Monday, November 29, 2010

The Virtue in Just Giving Up

One of my former teachers was a big fan of the idea of never giving up. No matter the challenge, no matter the odds, he said that we should just keep trying, because “there is nothing in this entire world that is irrevocably unchangeable.” It’s an incredibly inspiring philosophy, this belief that with enough effort and determination, any goal can be reached. For many years I lived by this credo, and because of it, I achieved many things that otherwise I never would have dreamed of.

But the other day as I stood in the shower, I had a mini-epiphany of a different ilk. I had been worrying about whether a friend of mine was annoyed with me. He had been acting withdrawn, and I was trying to figure out whether I had done anything to irritate him, or if I could do anything to make him feel better. Suddenly, I had a flash of all the times in my life I had experienced similar worries. I saw a long line of anxieties and concern of a similar nature extending back years and years.

And then I saw a million other anxieties that I had carried at various times in my life. In my mind’s eye, I perceived an endless line of concerns that I had been trying to correct or control through changing myself or modifying circumstances. I had been trying to change all those things so there would be nothing to worry about, so that everything would be good and right and virtuous. But then, in that moment, I saw that the universe has a life of its own and no matter how much I tried, the flow of the universe would continue in it’s own way, carrying me with it. Right there in the shower, I said aloud, “I give up.”

When I said, “I give up,” I meant that I would stop fighting to patch things up, to correct reality. It was as if my entire being made a choice at that moment to completely and absolutely accept what is. I was accepting the intelligence of the universe, feeling that it was perfect, even in its imperfection. I was accepting myself, accepting that my basic nature was gifted to me at birth, and while I can strive to be the best me I can be, I’m always going to be me. Being me may involve some blunders, some clumsiness, some bad choices and even bad actions, but I realized I’m better off accepting that I’m imperfect me than desperately trying to be someone better and constantly failing. Better to just accept everything inside and outside than to constantly be in “fix-it” mode, because trying to fix things takes too much energy, and we have limited time here and limited energy with which to live our lives. Even if others don’t like me as I am, the universe seems to accept me completely, as it hasn’t booted me out of existence yet, and that’s a wonderful thing.

I felt such a relief, as if I could breathe deeply from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. I was no longer fighting anything. I was no longer trying to hold back the dam. I was surrendering to the river of life, and it felt exhilarating, wonderful, liberating. So much of my life energy was being zapped right out of me with worries and the feeling that I needed to improve, but when I gave up, that energy was restored.

I’m NOT saying here that it’s okay to let cruelty and injustice run wild on the planet or to act with disregard for others or to just live with terrible dysfunction. I’m also not saying we should be happy with intolerable circumstances. Rather, I’m saying we can surrender to those circumstances inwardly, so that we can then find a new calm and inner peace that allows us to make choices for change, if need be. Attacking problems head-on sometimes just creates more problems and causes so much inner strife. But accepting that you have this problem in your life, trusting that the universe has given you this problem as part of its perfection, gives you your dignity and faith back, and the clarity and serenity with which to choose a course of action.

I do think there’s a place for the “Never give up” credo, for consciously trying to bring harmony and beauty to the world and to our own psyches, but I think surrender has to come first. I have a feeling that until we really surrender to how things are and how we are, with our eyes wide open, not pretending to be better than we are, nothing will really change. Until we accept what is, until we stop fighting reality, how can we change it? Only by embracing reality do we have any power over it, and the power that we gain by surrendering is the power of love. What greater power can there be?

1 comment:

Bali Barb said...

Thanks, I really enjoy reading your weekly postings.