The Anatomy of Surrender
Eight years before trading in my ovaries for a cancer diagnosis, I knew I was ready for real healing. Popping pills and suppressing symptoms was the only game I knew how to play, but I genuinely wanted to find a way for my body to feel good and work well without having to force it. I became willing to play in new worlds with new people, and my internal landscape began to shift and loosen up. My time and headspace filled with stacks of books and piles of remedies; yoga, meditation, homeopathy, energy medicine, acupuncture, oils and a hundred other flavors of wellness. It was a gorgeous adventure, but it still makes me laugh that in return for nearly 3,000 days of genuine sweat-and-tears effort, I landed cancer.
I plowed full-steam ahead those eight years, oblivious to the possibility that untangling the mess of pain, insomnia, anxiety and depression was on anyone’s shoulders but mine. I excavated a thousand reasons why I wasn’t OK and spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to fix each one. Sometimes I fell into pockets of insight and an easy feeling, and even caught an occasional sense of the inherent grace at the heart of life, but I never once questioned the merits of my own determination. Of course my health was up to me, and once I finally got to the bottom of the pile of problems I’d finally be happy, healthy, and fully living, the way I was supposed to be.
It took me a while to notice the mountain of obstacles between peace and I wasn’t shrinking. Pushing harder seemed to move the prize farther away, and as desperately trying to get somewhere other than where you are can do, I felt frustrated and hopeless. A lot. I considered trying to muster enough faith to get God’s help, but I was honestly confused about which one of us was in charge and who would ultimately make the call, so I kept my distance. And even though endlessly working on myself kept me in constant overwhelm, I couldn’t see any other option than to wake up each morning, dust off my weariness, and get back in the fight. If only I’d caught wise to the profound relief that bubbled up inside me when I gave up for a minute or two.
When cancer showed up, my very first thought was, “This is what I get for not fixing my relationship with my mom.” I know, ouch. But it made sense in my world, where everything amiss in my body was on me. Every headache, misalignment, bout of tears and stuffy nose was because of some error I’d made, some issue I hadn’t seen coming or resolved in time. Cancer, the ultimate symptom, just meant I’d royally failed at putting myself back together. I smile now at this crazy cruel world I innocently made up, and the honest mistake of looking for wholeness inside a thousand reasons why I was broken.
I could not have been more wrong. A profound gift of love in disguise, cancer shoved me off the ledge of my own sense of control and into the freedom of surrender. For the first time I saw it wasn’t all up to me and I fell, surprisingly, into a deep, wide river of peace. A few weeks later when I heard God say, “There is nothing wrong with your life,” I knew it was true, in my bones, in a way I can’t explain. Yes, there were waves of fear and floods of tears, but beneath it I was glimpsing the beautiful naked truth of who I was without the distraction of my body. It was astounding to look death in the face and see an innate and untouchable presence that wasn’t ill and never could be, reflecting back at me in the mirror.
But when my treatment came to an end, I unknowingly picked up the burden of being in charge and threw my health back on my own shoulders, more committed than ever to making my body well and protecting my family from the nightmare of watching me die. As we humans sometimes do, I mistook the peace of surrender as a temporary reprieve rather than the ultimate answer. I gripped the wheel with both hands, determined to do everything right this time and desperately hoping my body would respond. I fought fiercely and with every muscle I could muster, lasting almost a year before falling flat on my face, exhausted and groaning, “There’s gotta be an easier way.” Funny how we can’t see answers we already know right in front of our face. A few days later, out of the clear blue mystery of love, a perfect-for-me answer fell into my path, one with all the hand holding I needed. Thus began a gentle return to grace, as I finally opened up to the possibility that fear might just be only an illusion of the absence of love.
Three years later, it’s 100% obvious to me that there’s no going back. Would I still like to not die of cancer? Yes, please. And I'm sure, along with seven billion other people, that I'd prefer less pain and more good moods. But I know deep down, even though I sometimes forget, that I'm okay regardless of how I lay this body down or how it feels each moment up until then. I’m awake to what my friend Martin says so beautifully: “We are not made of our bodies, our bodies are made of us.” These temporary packages aren't built to last forever, and whatever healing happens while we’re in them comes only of falling in sync with the design of life not wrestling against it. Belonging to the oneness of life means that whatever’s creating 38 thousand billion chemical reactions in our body every second has got the rest of us too. It’s incredible how much seeing this, even just a little, relaxes me and my body, a lot.
We talk about life and nature as though we are not part of it, like we're only a spectator of the unbelievably intelligent and exquisite potential all creation comes out of. It’s the biggest illusion there is, holding ourselves separate from all of life. We struggle to let go of control, but as my mentor Michael Neill says, all we’re really letting go of is the reins on a rocking horse being carried along in the back of a pickup truck. When we’re up in our heads the idea of letting go terrifies us, but go figure, when we really see through the illusion of ever having control in the first place, the effect is the exact opposite. Even in the constantly changing kaleidoscope of being human, I’ve never felt more alive, more awake, more connected or more at peace.
Do I still climb inside my brain, make up reasons for why things seem off in my body and my world, and try and figure out what to do about it? Sure. But I inevitably wake up, sometimes fast enough to watch myself making stuff up in real time. And the moment I do, I fall out of my head and back into life, grace, God, love - whatever you want to call that thing we’re made of, that’s got us but isn’t up to us. It’s the only real answer, and it holds all the other answers inside of it.
The beauty of dancing from self-empowerment to surrender is we get to learn by contrast who we are and who we are not, how life works and how it doesn’t. Reaching the edge of our ability to make life go a certain way just means that beyond that edge, a deeper truth is waiting to catch, expand, and love us into remembering that we’re made of everything we’re looking for. And every single time we fall out of our stories about who we are and how life works, we find ourselves already home, bathing in the cure for everything. We reawaken to what’s already true right here, right now. We lighten up, sensing that we’re safe on any part of the human roller coaster, knowing that it's built into us to know when there's something to do.
But my favorite side effect of waking up into deeper truth? We begin to recognize every struggle and every symptom as our infinite health in disguise, nudging us to take our hands back off the wheel and relax back into the infinite ocean of life where we’re all made to float.