Sometimes life offers you a situation that requires you to call on all of your internal power. These types of situations ask you to dig deep and dig in, require you to hold your ground, set a difficult boundary, tell an impossible truth, to right a horrible injustice or to stand up for someone whose voice has been lost.
Other times life offers you a situation that requires you to surrender to powerlessness. These types of situations ask you to let go, practice forgiveness, find acceptance, lean into faith, learn to trust and to let something bigger than you take the wheel for a while.
The question is: how do you know which type of situation it is?
How do you know if you're supposed to give up or give in? How do you know if you're supposed to fight or accept? How do you know if you're supposed to call on your own power or surrender to your own powerlessness?
We've probably all heard the serenity prayer hundreds, if not thousands of times. You know the one?
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
I've blazed through that last line countless times without really questioning it about it; making the assumption that, of course, I have the wisdom to know the difference. But the truth is: the more I think about this question, the more unsure I am of the answer.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutra II.45 says that liberation—the highest happiness—comes only from a love of, communion with, and surrender to the Divine. To understand why this is, we need to first get clear about our definition of surrender.
Instead of seeing surrender as giving in to a person, true surrender is rather a giving in to that larger force that is coursing through us, call it God, the Universe, the Divine or Love.
In the act of true surrender, we are not surrendering to the other, we are surrendering to the unfolding of life itself.
So, back to that wisdom-to-know-the-difference part.
First, I need to be honest: I don't have the answer and I'd be wary of anyone who thinks they do.
I'm typically a person that jumps in with both feet, armed with anger and ego, hoping to make change and keep people from misbehaving. I'm typically the one that thinks that I have much more power than I really do and I'm typically the one that thinks I'm much more right than I really am.
If this sounds like you, I'd offer you a couple of tips to help you slow your roll:
1. Come from a place of love. You might not know if this is a situation asking you to be powerful or powerless, but you can always know that this is a call to love. No matter what life presents, it's better to come from a place of love rather than fear.
2. Practice patience. Are you in a hurry? If you feel compelled to act quickly, or feel rushed or hurried, you're most likely coming from a place of fear. Try waiting before you act. Ask yourself: Can I stay still for an hour, a day, a month or even a year? Love is never in a hurry. Love doesn't feel a sense of urgency. Love trusts and has faith.
3. Release control. Are you wanting control? If you're trying to manage the universe, other people's behavior, time lines or plans... there's a good chance that you're really just a control freak. (How do I know? Um... let's just say: experience.) Control freakiness comes in all shapes and sizes: from the authoritarian dictatorship, to anxious hypervigilance, to simply trying to manage the world to keep everything predictable and safe. If you're doing this to any degree, you're most likely coming from a place of fear. Love doesn't need to manage things. Love doesn't need predictability. Love is power, not control.
4. Feel it, don't fix it. Do you see this situation as a problem that needs to be fixed? If you feel compulsive and anxious, you might be busy seeking a solution rather than doing the harder soul-work of waiting, surrendering and feeling what needs to be felt. Sometimes the best answer is to feel it rather than fix it. From this honest and connected place, we are better able to tap into that inner wisdom that will show us the way forward.
5. Let right action arise by itself. Whether you need to invoke change or surrender and accept, the right action will eventually make itself clear. This isn't something that you can hurry and this isn't something that will necessarily be figured out through your thinking mind. These types of answers come to us in stillness. They show up as the quiet voice of our soul. The work is to be mindful and to surrender to that greater aspect of life, to remain open to guidance and to trust that, eventually, life will show us the path forward.
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