The Light, Dark, and Gray of Surrender
Why is it the default position of so many spiritual leaders that surrendering to the will of the Universe will only bring you happy things?
Lately, I’m fond of using a few phrases to affirm my practical, predominantly-offline spirituality. “Every day is a new adventure”, for starters, frequently invoked when encountering the first major challenges the day has to offer me, usually at work, but really any situation you can imagine running into once your feet hit the floor out of bed.
Also, “the sun’s going to eat the Earth in 5 billion years, so all of this is for nothing”, to help defuse any stress I might be feeling over little things that are insignificant in the long run: mistakes I’ve made at the office, some jerk cutting me off on the road, the snow plow not showing up on time to dig me out, that kind of thing.
And, of course, “integrity is everything”, which helps to counteract the excesses of the “sun eating the Earth” thing by reminding me that I’m still here now and can define myself and my legacy by my actions, adding to the experience of life and the world while both are still happening. Entropy is a poor excuse to justify doing bad, unethical things. I am my name and my word.
But most of all, this notion of “surrendering” to life, each new day, and what it brings you, is my baseline. Yet I marvel at just how much the people who call themselves “spiritual”, or “lightworkers”, or “believers” will simply assume that surrendering and accepting what the Universe is giving you at any given time is easy, and will lead to some cosmic conveyor belt of only happy things.
In truth, the Universe sometimes hands you a shit-sandwich and says “eat up”, and if you’re true to your commitment to surrender, you’ll bite. Does surrender still sound like this happy, aligned, blissful practice to you?
Similarly related to the excesses of New Age “positive thinking”, whereby you’re supposed to be all happy-happy, joy-joy at getting fired, being accused of a crime you didn’t commit, having a loved one die, or fleeing your war-torn country, or some other terrible thing: this whole notion that the Universe has a destiny for you and that alignment with that destiny is a guaranteed ticket to joy is an equal fantasy.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in this practice of surrender, that guarantees only light. You’re also accepting any darkness that comes your way. Light, dark, or gray, if you surrender, you surrender to ALL OF IT. What would possess you to think otherwise?
The flow of the Universe may take you to some awful places, and you have to deal with that. Surrender means risking suffering, persecution, un-fulfillment of desires and potential, regrets, poverty, loneliness, depression, and death.
Surrender is easy when things are well. It’s only when life sucker-punches you with something really bad and unexpected that you get an accurate measure of your own commitment to principle, to say nothing of your integrity.
But….it’s not always bad, either. Sometimes, you can climb out. I think of Neale Donald Walsch being homeless at 50 years old and getting out of that to write Conversations with God, or Stephen King selling Carrie and lifting his family out of poverty through his craft, or Nelson Mandela’s triumph over apartheid after years in prison. Many factors that led to their successes were outside of their hands, but it worked out. The Universe had a destiny for them, a different one than the millions of others who remain homeless, poor, and incarcerated. (Survivor bias is a thing, after all).
This isn’t to say you can’t take action: surrender is not the same as fatalism, but closer to soft determinism, in that you can choose your actions within a large but limited context of opportunities and barriers that are outside your control. You can’t control the river, but you can steer yourself within it, and thereby increase your chances of getting where you want, but make no mistake, the river will have the final word. Within this metaphor, there’s no damming the flow of the Universe, but harnessing it, working with its power, along your journey.
Sometimes, you have to steer around the rocks; sometimes, you’ll hit the rocks. You accept both possibilities. That is surrendering, and it’s not pretty, but it’s better than fighting upstream.
Still think it’s easy? Still think it’s all light and love and unicorn tails and fairy dust? It might serve you well to become more gray in your expectations of the Universe.
As a postscript: over the past few weeks, I’ve been gobsmacked by some surprising, stunning, possibly ongoing, and super-stressful challenges related to home and work. As such, I want everyone reading this to understand the stress-tested street cred that I’ve brought to these opinions. I’m still committed to surrender, but I’m having my initial conceptions of it reality-checked in a deep way.
Trust me when I say: surrender is the hardest easy thing you’ll ever do. And every new day is a new adventure. And… it’s all gonna be gone someday, so don’t sweat it. And…integrity is everything.
Jody Aberdeen is an author, blogger, and ghostwriter. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.