We continuously seek answers outside of ourselves. We look for them in self-help books, podcasts, seminars, mentors, and spiritual teachers. But continually looking outside ourselves for answers isn’t exactly a vote of confidence in the expression of our soul’s calling. Eventually, to find our answers, we must turn inward. But going inward requires us to brave the wilderness, explore uncharted territory, and in the words of my friend AJ Leon, not follow well-lit paths, but grab a machete and hack our own.
When we go inward, we can no longer avoid our pain. We have to confront it. But there’s a strange paradox to pain. The more we fight it, the more we empower it.
Everything you fight has power over you. Everything you accept loses its problem it never gets solved? But when you finally let it go, somehow it gets sorted out. A perfect example is dating. In his course on relationships, Mark Manson says one of the best ways to meet somebody is to find something better to do than trying to meet somebody.
When the longing, striving and pushing to get what you so desperately want finally come to an end you’re free. It’s only from that place of freedom and unapologetic, no-bullshit, self-expression that you can create what Jennifer Boykin calls your beautiful immortal work and live a meaningful life.
When we surrender to the circumstances we’ve been fighting, they lose all of their power over us. But we have to be careful not to confuse surrender with resignation or apathy. When we surrender, all of our actions come from a place of peace and abundance. When desperately we fight a circumstance, we do so with the frenetic energy of chaos and scarcity.
A few days ago I was in a meeting with my content strategist. We were looking at book sales for An Audience of One, and I saw that we’d sold roughly 50 copies over the course of the week. That wasn’t going to put me on any bestseller list, or make my publisher salivate. But it made me recognize the importance of playing the long game. It was my moment of surrender. With surrender, I found clarity. I asked him what small things we could do to move the needle, and all of the following ideas came to surface:
A focus on progress gives you power. A focus on perfection disempowers you. When we’re obsessed with perfection, we overlook progress and fail to appreciate our accomplishments.
If I were only satisfied when I sold 10,000 copies of my book, I would have completely disregarded and not appreciated the fact that I had crossed the threshold of my first 1000 copies.
It’s likely we can find everything we crave from some external source within ourselves. However, it requires inner work. We can’t order it on Amazon Prime and have it show up at our doorstep the day after tomorrow. The hedonic treadmill is necessary for economic sustainability. If everybody woke up one day and decided they were enough, had enough, and didn’t need to buy anything else, the economy would collapse.
Surrender doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be disappointed and that everything will go your way:
If you choose to live a full-color, full contact, and fully self-expressed life, you’re going to have setbacks and disappointments. The only way to avoid disappointments is not to take any chances at all. That’s an incredibly limited way to live your life. As I said in An Audience of One, “Your circumstances can give you colors to paint with.” It’s all material.
For most of us, when we think of a challenging experience from our past, whether it’s a relationship that didn’t work or a job that we got fired from, we focus on the negative and overlook the positive. We carry that energy with us into the future, and the future ends up looking like the past. But when we honor the past and take the most valuable lessons from it, and the power it has over us dissolves.
One of the exercises in a book I was reading was to write something great about every person who broke up with you. But you don’t just have to apply this to intimate relationships. It can be applied to just about anything. When you do that you see that often people give you many amazing gifts despite the pain they might have caused you. As Dani Shapiro wrote in Still Writing, the blessing is next to the wound.
When you let go of the resentment you feel towards a person who hurt you and forgive them or make peace with a difficult experience from your past, it loses its power over your and more importantly over your future. When you accept your setbacks, they become an opportunity to turn endings into new beginnings.
As somebody who has dealt with cycles of depression, I’m hyper-aware of the fact that this is easier said than done, particularly when you’ve just come out the other side or are still braving the wilderness. Here are some things that I’ve found to be helpful to both honor and let go of the past.
When we honor the past, we create an open space for the future. When we cling to the past, we’re likely to repeat it.
There are many things I thought would have happened in my life by the time I turned 40: marriage, family, etc. And they haven’t. For the first time in my life, I’m being forced to accept that kids might not be in my future. There are three potential scenarios for every life circumstance:
When the way it currently is isn’t the way we thought it would be, we’re shut off to the possibility how it could be. We are effectively trying to turn the past into the present.
Honoring what could be means honoring uncertainty. And for most of us, uncertainty causes fear, anxiety, and a projection of worst case scenarios. But as Michelle Florendo said on a recent episode of Unmistakable Creative, what we overlook when it comes to uncertainty is the amazing things that could also happen.
If you’re feeling behind the eight ball and you’re thinking you should have the bestseller or the marriage, or why did that happen, or why’d you get fired, if you’re in a dark place, just take one grain of what I’m saying now. Just believe me for a nanosecond, that really, there is a divine order to things. Every single disappointment and I’ve had some significant ones. Every failure, every heartbreak, everything that I went after so, you know, vigorously that didn’t turn out, thank God. I was spared some kinds of destiny. I just have a deeper level of trust now. Doesn’t mean it’s easy all the time. Doesn’t mean I don’t want what I want.” — Danielle LaPorte
There seems to be divine order to the events of the universe:
But embracing the divine order of the Universe requires faith in forces beyond our control. It’s difficult to see the good that will come from something terrible in the moment that it happens. It’s often something that we only recognize in retrospect :
Thanks to the divine order of the Universe, I was spared working at a job I probably would have hated, and spared writing about subjects I didn’t care
Surrender goes counter to nearly every one of our cultural instincts, in which we’re taught to, strive, hustle, grind, kick ass and take names. But when you surrender, the result is inspired action. It has a different kind of energy to it. What we know about energy is that like attracts like. Acting out of desperation results in more desperation. Acting out of inspiration results in more inspiration. The paradox of surrender is that it puts you in a position of power.
I’ve created a swipe file of my best creative strategies. Follow it and you’ll kill your endless distractions, do more of what matters to you, in higher quality and less time. Get the swipe file here.
Originally published at medium.com