Deconstructing the Art of Surrendering
“Surrender, Surrender, Surrender…” I return to my favourite yoga class week after week for the chime of this word, for the serenity it brings. A word that rolls off the tongue, offering kindness and compassion, yet whose very definition portrays an image of weakness and powerlessness.
According to Merriam-Webster, there are three definitions for the word Surrender: 1) to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed, 2) to give the control or use of (something) to someone else, and 3) to allow something (such as a habit or desire) to influence or control you.
By these definitions, Surrendering represents a loss of power, of strength and of control. We envision a victim of war, with two hands held up high by nothing but fear, a face stricken with terror, a heart beating for survival. We picture a boxer who fights with proud fists, surrendering only when his collapsed body offers no chance for resurrection.
An imagery of defeat.
Our society encourages a fighting epidemic where we are taught to seek solutions, to push through, to value showing a face of courage over a vulnerable heart. We pride ourselves in hearing, “You are so strong,” as if it reflects our ability to outwit our emotional challenges. We are honoured to feel powerful, to put forth an embodiment of strength, a protection of armour, a warrior within.
For our ancestors, the very idea of surrendering would have meant letting go of the fight or flight response, greatly increasing the potential of being conquered by predators. In our present day, we have legitimized stress, offering ourselves anxiety and fear as a means to keep us alert. These have become our built-in alarm clock constantly buzzing to ensure we try harder, work harder, and stay strong.
Through strength, we feel safe.
I think of the Warrior series, a string of asanas (poses) that were created for the very purpose of building strength. I think of Tadasana, the traditional standing pose, where we are encouraged to find the tallest, strongest version of ourselves. When asked to find Sukkha – or ease – in these poses, it can feel like we are told to take off our armour, and leave ourselves vulnerable to being not strong enough.
It is no wonder, through the glorification of this fighting epidemic, that we are afraid to relinquish control. Surrendering would mean letting go of the fight, of our built in stress response, leaving us without armour to survive in this unpredictable world around us. We would be left with our fear of the unknown, without the safety of preparing ourselves for the anticipated battle ahead.
We are tired warriors, weighted down by our need for safety and control. We are anxiously holding our Warrior poses, our Tadasanas, even the heaviness we feel in our Savasanas is often loaded with armour of protection. The stress response we once deemed to be our ally has become yet another thing that controls us instead of offering us serenity, requiring more effort with each tiring step.
We are fighting an imaginary war.
So each week, I come back to class to hear “Surrender, Surrender, Surrender” with a deeper understanding each time for what this word truly means. It invites me to be here, to understand that this war I am fighting is not my own, that my practice is to accept what is, as is, right now. I notice that by lifting the armour, I feel lighter, I stand naturally a little taller, and come to rest with less resistance.
I don’t have control, and I don’t need it.