What do you do when you are perplexed about what to do? When it seems like there are no roads ahead and going back is not an option, how do you navigate yourself?
At times I have felt utterly lost and sometimes befuddled by possibilities.
This happened especially when I was at a work crossroad. What I knew for sure was my work was not satisfying or engaging me. At those times, I woke up early and felt deflated about the day ahead. I had no idea of what I wanted to do but I was very clear about what I did not.
I felt like I should know the answer. Now would be nice. I had an urge to do something, anything.
And then I learned about surrender. In the most unlikely of places. Spain.
I had received instructions from my host family in Valencia on how to get to the centre of the city – the train, transfer to the subway and the name of the station where to get off.
At the train platform, there was a machine to buy my 10-ticket pass. Thankfully, there was an English option. On the final screen after the purchase, I read, “Validate your ticket.”
What I remembered then was a discussion from the previous day with house mates who said there were steep fines if you hadn’t validated your ticket.
I looked around. I had no idea what to do with my ticket. My rudimentary Spanish language skills did not include “validate.” A train approached. Every one who got on went directly to their seats. No machines on there. The train departed.
I had been in Spain for 10 days. I had many times like this particular moment, where I was truly stymied about how to proceed. No one to ask. Not even Google.
Alone on the platform, my surrender lesson began. I sat on the bench.
The first idea that comes up about surrender is that it is about giving up. Surrender, I found, is much more active. What is involved is letting go and embracing. Many of the most important lessons in life have a paradox.
What I leave behind in surrender is resistance and pushing. Instead of insisting something must be a certain way, I enter into a zone of not trying so hard.
When I observe my resistance, I can see that it is about an attachment to how things must be, about how I want to control a situation. Underneath that is fear, the companion of control.
What I embrace in surrender is two ideas, both about paying attention:
- Something bigger is going on. In the moment, the predicament may take up all the space. For example, being in a job that you don’t like may propel you to try harder or minimize your feelings. What if it is time to move on? Perhaps it is time to grow and expand your knowledge. This can be especially hard if you have a “golden handcuffs” kind of job, where envisioning quitting a job is associated with leaving great benefits behind. What is bigger is all about trust. Can you see beyond what you perceive as a loss?
- The time has come to do some observing. When it feels like something must be done, the most helpful action is mindfulness. What is it that you really want to do? What excites you? When you look at your life, what clues do you see? Paying attention this way, though, means looking carefully. That cannot be done when you are speeding through life.
The first step in surrendering is cease doing what you are doing. I am reminded of the saying from Cowboy Will Rodgers: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
This step may be the hardest of all, especially if you really want something. You may have invested a lot of time and energy in your pursuit and not want to throw that away.
What may help is understanding that there are many ways to get to a destination. Or maybe the destination you envisioned is not what you really want after all. When you begin uncovering what is happening for you, you may find the destination is not specific but more of a feeling. For example, you may be looking for work where you have more freedom. Or where you can better use your gifts and talents.
The next step is understanding that anything that is really important to you will require an act of faith.
“Of course, most of the things that truly matter require significant leaps of surrender. Without it there can be no love. Unless we learn to let down our defenses, to tolerate, forgive, and abide, no human relationship is possible. There can be no creativity without practicing surrender, either, since creativity springs from the unknown.” Mark Matousek
Back on the platform in Valencia, a man on a bike maneuvered close to me. He reached in his pocket, pulled out a card and waved it over a flat surface. I heard a noise. After he left, I took my card and repeated his motion. “Neuve residual,” flashed on the screen. Nine remaining. I had validated my ticket.