Thirty essays in thirty days, number four
On the first Tuesday of 2024, while walking the dogs—or limping the dogs, to be biomechanically precise—I thought back to what I expected my life to look like at this point on the same day in 2023. I envisioned that, among other things, I would have a thriving business and be training for a marathon. As it turns out, my business is on the verge of bankruptcy, and I’m a few weeks removed from my second ACL tear in as many years, with a mangled meniscus to boot.
Lately I’ve been reading a lot about spirituality. It’s an age-old story: finding ourselves funneled toward the divine, or in search of something like it, when crisis strikes in the material world. At some point we’re all forced to grapple with the fact that our sphere of control is far more limited than we’d like to believe. The response to this sobering epiphany tends to fall into one of three categories: resigned nihilism, brute force resistance, or a renewed interest in the mystical and metaphysical. I’ve dabbled in all three. Ultimately, though, I find myself gravitating toward the latter.
A theme that has come up often in my reading is that of surrender. While the entity or energy or crazed cult leader to whom the seeker is meant to surrender varies across traditions, the idea is the same: surrendering to the flow of life and trusting its perfection—in other words, ceasing to resist and mentally strain against the reality of what is—elevates the experience of living and puts one on a path toward the divine.
I’ve always bristled at this idea. Agency has long been at the center of my operating philosophy, and as a Greek Jew, I have inherited a great deal of ancestral stubbornness and dogged resilience. Surrender seems to be at odds with these ideals—something I associate with weakness.
But I’m starting to open up to the possibility that these qualities might be compatible. Perhaps even synergistic.
Surrender, I’m coming to understand, is not resignation. Rather, it’s an active choice to redirect all of the energy that is typically devoted to refusing to accept the hand that has been dealt—all that mental groping and grasping and squirming and flailing that does nothing to affect reality—and instead to funnel that energy into action.
I’ve spent much of the past eight months at cognitive war with my reality, under an implicit belief that if I ruminated enough, if I resisted hard enough, I would earn a resolution through my suffering.
Narrator: No resolution was earned.
What I did accomplish was to siphon vital energy, energy I needed to actually deal with my circumstances, away from the task at hand. It has been predictably, utterly exhausting.
Last week, on another neighborhood limp with the dogs, I decided to try this surrender thing. I told myself that the potential bankruptcy and the upcoming surgery were exactly what I wanted, that the universe knew what it was doing. I told myself that there was no other possible reality or alternate universe or preferred set of circumstances that I could even consider. I told myself that my mind no longer had the capacity to operate within any context other than reality.
(I’m not sure that this is the correct protocol for surrender; it’s probably more coercive or on-the-nose than the mystics would suggest. But I only had one more block before we got back to the house, so this was the strategy I went with.)
I began to tremble, and ecstasy shot through every ounce of my being. A beam of light shined down onto Duke, Reggie, and me. I heard a voice start to—
Just kidding. But I did feel something shift: a peculiar relief, a sort of momentary weightlessness. For a fleeting second there was an overwhelming okayness. The circumstances would be what they would be, I understood on a visceral level. All I could do was play whatever hand I was dealt to the best of my ability.
The feeling came and went. It was nothing more than a glimpse. In short order, I returned to my standard programming, flailing away. But I’d be lying if I said that glimpse hasn’t stuck with me in some way.
The mystical machinery in me has lain dormant for years, declared obsolete in favor of an icy rationalism. I am just now, at thirty-two, beginning to get over myself and dust off the cobwebs of higher consciousness. I have a long way to go. As it stands, the only thing that the enlightened and I have in common is toenail growth.
But this practice of surrender, of trying and failing and trying again to do my humanly best to accept the truth and immutability of what happens, feels like a good place to start.