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Why Surrender

Emotional brick walls are tough to run into. The fact that most of the time we’ve built these walls ourselves is distressing—unless you look at them as a huge opportunity for growth, which is how Boston-based therapist Aimee Falchuk sees it. Falchuk specializes in helping people move stuck emotional energy, and so spends much of her time working with clients on learning to surrender, clearing the path to move forward emotionally after trauma, loss, and other types of pain. As Falchuk explains, surrendering is not giving up or shirking responsibility, but “consciously and actively choosing to get off the insufferable ride of forcing our way through life.” While some moments may require us to soldier on and others to fight back, Falchuk maintains that we often have far more to gain by accepting ourselves and what is. Here, she outlines how to bring the practice, and power, of surrendering into your life.

A Q&A with Aimee Falchuk

Q

What does surrender mean? What are we actually surrendering to?

A

Surrender is an act of acceptance—the acceptance of what is, of imperfection, of limitations, of disappointment, of pain, of death. Although we need a certain amount of intolerance of what is to fuel our passion to make the world a better place, so much suffering comes from our resistance to what is: We don’t want to accept it, or we don’t like it, or it doesn’t feed our immediate needs.

It is an act of humility to surrender to what is. When we surrender, we turn our ego and self-will over to a deeper wisdom and knowing within us—our higher self. When we surrender to our higher self, we let go of the painful distortion of certainty, duality, and separateness, and we embrace the truth of uncertainty, connection, and unity.

Some of us surrender to God or the universe—a power greater than ourselves. Whether we surrender to our higher self or to these energies, we are working through the more superficial, defended layers of our personality, those child parts of us that think we are all-knowing and all-powerful. In this way, surrender is an expression of our maturation.

Q

Why is it so hard to let go?

A

We may tell ourselves that to let go of something is an act of resignation. We may have been taught never to give up—to fight to the death—so there may be a belief that we aren’t measuring up to expectations by loosening our grip. Or we may associate surrender with being alone and lost, and chaos ensuing. But surrender is neither resignation nor defeat, nor an abdication of responsibility; quite the opposite: Surrender is a self-affirming act of personal responsibility. It’s about consciously and actively choosing to get off the insufferable ride of forcing our way through life. It is an active, self-loving choice in securing our own personal freedom.

We also anticipate the discomfort of the feelings that might come with surrender. We invest a lot of energy into going after what it is we want, and behind that energy is a deep longing for something. When we let go, stop pulling or pushing, or step away, we feel the impact of that—we might feel loss, grief, terror, or disappointment. The sensation of these feelings can be overwhelming and many of us weren’t necessarily taught how to express them.

In my practice, I work with clients on containment—the ability to tolerate the energetic charge of feelings. Tolerating feelings, particularly more intense ones, can be challenging. For those of us who have experienced trauma, for example, feelings can elicit a threat response: Our nervous system alerts us that we are in danger, and we discharge that energy by unconsciously acting out, or we suppress the energy through collapse or withdrawal. We fight, we flee, or we freeze. When we are unable to contain our feelings or tolerate their energetic charge, we will find it difficult to let go of controlling or avoiding them.

Q

So the distortions of our mind and the challenge of tolerating our feelings are obstacles to surrender. Are there other things at work here?

A

I explore the impact of self-will, fear, and pride with my clients; it’s not hard to imagine how these defensive postures affect surrender. For example, I have a very strong self-will: When I want something, I am like a dog with a bone. All my energy goes towards getting what I want. While there is a higher-self quality to this determination, there is also a forcing current of energy behind it that makes all sorts of unreasonable demands. Underlying this forcing current of energy is fear—fear that I will never get what I need or that I am not supported by the universe, that I must do it all on my own. Out of fear, my self-will empowers itself, tightens it grip, and fights even harder for what it wants.

Pride, on the other hand, maintains our idealized self-image—the self we think we need to be for self-preservation. Pride presents itself as a kind of invulnerability, or a need to be right or perfect. Pride is born out of humiliation and rejection and has the job of protecting our heart from further pain. Because surrender is an act of humility and an acknowledgment of our perfectly imperfect humanness, the humbling process of surrender can feel humiliating to someone who’s very proud.

Harmony between our true masculine and feminine energies also affects our ability to surrender. Masculine energy is activating, initiating, doing energy. Feminine energy is receptive, being energy—energy that can wait for things to be revealed. When the two are working in balance with one another, the creative process is underway: We are doing our part to activate and initiate, then stepping out of the way with trust in the process. If the feminine or masculine is in distortion—in the form of aggression, impatience, over-activity, or an unwillingness to receive or trust—then surrender is virtually impossible.

The final challenge is that some people find pleasure (albeit negative) in not surrendering. I had a client who wanted to work on her stubbornness. She described much of her identity in terms of needing to stand her ground. As she energized this place in her during a session, she screamed, “I will never let you win. You will never get me. I will never give in.” As she said these words, a smile came to her face. She looked strong and empowered. As we analyzed the process, she spoke about her relationship with her mother, which she described as a constant and epic battle of wills. She was able to see how her stubbornness was a pseudo-solution, giving her the sense of autonomy and self. In this way, her stubbornness felt life-affirming, and it made her feel powerful, she felt pleasure. The unconscious pleasure we get from holding on can be a real disincentive to let go.

Q

Can you speak about the relationship between faith and surrender?

A

This gets at the relationship between masculine and feminine energy—of doing our part and then stepping aside. Implicit in stepping aside is a willingness to be in a period of uncertainty; this can be difficult. Most of us don’t like uncertainty. It doesn’t feel safe and safety is a basic need. Learning to be with uncertainty, and trusting that the only thing certain is uncertainty itself, is a way to address that need for emotional safety.

I saw a social media post the other day that read, “Have a deep trust in life.” This is the essence of surrender: having a deep trust in life. This can be hard, particularly if we have experienced loss, trauma, disappointment, or hurt. But until we build or repair our relationship with trust, we can’t willfully surrender.

Our relationship with trust and faith is an active practice in that it asks us to work to discover—and clarify—our distortions. One of my most significant and painful distortions has been my image of God. As a child, I formed an image of God as this distant, withholding, punitive man. So for me, when I would stand at the edge, faced with the choice to either hold on or to turn my will over, that image of God—not so supportive or inviting—would appear. Working through this image, understanding when and why it formed, and seeking a more truthful relationship with God (as I understand God) has been an important part of my own journey with surrender.

Q

What are some signs that we may need to surrender or let go?

A

When I hear people express a chronic frustration with a situation, I get a sense that something needs to be let go: There is a lack of patience or unwillingness to accept what is. They are full of demands. There is a frenetic, forcing, holding, or push/pull quality to their energy. They aren’t breathing—at least not deeply. They may describe tension in their jaw, back, and shoulders. There is intensity in their eyes. When they stand, they may lock their knees. All their energy may be in their upper body, reflecting their unwillingness to let go and feel the support of the ground beneath them. You can also sense it in their thinking, which is fixed or narrow: Talking in absolutes is a good indicator that something has to give.

Q

What are practical ways to prepare to surrender?

A

We cannot will, or force ourselves, to surrender—which is just another form of control. A better option is to give ourselves the time and space to understand and feel what stands in the way of letting go.

A word of caution: Letting go can elicit fear, terror, rage, and pain—it can unground us. We need to go slow, be kind and patient with ourselves as we let go. We need to establish a sense of safety, practice self-care, and rely on the support of trusted others.

Uncovering Distorted Thoughts and Images

Surrender requires a certain level of consciousness. At lower levels of consciousness, we are bound to the limitations of our ego and self-will. (A note on ego: A healthy ego is what allows us to survive loss, disappointment, and so on. It’s the distortion of our ego in the form of self will, control, pride, idealized self image, lack of humility that prohibits surrender.) As we expand our consciousness, we create energetic spaciousness and mental flexibility—things we need to be able to surrender. We expand our consciousness by examining our beliefs and the images we hold, discerning what is truth and what is distortion. Start this process by asking the following questions, and seeing what you discover:

What is it that I want? Why do I want it? What would it mean if I didn’t get it? What do I believe I have to do to get what I want? Do I believe that if I don’t vigilantly steer the ship I will never get it? What are my images of others, God, or the universe in relationship to this thing? Do I feel supported or do I feel like it’s all on me? What do I get from not surrendering? How does it serve me? What would I have to feel or experience if I let go?

Exploring Our Inner Negativity

As we begin to explore our belief system and uncover our distortions, we can go into deeper levels of our defenses and connect with the negativity of our inner will—what houses what I call The Big No (or the lower self). The Big No is the part of us that won’t—won’t surrender, won’t trust, won’t connect, won’t live fully.

I encourage clients to explore this inner no through their bodies and specifically through sound or movement, to vocalize their “no.” Whisper it, say it, scream it. Move the body. Have a tantrum. Own the no that lives inside. Clients often describe this as liberating and even pleasurable, for it’s a hidden truth that lives in them but never gets to be revealed because the outer will is so busy saying yes.

When we make contact with this inner no, we may discover things like our laziness—the part of us that doesn’t want to do the work. Or we may discover that we won’t trust others, God, or the universe. Maybe we find we won’t surrender because we want to punish or make others suffer. Maybe, like the client I mentioned, we feel powerful in not “giving in.” Whatever you discover, understand that this inner no thinks it is protecting us from pain, which at one point in our life it actually did. As we become aware of this inner negativity and see how it no longer serves us, we can begin to release it from its duties and transform it into higher-self energy.

Building Our Container and Learning to Contain

As we work through the layers of our ego and our inner negativity, we will most definitely come into contact with deep feelings that are different from the ones we feel in the more superficial layers of our personality. These deeper feelings can be incredibly intense and painful, but it’s important to trust them, to become familiar with our feelings, and comfortable expressing them. This process is called “building our container”—think of it as creating the space within yourself to have your feelings and to hold the energetic charge of your feelings. As we build our container and our capacity to tolerate our own feelings expands, we no longer need to quickly discharge energy through reaction, acting out, or withdrawal. We are now able to contain our feelings and ourselves, to consciously choose where, when, or if expression feels necessary. All of this impacts our ability to surrender. 

Q

How does this work change us?

A

These reparative experiences transform our energy and expand our consciousness, and in time we begin to see the shift in our energy: We may find ourselves walking away from arguments and choosing our battles more consciously. Our mind may be more flexible about that thing we’ve been wanting. We may be less attached and more open to different outcomes. We may feel less of a need to stand in our pride or self-will. Our breath is deeper and our body feels more relaxed and free. Our movements may feel more spontaneous and less controlled. We may find more pleasure and gratitude in life. These are signs that we are in the process of surrender. At first, this shift of energy may leave you feeling empty. Trust that it is okay. Recognize that so much of your identity has been tied up in fighting the good fight and that giving up that identity can be disorienting and a feeling of nothingness is normal. Trust that this place of nothingness is perhaps the beginning of something new.

Q

Can we get away with not surrendering?

A

Surrender is often forced upon us in crisis. The Pathwork Lectures, the spiritual lectures associated with my work, note that crisis occurs to make structural change possible and that “crisis is necessary because human negativity is a stagnant mass that needs to be shaken up in order to be let go of.” I take crisis as an invitation to address the negativity of our individual and collective distortions—our fear, pride, and self-will, our closed hearts and minds. When we don’t surrender, when we stay in distortion, we perpetuate and pass on this negativity.

I have learned that when I resist surrender I am trying to cheat life. I can impose my will on life and force my way through, but doing so skips over the necessary life lessons of patience, acceptance, faith, and humility. On some level, I suppose we can be successful in life if we skip over these experiences, but I think our higher self knows that we pay the price of that success somehow, be it through shame, or guilt, or low self-esteem. More importantly, we miss the opportunity for real growth.

We can’t really escape that which life asks of us. Life wants us to heal and evolve and that can be hard at times—very hard. But if we do it, if we do the work to be able to surrender to that deep knowing place in us, and partner with those greater energies that surround us, our experience of life deepens in ways we could have never imagined.

Aimee Falchuk, MPH, M.Ed, CCEP is the co-founder of Core Boston where she has a private practice. Aimee is also an emergency services clinician, and facilitates workshops around the country. She will be one of the speakers at the Great Jane conference in Austin, Texas in December 2016.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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