Why is it, during times of great strain, that we find it so difficult to reach out for the help of a higher power? We tend to feel we must endure and tough it out, hanging on for dear life to our original plans and expectations, when surely, we know that surrendering our will, and allowing God to choose for us is probably the wiser and saner path.
We have walked far enough on this journey of life to know we are not always the best judge of what we need or what is good for us. The history of our struggles is perhaps littered with numerous projects, relationships, jobs, and investments that have left us drained, penniless, demoralized and broken-hearted.
It can be a tough and painful way to go, but it’s not the only way to learn and grow.
Sometimes, we have to be broken down as far as we can go, and dealt a hand we can’t possibly play and win, before we are willing to cash in our chips and walk away from the gaming table. That’s when everything gets more interesting.
When I was diagnosed with cancer twenty-one years ago, I realized early on that the part of me that had always confidently made my decisions for me, was in well over its head. It didn’t know how to do cancer, and I soon found myself swimming in a sea of so much conflicting information, I couldn’t catch a breath.
I couldn’t rethink my way out of what had happened—I was already there.
So, one of the first things I had to sacrifice on that journey was the need for my life to be any different than it was in that post-diagnosis moment. Eckhart Tolle talks about this in his book Stillness Speaks. What he explains quite beautifully there is that what comes to us in life as a quintessentially personal event is really part of a larger development or evolution arising out of the totality of life—the interconnectedness of all things. That “whatever is could not be otherwise.”
The second thing I was guided to relinquish was my need to know what lay ahead. Spiritual teachers of every stripe tell us there is no reality beyond what is here and what is now. Our power to heal, to learn, to connect, to see, lies in our ability and promise to be present in this moment and this moment only. If we are busy re-scripting the past or worrying about the future, we are not present, alive and vital. We are not connected. And we cannot be at peace. In the past, we are regretful and in the future, fretful. Pema Chodron says: “This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
The third thing I was steered to let go of were the wounds and grievances of my past. (Twenty years later this is still work in progress.) I have an older brother who died of brain cancer about seven years before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One day, as I was having some energetic work done, I felt him standing over the massage table staring down at me. You need to let that go, he said. Let what go, I asked him. All of it, he said, everything.
It had been his weakness, you see, my brother who never forgot a slight or an oversight, a callous remark or a careless joke. Whenever we hold others accountable for past words or deeds, we indenture ourselves to tend to their errors—someone’s got to keep them on the hook, right? Consequently, we entrap ourselves in the prison of the past, and that’s really about all we accomplish.
The Course in Miracles says: “Love has no grievances.” It teaches that the only function we have in this world is forgiveness, and that grievances achieve nothing more than to hide the light of the world from us. Do we really want that?
Of course, surrender lessons like these are revisited again and again in life. Nowadays it isn’t cancer I find myself tending. But there are always other things that tug at my sleeve. During periods of distress, I oftentimes have to stop and ask myself: where are you? what are you minding? And then, call myself back. Back to the moment. Back to the depth of presence that surrounds me with its rich sound and sensation. Its peace. As soon as I feel myself begin to drift away again to mind the trouble-du-jour, I sometimes remember to grab hold of myself, and say, stay.
I have come to think of the present moment as a refuge. Whenever I feel beleaguered by life, I try and remind myself that I do not have to understand why someone acted as they did, or wonder what will happen next, or analyze why something happened in the first place. There is simply no there there.
I have a choice. I can remove the noose of hyper-vigilance, and surrender my will. I can let go of whatever seemingly harrowing circumstance is baring its pointy teeth, and connect instead to the present, hold fast to that lifeline of tranquility and strength, feast on its grace, and remember that this is where real, true life resides. It is here.