SURRENDER: THE KEY TO SERENITY
I meet a lot of people who have trouble with one of the most useful survival skills one can have: surrender. It must be obvious why many Americans would have a hard time with this. For them, surrender connotes weakness, giving-up, and submission. To surrender one must relax and go soft. We’d rather be hard. Many have forgotten how to be soft. As babies, we knew how. But since then, life has been a constant struggle.
We are more attuned to conquering than to surrendering. Passivity never gained any territory or wealth. You have to reach out and take it. That’s how you get ahead in life. No one’s going to hand it to you on a silver platter.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. It is the American way. We criticize the passivity of other cultures that allow massive poverty and starvation or that submit to tyranny. Many Americans have died for the right to be free and to prosper through effort and achievement. But there is another side, a neglected one.
We live in a society that is nearly overwhelmed by stress. We are bombarded by information all day. We try to play many different roles, all at once. For those of us who have grown up in this blizzard of stimulation it all seems quite normal. Many of us don’t even realize how much stress we’re carrying until we develop a health, relationship or addiction problem which is caused by stress and the difficulty we have coping with it.
All spiritual traditions teach surrender. In the Judeo-Christian one, familiar to most Americans, it is the will of God to which we are to submit (subject to interpretation, of course). The proper attitude for prayer is surrender, not demanding or pleading. Perhaps the ultimate in surrender is found in Taoism. The Taoist pilgrim is counseled to attune himself to nature and surrender to the flow of life.
The 12-step recovery movement is big on surrender. Pride and arrogance are seen as dangerous enemies of sobriety. The Serenity prayer embodies this attitude…”the courage to accept the things I cannot change…”
The fact is that serenity is something most people would like to have but don’t know how to get. Serenity is the opposite of stress. If we arrive at stress through struggle with the world, then serenity might be attained through non-struggle.
This involves a choice. To stop struggling we must choose not to. This is especially so when struggle has become so natural we don’t even realize we’re struggling. In this case, surrender is not an act of weakness or passivity. It’s a choice to relax and accept things as they are, at least for now.