What is possible when we surrender?
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
I am just plain tired. Wrung out. Depleted, defeated and dejected. I don’t know about you, but 2020 took a tremendous amount out of me and the events of January 2021 felt like the final straw. You know what’s on the menu: violence and partisanship in the US capital; a pandemic filling ICUs and killing our friends; injustice, intolerance and other inhumanity. This is the world in which we live these days and it’s damn hard to bear witness to it all and maintain any sense of hope.
I sit and follow my breath, I comfort myself for the simple fact that I am struggling and suffering, and I do my best to hold what I can with compassion and equanimity. But the sense of utter deflation and overwhelming defeat is so heavy in my heart that simply sitting with it (and soothing myself for experiencing it) feels so pitifully insignificant just now.
Or is it?
I wonder if this surrender is where a revolution of the heart is born? One where we awaken to the fact that we can no longer go on as we once did, blithely dancing through a world that we believed would never change. One where we stop telling ourselves (in the case of my fellow Americans) that we live in a nation that is the best in the world, has its sh*t together, and is a paragon of all that is good and right. One where those of us with privilege can no longer go through life believing that because we weren’t experiencing injustice then perhaps it had been eradicated in the world.
Pop! The bubble has burst and here we are in the new life, which is really just the old life revealed to our new eyes. Let’s not blink. Don’t look away. This is not a dream. This is it. This is reality and regardless of how we got here, it is incumbent on each of us to move with awareness, acceptance and action today, tomorrow and forevermore.
Awareness is simple, but not that easy. We may meditate each day to become more awake and aware, and perhaps more in tune with our life as it is and not as our brain tells us it is. But do not sit on the cushion to escape life but instead to live more fully in it. The cushion is not a refuge but a launching pad, but it can be an informed launch if we open up to the reality of our present moment. Where are my feet? What is in my heart?
Acceptance has gotten a bum rap. When we say “acceptance” many hear “surrender,” but this is not what acceptance really is. If we can simply accept the reality of what is before us and within us in each moment, that right now it’s like this, then that is all that is required. It is hard to accept that there is so much pain, injustice and anger in the world, but if we are to address it and heal, we first must accept that it is here and a part of our human reality. If you feel a pain in your gut, you don’t just “accept” it as a given that you will now die of an intestinal disorder. You accept that you are feeling it and let it inform how you respond to relieve it.
Action is the alter ego of acceptance. Once we are aware of what is at hand, we can choose our response by harnessing the profound power and potential of our own human inheritance. As the Serenity Prayer says: “… accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can.” Perhaps we might follow Rilke’s radical and wise advice to “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”
After accepting what we can, what is left to change? Maybe it is as simple (and courageous) as choosing to be kind to ourselves in this moment of suffering rather than trying to “get over it”.
Or maybe there is something heroic and necessary in simply standing and finding our feet, steadying our hearts and minds the way we would do this for another, and beginning to put one foot in front of the other on a renewed life journey of redemption, forgiveness and release of the ill-fated wish for something else.
Writing this was my first step on that journey. What will be yours?