For a control freak the idea that there is ‘Power in Surrender’ seems counter-intuitive (and downright freaky). To surrender is like giving up or failing to be in the driver’s seat of one’s own life. As you can see, I do not have positive connotations associated with the word surrender.
Growing up I was a bit, ahem, special. Starting at the age of 12, I devoured books like Awaken the Giant Within and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I religiously mapped out my pre-adolescent life with 5-year goals and 10-year plans and tried my hardest (with not much success) to stick to them. I have since then grown out of my very long-term planning habit (kinda). But still get impatient when I can’t get to my point B’s as fast as I would like.
The Philosophy of Wu Wei
It wasn’t until I came in touch with the Eastern philosophy of wu wei a term used in Taoism that is often translated as ‘actionless activity’ or ‘nonresistance’. In ancient China this ‘non-doing’ was regarded as one of the highest achievements or virtues. Wait a minute, whaaat?
Yes, that’s what I thought too. But it didn’t mean that non-resistance was not doing anything, rather it was explained, the doing is not done from a reactive state of mind.
This actionless action is very different from the inactivity that arises when you are in the ordinary state of consciousness, or rather unconsciousness. A reactive state that is believed to come from fear, inertia or indecisiveness. Instead, the Taoist believe, when action is required it must be born out of a state of conscious presence, rather than the conditioned mind.
The Power of Now
I was intrigued that I began to dig deeper and found that in Taoist texts, wu wei is also often associated with water and its yielding nature and can assume any form or shape it inhabits. I then found that it wasn’t just the Eastern faiths that believe in coming from a state of presence.
Eckart Tolle, author of The Power of Now claims that our true power lies in the state of Being. A state where we accept the present moment for what it is and advises us to always work with the present moment not against it.
The Sage is occupied
with the unspoken
and acts without effort.
Teaching without verbosity,
producing without possessing,
creating without regard to result,
the Sage has nothing to lose.
–Tao Te Ching attributed to Laozi (Chinese Philosopher)
Universe Works in Harmony
In Taoist philosophy it is believed that the universe already works harmoniously according to its own ways; and when we exert our own will upon the world it disrupts the harmony that already exists.
But what does this mean? Does it mean that we are not to exert our own will?
In a riveting Tedx Talk titled ‘The Ecstasy of Surrender’, Judith Orloff MD makes a case that:
You can sabotage success by pushing too hard.
Surrender is the antidote to stress in a world that relentlessly
conspires to interrupt creative thought.
Surrender boosts your brain’s endorphins–euphoric,
opiate-like pain killers–and serotonin, a natural antidepressant that allows you to relax,
have more fun, and succeed more wildly than ever before.
Life becomes easier and more blissful when you can let go.
Bringing Presence into Daily Life
Being the obsessive planner and over-thinker, at first it was (really) hard to accept a situation when it didn’t go according to my plan; a meeting got cancelled last minute or a set-back with work that was outside my control.
But what used to result in frustration, turned into a realization.
There is always going to be something that is beyond my control.
And maybe that wasn’t a bad thing.
Maybe something better was waiting for me instead?
What I did have control over was my own state of mind. It was up to me to decide how I wanted to respond to unexpected events.
Sometimes, it wasn’t even about responding, sometimes I discovered the best possible way to create a change is to first shift my own internal energy of how I viewed something.
Surrendering or wu wei began to take on a new meaning. Instead of associating it with failure or giving up, I started to see it as a way of tapping into a deeper wisdom.
A place where decision making was coming from a place of calmness rather than from a place that was reactive. As I learned to surrender and accept what is, I felt connected to an inner power. An energy that wasn’t affected by an external reality.
I felt more in harmony with the direction that my life was taking me and wondered, maybe life is less about being in the driver’s seat.
Maybe it’s more about enjoying the ride.
The School of Life
Interested to learn more about wu wei?
Watch this concise explanation by The School of Life.