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Surrendering to the Present
Submitted by Phillip Moffitt on October 30, 2016 - 3:16pm
In studying the dharma, we are often instructed to surrender to the present, but what does it mean really? When we surrender, we are relinquishing our demand that the present be something other than it actually is and we are fostering a willingness to be present with what is. Surrendering to the present entails surrendering to our current limitations, both internal and external. The ability to surrender is essential not only for practicing the dharma, it is equally critical for living skillfully in daily life.
Can you surrender control?
There are many moments in life that we can’t change. By practicing mindfulness we can differentiate between what we can and can’t change and choose to spend our time and energy on what is changeable. For example, imagine you’re stuck on an airplane that’s behind schedule, there’s no food, and the toilets aren't working. This is an uncomfortable moment, but you can’t control it. This is the moment you are in. So, instead of boiling over with anger, can you accept that “this moment is like this” and surrender control?
Can you surrender your belief that happiness is something you can control?
You may think you will be happy “if only” the external conditions of your life are just right — you find the love of your life, you get the promotion you wanted, etc. — but happiness doesn’t work that way because everything changes. Try as you might, the conditions will never be “just right,” and clinging to the belief that they will only causes suffering (dukha) for you. Even our greatest moments of happiness come to an end, so we worry about them ending and try to hold onto them, which also creates suffering. So, can you surrender to the truth that there's dukha present even in happy times?
Can you surrender to change?
The truth that everything changes can be a point of despair, but it’s actually good news because even your worst moments won’t last forever, although they may feel like they will. When we surrender our resistance to a moment that is painful, or unpleasant, or difficult in some way, something shifts and we find that we have more choice in how we respond to the experience. It’s actually empowering.
Can you surrender your demand that the past be different?
Many people demand that the past to be other than it was, which inhibits them from living in the present. Maybe you do too, but you haven’t recognized it. Demanding that the past be different is futile because, of course, we can't have a better past. But, we can have a better relationship to it, if we surrender to the past being what it was. Otherwise, we are caught in a continuous cycle of suffering.
Surrender is not Collapse
Surrender is not the same as collapse, which is a breakdown of vital energy. When we collapse, we lose the sense of the moment. We're swept away by our emotional reactions to the unpleasantness or uncertainty of the situation. It can happen because we’ve lost heart, or become impatient, disgusted, or unable handle the present moment. This is very different from surrender. When you surrender to a situation, you are staying present for it. You're not swept away because you have made a choice.
Surrender is not Defeat
Surrender can feel like a kind of defeat. Maybe you’re not going to get any of the recognition or financial stability you wanted. Or you’re not going to have the child or the kind of relationship you wanted. It isn’t wrong to feel it as a kind of defeat, but we must take on our feeling of defeat, surrender to it, and move on from facing backward to facing forward. Facing forward is a powerful, active choice. It's not necessarily that you're doing something but your mind is moving on. You're now available for the next moment, not stuck in the past, and not stuck in this moment.
We can all choose surrender. As you’re lying in bed in the morning, make a commitment to how you want to be the day. Can you choose to be present for the day’s unfolding, just as it comes, one moment flowing into the next? Will you be perfect in it? No, but that’s irrelevant. You’re simply doing the best you’re able. This practice isn’t about getting results, because that’s one of the things you’re surrendering—the attachment to results. It doesn’t mean you’re not cultivating results. To be a good mom, to be a good friend, to be effective in your job, to be safe, to have a good time—these are all wholesome goals, but you’re surrendering your attachment to the results of those goals without surrendering the goals. It’s very courageous to give your all to something and at the same time let go of it. When we choose surrender, we are acting with wisdom.
For your reflection:
1. Consider a major change from your past. Were you able to surrender old habits and attachments such that you could adapt to the new conditions? Were you able to face forward to the new and not get caught in looking backward into the past?
2. Today can you meet each moment with compassion, loving-kindness, and your very best response then let loose of each in turn, however beguiling in their beauty or their horror?