do we marry this old Buddhist teaching to modern life?
Surrender is a word that is often thought to equate to giving up. I’m thinking here of voluntary surrender as a way of accepting where we are. But when I examine how life goes badly for people, I rarely find that they surrendered. Not in these terms of surrender as a voluntary process. No, what I see people do is struggle against what is happening to them until they become overwhelmed with anger, unhappiness or anxiety while things get steadily worse. A good example is when people are having relationship problems. They rage at their partner for things not working out, but the healing doesn’t begin until they surrender and start accepting where they are and look to themselves, rather than to their partner. It is a similar process when jobs, or finances, or our weight are not working out the way we desire them to.
But when I hear stories of how people voluntarily surrendered, I hear about a very different process. Mind you, I don’t hear this so often, because if they did this, they are less likely to need to consult me. A defusing occurs with the surrender as they accept where they are, as they open themselves to accept the painful reality of it. As they consciously and voluntarily decide to stop fighting with another, or raging at themselves, a space opens up in which things can move in a very different direction. I think of this as the ‘saving grace’ space. I’m not coming from a religious position here at all. I think of ‘grace’ as a lovely word with deep connotations around peace and emotional healing.
As the Buddhists tell us, often what we need to surrender is our sense of how things should be or how we desire things to happen in our time frame. Countless times now, I have worked with people with traumatic experiences that turned out to be major turning points for the better in their life. Sometimes they learn to love better than they ever have before. Sometimes they realise that at the time of what seemed to be a horrible trauma they were on the wrong track and that they needed a wake-up call. The higher truth is that we often don’t know what is good or what is bad for us. Adversity is always an opportunity for personal growth. When we surrender, on our terms, we step out of the struggle. We don’t surrender to failure, we simply decide to stop doing what obviously is not working and create a healing space – the space for grace. This is the space, the rich soil, that nurtures the eternal flower of personal growth.