Sunday Sermon: How I found Peace and Happiness Through Surrender
(All graphics were downloaded from http://www.canstockphoto.com)
Two weeks ago I wrote a post encouraging you to embrace every moment of your life with gratitude as a way to curb the consuming desire for “More.” Then last week I wrote a post to not accept a mediocre, unhappy life. Essentially telling you to not settle but instead demand more happiness from your life. At first glance, that appears to be totally opposite and contrary advice! Was I being a two-faced hypocrite? In this post I want to answer that question and tie the two ideas together with another idea that I have found to be the key to happiness for me. This post won’t make sense without first reading the last two Sunday Sermons.
Give Up Control, Stop Fighting and Go With the Flow!
Each of the two previous posts are examples of letting go. The monk had done his part and run away from the tiger and jumped off the cliff. That was all he could do, he was out of options. He could have hung there by the branch in terror and frantically twisted, kicked and fought with all his might to save himself. But he did just the opposite; he totally let go control over it and put his situation out of his thoughts. Whatever happened next, happened, and it was fine with him. At that moment he spotted the strawberry, and was filled with joy.
The flower that refused to bloom had so much fear and arrogance (actually two sides of the same coin) that it refused to follow the natural order of things. Instead, it decided it was smarter than all of nature and would take control over its own life and do things its own way. That brought it agonizing pain! When it had fought for as long as it could, it surrendered and finally found the joy and beauty in life.
I know that many of you will be very angry with those words and automatically reject them. I understand your feelings and most of my life I would have reacted the exact same way. I was certain that if I just worked harder to have more control over my life, things would finally fall into place and I would be happy. Unfortunately, just the opposite was true. The harder I worked; the tighter I held the reigns of my life; the more I micro-managed it; the worse my life got. So I worked harder, held the reigns tighter and managed even more. And my life got even worse. Then, when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, it did!
Finally I had to admit to myself that the results of my strenuous efforts, my hardest work and best thinking had led to the total ruin of my life. In every way, I was a failure. Even I could see that doing more of the same would only end up with more of the same results; and I couldn’t live with any more failure. So I had to try something totally new, something radically different.
I turned to a new way of life that encouraged me to let go control of my life. I was told that when a business went into bankruptcy the courts appointed a new manager to come in and temporarily over-see it. Obviously, the old managers had created the mess so it was time for a new manager. My life was bankrupt, so it too needed a new manager. I needed to turn my will and my life over to something greater than myself, it didn’t matter who or what it was, just so long as it wasn’t me. I searched and found something I could trust enough to lead me and then I did it; I renounced control over my life. I swore that with every fiber of my being I would try to never control my life again. All of my will-power would be dedicated to one purpose: Surrender. And I have tried to keep that promise. Of course I have failed many times! All too often I have found myself in control again. Fortunately, I have a built in warning system that tells me when I have usurped control and I am managing again: my life starts to go to hell! When my peace is disturbed, when I am unhappy, when things start going badly, I know I am micro-managing my life. The solution is always the same and it always works flawlessly: stop fighting, and let go.
You’ve got a lot of choices. If getting out of bed in the morning is a chore and you’re not smiling on a regular basis, try another choice. ~Steven D. Woodhull
The logical question you might ask next is, “What did you turn your will and life over to; what is that controls you?” I’m afraid I don’t have a very good answer because I honestly don’t know. When I started this journey nearly 20 years ago I had some pretty specific ideas of what “god” was, but with every passing year I have abandoned nearly all them. Today I know almost nothing about “god”. All I know for certain is that if I trust him/her/it, my life is very, very good.
I have cobbled together my own creation mythology from different sources, mostly from Taoism which has taught me the most and comes closest to a spiritual philosophy I could follow:
Bob’s Creation MythologyIn the beginning, 14 Billion years ago, there was only One. There could not be another, just the One. But the One wanted others, so it exploded itself into an incomprehensible number of others called the Many. Today the Many is the evolving, expanding body of the One. The One is now Many, but still One, because there can not be others. You and I are neural cells in the Many which compose the One. Unfortunately, we are so small that we cannot see that we are part of the One, we are deluded by our smallness and think we are totally alone and unimportant.
Just as every cell in every living thing has DNA that acts as an instruction set for that individual cell, everything in the Many has a type of DNA which its own individual blueprint. Like snowflakes, no two are alike, each is unique. But this DNA is not just for living things, it is for all things, organic or inorganic. Each has a unique and critical part to play in the One. And the One is itself the overall DNA Instruction Set that acts to bring harmony among every part of the Many. The Taoist call this the Tao, the Way, the Flow. It is the underlying natural order and flow of the Universe, the One. For more information about Taoism, I highly recommend this book:
Tao Te Ching : Annotated & Explained (Skylight Illuminations)
Each of us must choose to go with the natural flow of things and follow our own blueprint or not. The monk followed the Flow and so he obeyed his inner nature. When the tiger appeared, he ran. When he came to the cliff, he jumped. That was the natural order of things. When he clung to the limb on the side of the cliff, he still followed the natural order of things and knew that he had a DNA Instruction Set that could never end; it would simply change and take a new place in the Many which is the body of the One. All was exactly as it should be, and that filled him with peace. And then he spotted that delicious strawberry!
It had its own DNA Instruction Set that had told it to grow right there for just that moment. Many times it had wondered how it could fulfill its life mission on the side of a sheer cliff. Sometimes he fretted that he could never feel the joy of serving and bringing pleasure to another part of the Many (the greatest of all joys). But he trusted and surrendered and finally the day came when he could play such a marvelous role as one of the Many in the body of the One. It absolutely tingled with excitement wondering what its next role would be! It couldn’t be better than this. But it was!
Our friend the flower who resisted blooming had fallen into the delusion that he was alone and that delusion filled it with fear and terror. It clung to the idea that it was alone and had to control its own destiny; there was no one else it could trust. And so it led a very sad, pathetic and excruciatingly painful life. Finally, when it could bear it no more, it surrendered. And then the magic and the miracles could begin.
My friends, are you fighting your own Instruction Set? Are you going with the flow and natural order of your life? Is there something in you that cries out to change your life and break out of societies mold? If so, perhaps you should listen to that voice. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, there is another choice:
You’ve got a lot of choices. If getting out of bed in the morning is a chore and you’re not smiling on a regular basis, try another choice. ~Steven D. Woodhull
Surrender was the choice that worked for me. In this quote we see that surrender means having…
“…absolutely no resistance to life, no matter what form it may take. This is absolute surrender, this is loving what is, simply because it is. Now this does NOT mean you don’t do something to improve or change a situation, but simply that while you do, even that, there is absolutely no resistance to the way it is now. … But when there is really no resistance to life, there is no resistance to the situation AND, at the same time, there is the knowing that something needs to be done to change it, and there is no resistance to that either.
So, if you are about to get punched in the face, you accept completely that you are about to possibly get punched AND…… you duck! If you have a headache, you completely accept that you have a headache AND……. you take an aspirin or a Tylenol! Like a master martial artist, you flow with all of life and whatever energy you encounter. You even flow with those people or things that seem to be opposing you.
When you accept what is, completely and absolutely, the very energy that seems to be in opposition to you can be used to change any situation for the better. The mind that has no resistance is calm and at peace and knows what the most skillful thing to do is. It even knows if “doing nothing” is the best thing to do, which sometimes, it is.”
~Francis Bennett (on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/francis.bennett.37?fref=ts)
A lot of people with conventional Western religious beliefs surrender, too, but might not be aware of it. There’s “letting go and letting God,” and putting things “in God’s hands” or turning one’s life over to Jesus. There’s the peace that comes after desperate prayer because they’ve surrendered control and passed it on to the deity of their choice, whom they trust to take care of things.
Me? I’m an atheist who surrenders. I got there via meandering route that passed through Western and Eastern religions, philosophy, my personality, science, other species, mechanics, pop culture, Catch-22 and junior high French. And through experience.
Al, no question you are right, surrender is at the heart of nearly all religious and spiritual traditions. Ultimately, the truth is we only have control over a tiny fraction of our lives. Once we get over the illusion of control and relax, life generally starts to go pretty well whatever our religious (or non-religious) beliefs.
“…and junior high French”?? I thought this was humor, until I remembered my 6th grade vanguard “no English spoken” French class, and missed more than a week due to severe tonsillitis after the first few days. I had no idea what anyone was talking about from that point on. Total loss. Thanks for including it.
Your French story is better than mine. I was thinking of some phrases I learned, like “Ça ne fait rien” (It doesn’t matter), “C’est la vie” (That’s life) and “Tant pis” (Too bad). Collectively, they make for a more sophisticated sounding “Shit happens.”
Well Al, I’m an atheist like you. I am not bitter or mad at god anymore than I could be mad at santa claus or the easter bunny or any other made-up character. It would be a waste of time. I admire the good that religious people do in the name of their god but I am disgusted by the evil and the judgmentalness they do in the name of that same god.
My life is simple. I don’t over-think things and treat people well and with respect as I would want to be treated. I believe that everything happens for a reason (well, duh!), but a cause and effect reason and not one with any divine intelligence or purpose behind it. Sometimes stuff happens, that’s just the way it is.
I’m no kid, closing in on 61, so I have come to my position as an atheist through a lifetime of experiences. I am as happy and as content now as anytime in my life even though I am on the downhill slide to a dirt nap. I have no fear of death and if I were to die tomorrow I could live with that.
Here’s an irony: I work for a religious homeless shelter and I don’t believe I have been called “sir” so many times in all my life as I have there, not only by fellow employees but by residents.
Just remember, no matter where you go, there you are. And “Surrender” was a great song by Cheap Trick in 1978. Otherwise surrender is great and I’m not even French.
A good and inspiring sermon, Bob, as usual…
And, as Al said, spiritual traditions of the West also have a central role for surrender:
I found a version of The Serenity Prayer with the more overtly religious part that is far less often quoted. Note the reference to Jesus:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Then, even from the biblical tradition before Jesus, here’s a passage from the Old Testament:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.
Proverbs 3, 5-6
When it comes to applying the concept of surrender, though, it can get tricky: When does one take action and try one’s best to direct things, and when does one “let go” and let a Higher Power direct things? That can be a tricky question to answer, fraught with possibilities for everything from laziness, avoidance, denial, and self-deception to the other extreme of OCD-like hyper control.
Surrender vs. Directed Effort–in a way that comes back to the spirit of the Serenity Prayer. To change/direct what I can change and direct, to accept what I cannot or shoud not change and direct…and the wisdom to know the difference.
Thanks again for the inspiring sermon, Bob.
Michael, I have spent years wrestling with those questions. Unfortunately, each person has to answer them for themselves, there are no simple formulas to live by. If you are lucky, somewhere along the line there is a transition from being forced to surrender because you know you MUST, to where it becomes your one true source of joy. Then the questions fall away.
Michael, as a person who literally does not know when to quit (which has proved the source of both rewarding accomplishments and prolonged disasters), I’ve found that it’s a bit easier to determine when to hold and when to fold once responsibilities for others’ welfare have ended and it’s just me out there. Getting laid off in a recession while you’re the sole breadwinner does not tend to put one in a discerning “is this something I should surrender to” frame of mind. It’s a whole lot easier for me to step back, reflect, and philosophize when there are no mouths to feed and duties to perform. Since I lack that “wisdom to know the difference” as you say, I’m beginning to go with “In his heart a man determines his course, but the Lord establishes his steps.” I may keep to my end goal, but try to let today’s events roll out, and just go with it and fold it in at the end of the day. Helps my underdeveloped sense of dependency on Him, and trims my overdeveloped “make it happen” blinders.
Thanks for the comment. It sounds like you have a way forward that works for you.
Such matters are often so individual; advice that calms one person and gives him strength, enrages or annoys another and makes him feel off balance.
One one level we know, as Bob said, that “There are no simple formulas,” and words to the effect that everybody has to find his or her own answers. On another level, though, it’s tempting to share the good news of what has worked for oneself, and to half-believe that if only everybody would “wake up” or “think right,” our own answers and approaches and philosophies of life should work for everyone.
It’s tricky: We can and do learn from each other in so many ways. At the same time, we’re each an individual who, in some matters, must find his or her own way.
If anyone is interested in reading English translations of the Dhammapada, Ashtavakra Gita, Tao Te Ching, etc., I would like to recommend a book by Bart Marshall called “The Perennial Way”. I bought this book on Amazon about a year ago and have read it three times. Every VanDweller should have it in their library. (In my humble opinion).
Thanks for the recommendation Tom, I’ll check it out!
After a tumultuous life and many failures/successes, I have found going with the flow is the only sane corse of action/inaction. Americans tend to think our culture/economic system is the model for the planet. We have lost the ability to empathize with our fellow humans. We are so busy earning a life ,we forgot how to live life. All we need to do is open our eyes to see !
Great spot on post. Continue.
Thanks, 2knives. you know I love you!!
Beautiful work!I enjoyed the graphics with this one as well. I believe that, regardless of beliefs, we all need reminders that we are a small part of an enormous universe. At least for me, that helps me to not take myself too seriously and to remember that it’s a friendly Universe.
For myself, my appropriate analogy is that flower. The healing in my spirit began when the pain and fear of change became less than the pain of remaining the same. That is an old story, but a beautiful one all the same.
I now face another stage of opening, and I know not what that stage involves. Today I refuse to worry about that or try to control it. It is what it is.
Calvin, I think we are on the same path!
I agree with 2Knivesand Calvin; just let go and let it all flow. Whenever i experience emotional or physical pain, I know I’m resisting something. I strive to be mindful in my actions until they become second nature and I smile a LOT; it helps keep me focused and releases “good chemicals!” Along the way, old ideas and habits fall away and new realizations lead me down paths I never considered – and I am so very grateful for all of it!
Suzann I so totally agree with you, Especially about the smile. I make a determined effort to look every person I encounter in the eye and smile and say “Thank you.” or whatever is appropriate. I hope it helps make them feel better, but I know it make me feel better.
I began to consciously smile while in a very dark period of my life. At first I felt like a fake, but in no time at all I realized smiling benefited me as much, if not moreso than others. Today, I’m known for my smile.
People remember a genuine, enthusiastic smile. It brightens their day; shows them you are approachable and spreads goodwill.
It also opens the door to opportunities! I smiled so much while negotiating for my van, the dealer knocked another $500 off the price. I was chosen for my current part time job because I smiled and laughed and left my elderly client feeling cheerful – something she’s not been too often according to her housekeeper!
So keep smiling and have a wonderful week!
Suzann, it’s the simple things that can change life from just okay, to something special. It sounds like you have really mastered that! I went through the checkout at Safeway a few days ago, and the clerk looked me in the eye, smiled and said Hello. That instantly grabbed my attention. We had friendly chit chat but he was busy and working hard. At the end we each made direct eye contact and smiled and I was so struck by how odd that was. i almost said something but having worked in a grocery store all my life, I knew he was busy and the best thing I could do was just leave.
I am not a Christian, but i can still learn from them and I am compelled by Jesus saying that in that you have done it to the least of these (the hungry, poor, in prisons) you have done it to me.
Suzann, we who have gone through the darkness and found the light on the other side know how important even the smallest light can be, and so we gladly give a smile! you’re wonderful!
Is there a way to opt out of the sunday sermon parts of your blog. It just rubs me wrong. not really sure but I just don’t like it. probably not thought right? all or nothing. and for the people who love this, I know I can just delete that email.
It’s not that hard to stop reading when you see the subject line, if it bothers you, rick.
Karen, while you are right, I still feel like Rick has a really good point. Just like you feel “Ick” at the Ameritrade commercials, Rick feels “Ick” at spiritual posts. Every so often is okay, but three in a row was not wise on my part!
Rick, I understand and I agree. I think I went a little too far, but I’ve got that out of my system and I am not expecting any more like that for awhile. Sunday sermons won’t be every Sunday and for quite awhile they will be much more philosophical and on-topic to vandwelling so I think/hope you will be okay with them. Spiritually oriented ones will be few and far between–which is what they should be.
It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth so my next post will be extremely practical to clean the palette!!
Thank you, Bob. Sometimes I feel quite alone among people who are totally involved with playing our the roles our culture proclaims appropriate (“…We’re Americans. We plan. We work hard…” — Ameritrade commercial makes me cringe!) but which to me seem empty and into which I never fit comfortably, despite some valiant successes and spectacular failures. It’s warming to know there are others who look beyond social and religious conditioning. My own creation story differs a little from yours, but not by a lot, and continues to evolve. Again, thanks for taking the risk of sharing.
Karen, it sounds like we have a lot in common!
Pass it over here, I want a hit.
Sam, you know I am only high on life!!
Are you the same guy that that did not want a spiritual discussion at the RTR??
I love when you let you spiritual side out : )
Wait a minute Lynnzie!! I was okay with a spiritual discussion (which we had) but not with doing specific rituals of a specific religion. Those are very different things.
Of course it helps that you and I think alike doesn’t it! I suspect there are some people who think differently from us who are not happy about it! Of course there are some atheists and agnostics who just hate it! But it is a big part of who I am so it will be part of the blog. But we will be taking a break from it for awhile.
Bob I’ve found your site and this Blog entry is what I have found as well.
I really enjoy your writings and Videos on the U-tube
Thanks Ventribe, I’m glad to help in any way I can. Bob