In January of 2022 I selected the word surrender for my word of the year. Often referred to as WOTY, it is customary for people to pick a particular word to hold in their mind, and perhaps guide them, throughout the year. I wasn’t entirely sure why I selected surrender, only that it seemed like the perfect next step after using “trust” as my word for 2021. As things happen, surrender became more and more meaningful to me as the year unfolded. Then recently I reread a book from several years ago by Michael A Singer. That book, titled The Surrender Experience is Singer’s follow-up to his first book the untethered soul—the journey beyond yourself. Together, those two books are helping me recognize my own surrender experiment and where I hope to go from here.
Michael Singer didn’t start out to be an author of a book read by millions around the world, or to be a spiritual teacher interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and dozens of other leading podcasts or television thought leaders. Actually, in 1971 while studying for his doctorate in economics he had what he calls a deep inner awakening. Leaving school, he went into seclusion for several years, developed a deep meditation practice, and eventually founded a yoga and meditation center where “people of any religion or set of beliefs can come together to experience inner peace.” But he didn’t stop there. In addition to writing a number of very successful books, he has also gone on to create and excel in business management, building and computer software.
One of the best things about Michael Singer and his books is the simplicity of his message. Using everyday language and examples he explains ideas that many find difficult to absorb. One of those examples is the use of a thorn metaphor. Say something happened to you that was traumatic—someone close to you passes away, you go bankrupt, or you get very ill. Like with an embedded thorn, we have two ways to deal with it. Do we suffer the pain of pulling it out so it can heal fully? Or do we bandage it and then spend the rest of our life protecting it and not letting anything bother or trigger it ever again? Do we learn and grow from the experience—or allow it to define our entire life? The more levels of protection we apply around it (so we don’t feel that pain) becomes a cage. Best to remove all the thorns we’ve held on to (all the things that cause us disturbances) and heal.
While his book the untethered soul is by far his most well-known, in The Surrender Experiment he describes his own personal path of surrender. He asks, “…what would happen if we respected the flow of life and used our free will to participate in what’s unfolding, instead of fighting it? In other words, is it possible to accept, let go and trust life to unfold on a moment-to-moment basis, and have everything turn out better than we imagined? Or do we instead try and control and micromanage everything we encounter in order to be safe and happy? (There’s that thorn again!) Not only does he answer those questions, he shares what he did over the span of 50 years explaining that each of us can experience what he has learned—and no we don’t have to go into seclusion. After all, the journey of inner peace happens inside us and that exploration is one each of us can take as far as we are willing to go.
From what I’ve been able to understand, here are a few of his most important ideas:
- The first step is to become aware that we are not our thoughts or our emotions. We are not that voice in our heads that is constantly talking about this, that and everything. Our true nature is the witness to those voices—the awareness behind them. The more we become aware of that voice (or voices) the more we can detach from the melodramas our other thoughts are constantly creating.
- At our core is a well-spring of energy. As long as we keep our hearts and minds open and don’t block this energy it is life giving, creative and nurturing. However, if we get lost in the chattering voices we usually close-down in fear and build a wall around our hearts. There we block our energy, become depleted and live smaller and smaller lives.
- The more our thoughts become disturbed or fearful in any way, the more we try to control reality, and the more we restrict that flow of energy. If we try to fight, fix or run from our disturbances or fears we create blocks (thorns) that can become permanent restrictions in our psyche.
- The only way to keep the energy flowing in a positive way is to notice and then release those disturbances as we witness them. We must feel them and then allow them to pass through us and dissipate. If they happened in the past and have become blocked, then we must allow them to surface again if triggered—and then relax, accept the feeling, and then let it go.
- If we can surrender to what is happening, let go of trying to control, and keep our heart and minds open, we will have all the energy needed to best address what our next step might be. Best of all is the peace, joy and freedom that will come from open hearts and energy.
How does this work? Let me offer more examples. Singer is convinced this works as well on slight disturbances as well as BIG disturbances. Say you are driving down the street and the car in front of you is driving very slowly or all over the road. Do you get upset? Or say your neighbors decides to throw a huge noisy party on the night before you have to get up early—and didn’t even invite you. Do you lay awake in bed ruminating? Or what about if you plan an outdoor picnic and the next day it rains—completely ruining your plans? Do you complain and whine?
As Singer points out, if we are fighting or resisting these things—we are punishing ourselves—and fighting against something we cannot control. One of his favorite sayings is, “Eventually you will see that the real cause of a problem is not life itself. It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes the problems.” If we stop allowing the thoughts to swirl in our minds, in many cases the problem goes away. If you can do that, you will have the energy and space to be better able to handle what’s in front of you.
What happens when the problem is bigger? This last year I had to deal with a couple of health issues that were potentially quite serious. Worrying about, complaining about, or denying them does absolutely no good. What about what’s happening in politics? Does my grumbling or griping about what is going on help in any way? Absolutely not. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel things—or take steps to help, it just means that I don’t get attached to the negative thoughts or feelings as they pass through me. I let them flow (to the best of my ability) and then address what needs to happen next. Again, it’s not the problem itself that makes me miserable—it is my thoughts, judgements and melodrama about the problem!
Why? Because we are constantly attempting to control reality so that we don’t have to experience pain or discomfort. Unfortunately, as we all know, that doesn’t work very well. We cannot control the world or keep all our thorns from ever getting triggered. Instead, accept reality as it is, and then feel the pain and discomfort that may arise, then let it pass through. Pull out the thorn and then move on from there.
While I won’t pretend that I have achieved anything near the level of Michael Singer, I do think that my surrender experiment is a beginning. Just like everyone I know—stuff happened in 2022 and not all of it was good. The story we tell, the thoughts we think, and the emotions we’ve had all add up to whether our energy is flowing strong and free—or is bottled up making us anxious and desolate. Like so many things in life, do we remember we have a choice? Maybe it’s best if we take the SMART approach and let our perceived problems flow past us while resting deep inside our awareness with an open heart? I know which I’m working toward.