This world presents us with a shaky, uncertain, constantly changing landscape. Our response is to try to get control.
We create lists, systems, routines, schedules, comfort foods, and comfortable environments. We try to build our whole lives and identities around comfort and control.
And it doesn’t work. You can’t get a firm grasp on the fluidity of life. And so we get stressed, procrastinate, feel hurt, get depressed or anxious, get angry or frustrated, lash out or complain.
Into this craziness, I’d like to suggest the ridiculously awesome practice of surrendering.
What does this mean? It means letting go of some of our efforts to get control or try to make the world exactly as we like it. Surrendering means we relax into the shifting landscape and smile with friendliness at the world as it is, beautiful and amazing.
Surrender Versus Control Strategies
“Surrender” sounds lame or even scary to many people. It’s the opposite of the ideal of winning or conquering that our hyper-competitive society tends to uphold. As individuals, we seek control to alleviate the pain of uncertainty and surrender sounds terrible.
After all, we control our day with routines, schedules, and systems to be effective and responsible. We create systems for our work to keep things running smoothly and try to control our health through new diets or exercise programs. We take similar measures for our finances, recreation, and even our relationships.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of this, it’s just that it’s futile to try to control the uncontrollable. It’s like trying to knit a sweater from water. Some things are simply too fluid to be held to strict controls or patterns.
So control is a strategy that isn’t actually effective if held to too tightly.
Constantly trying to get control results in:
- Stress and anxiety about not having control
- Being driven by fears
- Not being happy with how things are (because they’re not in control)
- Striving for more control and suffering anxiety
- Lashing out at others when they interfere with your control
- Spending time, money, and energy seeking control
- Feeling lost, depressed, and unhappy with your inevitable failure at control
I’m not saying we should never try to get control. There are helpful ways of getting control, but often it’s more helpful to shift the focus from forcing control to harmonizing with the way things are. This can transform a competitive act into an act of compassion. Taking care of yourself can be a loving act rather than an attempt to gain control over your health, for example.
Why Surrender Is Ridiculously Awesome
Surrender can alleviate our need to constantly think and analyze and allow us to be fully present in this moment. And if we can accept how things are, we might even see new opportunities and benefits hidden from us when we were trying to control things.
We tune in to how we’re feeling. We notice the sensations of the moment, both in our bodies and all around us. We become present to whoever is in front of us. When we do a task, we pour ourselves fully into it.
We open to the uncertainty of the moment. We see what we can learn from it, with an open mind, with curiosity and a stance of not-knowing instead of a fixed viewpoint.
We start to appreciate the moment in front of us, fully. There is something immensely awesome about the moment in front of us if we stop trying to have it conform to our idea of how things should be. And it takes so much less energy than control.
How to Practice Surrender
We are not talking about giving up all control. That could lead to financial ruin, loss of relationships and unemployment.
But before we grasp for control, we can try surrender as an approach with whatever comes up. Before reacting, we can practice accepting things as they are.
For example, I might feel like my health is out of control and be anxious about it. I want to go on a diet and set up an exercise plan to get everything under control. These are not bad intentions, but this kind of fear-based approach often doesn’t work. In fact, anxiety could make it harder to make good diet decisions.
So instead, I practice surrendering and feel the fears coming up for me. I relax a bit and see that I’m suffering, that I could use some self-love. I can set an intention to love myself with nourishing food and movement and relish the thought of the joy these could bring.
Surrendering doesn’t mean I don’t take action—it means that I accept things as they are, and bring a loving intention into the equation.
And even if I never take that loving action in the future, the present is transformed. This moment is completely different for me if I’m not grasping for the illusion of control, but instead loving what is.
So here are some ways to practice surrender:
- Notice that you’re looking to control things, and instead pause. Drop into your body and notice the fear, uncertainty, anxiety that is causing you to want to get control. Stay with this physical sensation in your body, the energy of uncertainty that causes you to grasp for control. Be with it fully, allowing yourself to feel it. Relax and surrender to it.
- Open yourself to the rest of the moment, noticing how freaking amazing this moment is if you open up and pay attention. See it with fresh eyes, as if you’ve never experienced this moment before. Bring wonder and curiosity into this new viewing of the world.
- Let yourself rest in openness—you don’t need to control things, you don’t need to know exactly what will happen, but instead, you can find ease in the openness of this moment, the unknown quality of a beautifully shifting landscape.
- How can you love yourself and everything around you in the middle of this openness? Can you fall in love with this moment?
- What loving intention can you set for yourself in this situation? Coming from a place of love instead of fear, what would be the best next small step to take?
What a world we live in if only we can fully see it. Surrendering is the way to move into that.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net