Your Breathing techniques, Visualizations, and Mantras will prepare you for whatever ordeal you will be facing, and they’ll be an important part of getting you through it. However, once you are in the situation, whatever it is, you have to learn to Surrender to what you are going through, Step-By-Step. This is the fourth and final tool you’ll need to carry with you during this troubling time.
Americans do not like the word “surrender” because we associate the word with “giving up.” But surrender can mean something different altogether. Rather than giving up, the word “surrender” can also mean giving in to, sinking into whatever situation you find yourself, going with it rather than fighting it, giving in to life, not giving up.
Not long ago, I found myself in the dentist’s office, getting ready to endure what he called a “mini root canal.” Two of the most feared words in the English language are “root canal,” and adding the word “mini” in front of them didn’t really help matters, as far as I was concerned.
So, I appeared that day, after having practiced my mantras, visualizations, and breathing specific to this experience. Still, there was something else I had to do as I sat there, tilted all the way back, almost horizontally, in that dentist’s chair. What I had to do was surrender to this situation I found myself in. And, how did I do that?
W. Timothy Gallwey, wrote one of my all-time favorite books, The Inner Game of Tennis, which is as much about cultivating one’s inner life as it is about improving one’s tennis game. One of Galwey’s most important lessons in the book is about concentration. He teaches that when playing a game of tennis, we should be so focused on each moment that, when a ball is coming at us, we should watch it all the way into our rackets. And, not only should we be focusing on the ball, we should also focus on its seams, fully aware of the direction in which they are spinning. He says that’s how deeply into the moment we should be, not just when playing tennis, but always.
How is this idea of concentration helpful when dealing with fear? I refer you back to the section on breathing, when I explained the Lamaze method of breathing during childbirth. The point of the Lamaze method is to be so focused on each step of the breath that you can’t focus on the pain of the contractions. By surrendering to your most basic bodily function, you go deeper and deeper into the moment instead of worrying about what lies ahead, and, in so doing, you surrender to whatever process you are involved in. You surrender to whatever is at that moment. To surrender means to let go of your fear of the future, to let go of everything except the moment that you are in. Tim Galwey says that most of our suffering occurs when “… we allow our minds to imagine the future or mull over the past.”
The idea is to relax into the present moment and surrender into it. “Relaxation,” says Tim Galwey, “happens only when allowed to happen, not as a result of trying.” In my case, sitting in the dentist’s chair, I had to surrender to the dentist, trusting that he would do a good job. When flying, the friend I mentioned before, had to learn to surrender to the pilot, believing that he would land the plane safely. This is hard for a lot of people because it involves acknowledging that, in this instance, you are not in charge, that you have turned yourself over to someone else whom you trust to do a job you cannot do yourself, and surrendering to them means trusting that they will take care of you. This is what you do when you surrender your life to God or to the Universe. You trust that you will be taken care of. But, in this case, you need to believe that a human being can do the same thing.
The spiritual teacher Ram Das wrote a book entitled Be Here Now, and I’ve made this phrase one of my life mantras. To be right here, in this moment is my goal. The Vietnamese Buddhist priest Thich Nat Hahn uses the phrase, “This moment is my home.” I need to relax into this moment because it is really all I have. The past is gone; the future has not yet arrived, and, in fact, may never arrive, but this moment is mine.
In one of my most perilous moments, when I was lying on that operating table, I found myself surrendering not only to the surgeon, but to God, to the Universe, believing I would be taken care of. I repeated to myself the lines from an old spiritual:
Oh my lovin’ brother,
When the world’s on fire,
Don’t you want God’s bosom
To be your pillow.
Then I pictured myself laying my head down on God’s bosom, safe and secure. This was my last thought before the anesthesia hit, and I know it helped me enter the procedure in a peaceful way. You might picture yourself in the arms of Mother Earth, or you might just keep repeating the words of The Beatles’ “Let it Be.”
When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom,
Let it be.
And in my hour of darkness,
She is standing right in front of me,
Speaking words of wisdom,
Let it be.
Let it be, let it be,
Let it be, let it be.
Speaking words of wisdom,
Let it be.
Whatever thought helps you to be at peace in that fearful moment, use it. As Buddhist priest Pema Chodron says, “Be with your experience, no matter what it is.” Surrender to it, to what is, in that moment where you are.
The title of this section is “Surrender, Step-By-Step.” I’ve talked about the importance of surrendering to the moment. And that’s where the the term, “step-by-step” comes in, because you need to keep surrendering to each moment you are in, not allowing yourself to worry about the whole procedure, just being fully present with every part of it as it comes.
Preparation for my surgery took hours. There was the paperwork, the final blood and urine tests, and countless other procedures. They even had to stick a wire down into my breast to the exact spot where the tumor was so that the surgeon would be able to find it. That was no fun! But, for each procedure I was going through, I focused only on that one thing, not allowing my mind to jump ahead to thoughts of the operation to come. Instead, I took the whole day moment-by-moment, surrendering to each particular moment. “I’m not fighting this,” I told myself. “I’m not white-knuckling it, worrying about what comes next. Rather, I’m easing into it. Right now I am fine. I can do this.”
I also have another way of thinking about this. Near the end of Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, when the Joads have lost everything and Tom, the son, goes off to help organize the migrant farm workers, his mother says she’s worried about him. Tom tells her that he’ll be fine because he’ll just keep taking one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other, then repeating the process again and again. And that’s what I do when going through a difficult situation – I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, then repeating it, until I reach the other side. And that’s what I want you to do – keep surrendering to each moment, rather than succumbing to your fears.