I’ll be honest: when I think of the word surrender, the first image that comes to mind is a large oil painting of Napoleon Bonaparte in the midst of a smoky battlefield surrounded by uniformed soldiers.
But heart-led surrender is different. It’s not about admitting defeat to an enemy or waving the white flag. Rather, it’s a nod to the greater order of things, a recognition that within so many situations, I am not—nor could I ever be—in control. The sacred art of surrender is as old as time, but I have only recently begun to consciously practice it.
In his book The Surrender Experiment, Michael Singer recounts his appreciation of the earth’s innate brilliance, flourishing year after year according to an invisible, natural order. He subsequently decided to see how nature would direct his own life when he surrendered to that same order.
For decades he has accepted every opportunity that comes to him, diverting far from the path his mind’s preferences would have created.
Here are three steps to achieve heart-led surrender in your own life, a practice that personally has become the only way forward.
1. Acknowledge nature’s inherent self-sufficiency.
During the long, warm days of summer, bright green leaves cast shade over sidewalks and flowers blanket bushes. Amidst the chaos of the current crisis, the arrival of summer, as delightful as ever, almost seems a miracle. Certainly we humans can claim no credit for it, except, perhaps, through our absence.
The belief that something outside of me has both an unseen plan and a proven track record of success helps me immensely. Mother Nature, higher consciousness, a holy spirit or deity—the nomenclature doesn’t matter.
I usually go with the Universe. And I choose to believe that just as the Universe creates the perfect conditions for the cherry blossoms to unfurl each spring, it also creates the perfect conditions for me to flourish.
2. Release resistance to circumstances out of your control
And then trust that the outcome will serve my best interest. As lovely as it sounds, my path to surrender is rarely easy or graceful.
No one greets loss, heartbreak, uncertainty or disappointment with a smile. I cry, I vent, I write, I worry—and as I do so I try to treat myself with compassion, because all human emotions must be honored and processed. But when I eventually do surrender, let me tell you, the relief is palpable.
My moments of surrender over the last year seem minor compared to the extraordinary doubt and disruption facing the planet today, but here are a few examples: I mailed many applications—for various jobs, a Master’s program, a visa, even a writing competition.
My mind wanted a 100% acceptance rate, but I practiced surrendering. Some worked out and others didn’t, and in hindsight I’m grateful for each outcome.
I surrendered to whether a new opportunity would require me to relocate to London at a moment’s notice, trusting that the answer would support my own growth. I surrendered to my grandfather’s declining health and to the end of a cherished relationship. Resisting these truths would have caused even more pain.
Paradoxically, in the very act of surrender we reclaim our power—power over all that is actually under our control. There’s a lot of truth to the adage that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.
3. Return to the present moment
When my mind is spinning out of control, imagining worst case scenarios, caught up in the injustice of it all, I shift my focus back to the here and now, back to what remains under my influence.
After all, anxiety is worry about a possible future over which we have no control. And the fear of how we might feel in that moment is worse than how we actually will feel if or when we get there. It’s best to stick to the present.
This mindfulness exercise works every time to ground myself in the moment. Sitting quietly, I take a deep breath and start counting:
- 5 things I can see
- 4 things I can feel
- 3 things I can hear
- 2 things I can smell
- 1 thing I can taste
A return to the senses that shifts me to the present moment. Right now I am safe. And then I can inquire within: What can I change about my current experience? And then I switch gears to wonder—why has the Universe led me to this situation?
If I can make this shift, I promise that you can too. With a little dose of surrender and trust, a dash of presence and self-care, life gets a little lighter. A little more magical.