It’s Just Like This

Recently I’ve been thinking about the word “surrender” and what it means. I think it has been given a bad rap, and is greatly misunderstood, especially in our Western culture.

I’d like to share where I’m at on this right now, and would really welcome your feedback.

When we hear this word, our minds most often go, I think, to the so-called “real” world,  the world of “doing” where “giving up” too soon may well prevent us from reaching a worthy and attainable goal. Circumstances may block us once, ten times, even 100 times, and it could  be that one more try may well be the charm, the breakthrough.This same understanding often applies to all manner of conflict.

Of course,  around this word “surrender”, our minds often go to issues of health, illness, and worst of all,  bleak medical diagnoses – where “giving up” too soon can have the direst possible consequences. Who can blame anyone for keeping trying when there is a chance. If however,  all your doctors, with no exceptions, have told you that your diagnosis is terminal, then you will have a decision to make around how you want to use your remaining time and energy: in keeping fighting, (maybe just one more doctor’s opinion, one more surgery, one more round of chemo), or in a quality of time remaining life choice.

In these and similar situations, when the word “surrender” comes up, the answer seems to be in knowing for sure  if and when matters really are out of our hands, and whether further actions to change the outcome are indeed futile – or not.

We need to remember that “surrender” as a concept is perfectly compatible with taking action; but first we must accept (take ownership of) our situation. This is the vital point.

Surrender does not mean “giving up”. It  means first, be with what is – accepting the situation you are in (and letting go of wishing it wasn’t happening to you). If things really are out of your hands, then you stop, but if not, you act.

Living Proof(s):

“Aron Ralston is a true survivor. On a climb in May 2003, he became trapped when a boulder dislodged, pinning his right arm. After days without food or water, he hacked through his arm with a blunt penknife and freed himself. After that he endured a long exhausting hike to get medical treatment. Ralston “surrendered” to his situation, then he acted, and saved his life – his example is not only a lesson on how to survive, but on how to live.


The following are the words of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger III, who safely landed US Air Flt #1549 in the Hudson River in 2009, saving 155 lives:

“During every minute of the flight I was confident I could solve the next problem…we followed our training and our philosophy of life…we never gave up. Having a plan enabled us to keep our hope alive…no matter how dire the circumstance, or how little time you have to deal with it, further action is always possible.”

So, first Capt. Sullenberger accepted ownership of his situation,  understood that he still had options, considered them, and then he acted. Matters were most definitely not out of his hands and he knew that.

Another illutration of surrender as “being with what is” ( but  on steroids):

You receive a call (God forbid) that your child has been in a car accident just as you are about to leave for a concert by your favorite rock star (which you have been looking forward to for an entire year ever since you paid way too much for those tickets). At that instant however, the rock concert is gone. Your priority is clear. You are on your way to the hospital. Nothing else is on your mind. You love your child. You are surrendered to her. You have accepted the situation and are “surrendered” to it.

“Letting go” is not “giving up”. It’s way different.  Let’s say that I “suffer” from chronic pain. I know for sure that my pain is real. I’m not imagining it. It’s there. No kidding. But… if I am using any of my energy wishing that this wasn’t happening to me, (not accepting my situation), then that part is extra. That part is my ”suffering”  –  the wishing it away. So absolutely, my pain is real, but my “suffering” is optional. In this understanding, “surrendering” to what is, opens the door to relieving my suffering.

13th century Zen master Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen in Japan, said that the act of surrender is, itself, Nirvana. “Nirvana is not a state of mind. It is the act of letting go and of becoming yourself.”

As hard as it is to acknowledge, this understanding of Nirvana means embracing our suffering –  the stresses (and sorrows) of everyday life. It does not mean that we don’t suffer. Of course we do. But we don’t use up our power  going to “I wish it wasn’t like this”. Whether it’s “good” or “bad” we go instead to: “It’s just like this” (always remembering  to take “right action” when possible and appropriate).

This is where we need to dwell…in: “It’s just like this.”

Have you ever let yourself go (surrendered yourself) into a warm bath at the end of a long tiring day? AHHH!! (see what I mean?)

Please, be kind to yourself.



About Michael Scott

Michael Scott is a life coach, author and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. After spending 35 years in business - coaching found him - and he's never looked back. Michael uses his coaching training and experience, in the service of his clients, as their constant and loving guide towards joyous, fulfilling lives which are genuinely their own. He lives with his dear wife in Sausalito, CA.

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