The Paradox of Surrender:
FINDING STRENGTH AND WISDOM IN THE STRUGGLE
Robert D. Rossel, Ph.D.
Far too often our associations with surrender and mindfulness suggest a kind of passiveness or resignation, having a distinct negative connotation, like giving up, becoming passive and fatalistic, or failing to rise to the challenges of life. In grief counseling, surrender has similar associations until one experiences the paradoxical transformational power of surrender, a power associated with letting go of struggle and resistance to change. It is the simple but profound realization that one can learn to yield to rather than oppose the flow of events in one’s life. There are many examples of this paradoxical transformation of perspective that come to mind from my grief counseling practice. I have come to see it as one of the most reliable indicators that the relationship has begun to work. One of my clients, we will call him John, discovered the power of surrender when, after months of struggle with profound grief and unhappiness over the disintegration of his marriage, he finally let go of his resistance to this change in his life and the related story of loss and victimization to which he was fiercely attached. It was then and only then that things truly began to move in the counseling. He began to accept some personal responsibility for things that had gone wrong in his relationship with his wife. He began to open to some of the gifts in his suffering, a softening in his relationship with his kids, an awakening of a deep spiritual connection to life, the dawning of a new perspective on life that made room for irony, humor, and a deeper field of vision.
There is a saying that is the underlying principle of tonglen and slogan practice: “Gain and victory to others, loss and defeat to myself.” The Tibetan word for pride or arrogance, which is nga-gyal, is literally in English, “me victorious.” Me first. Ego. That kind of ‘me-victorious’ is the cause of all suffering. In essence what this little saying is getting at is that words like victory and defeat are completely interwoven with how we protect ourselves, how we guard our hearts. Our sense of victory just means that we guarded our heart enough so that nothing got through, and we think we won the war. The armor around our soft spot—our wounded heart – is now more fortified, and our world is smaller. … The words defeat and victory are so tied up with how we stay imprisoned. The real confusion is caused by not knowing that we have limitless wealth, and the confusion deepens each time we buy into this win/lose logic… Realizing our wealth would end our bewilderment and confusion, but the only way to do that is to let things fall apart. And that’s the very thing that we dread the most—the ultimate defeat. Yet letting things fall apart would actually let fresh air into this old, stale basement of a heart that we’ve got.
Surrender in the context of grief counseling is most importantly associated with a deepening connection with soul and some form of spiritual awareness and practice. Often in grief counseling surrender is the gateway through which this deeper, more vital, connection to life begins to come about. Before that, spirituality often is something only read about, talked about, and thought about in an abstract, disconnected kind of way, if that. In surrender life suddenly is filled with new-found vitality, soulfulness and depth. This animation of soul, in turn, is capable of touching other lives, emanating a new kind of spirit, a new vibrational frequency that literally transforms relationships, a silent but intense presence that dissolves the unconscious patterns of thought and action in others it touches.