The Clerestory Podcast S1 E25

The Oklahoma Tenant Farmer and Me
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A Posture of Surrender

This essay has an associated podcast episode. Listen now.

I have been visualizing what it might be like to collect water from a stream by trying to grasp it. My fists are clenched and my grip is tight as the cold sensation slips through my fingers over and over again. This is not an efficient way of collecting water. Water is not meant to be grabbed…it should be held, cupped in our hands, so we can drink it.

The more it became apparent that, this year, things would not fall into place in the way that I imagined, the more tightly I gripped my plans. Anxiously fixated on outcomes that I desired, I was resistant, unable to see other paths unfolding amidst circumstances outside of my control. I relentlessly drew comparisons between what was happening and what ought to be. With my defenses up, I continuously deliberated on how best to be prepared for what may come my way.

As someone who is quite proactive and tends to take agency of my situation, I have always firmly believed that my goals are within my reach as long as I plan ahead and prepare myself. I exert a lot of energy trying to make things happen. I take careful, intentional steps towards the outcome I strive for, leaving little room for shortcoming.

Perseverance and persistence are virtues that I view with high regard. To me, they are characteristics of strength. If I work hard enough, I can land my dream job. If I get good grades, I can go to the grad school that I want to go to. Moreover, if I’m a ‘good person’, good things should happen to me. The expectations and standards that I have unconsciously developed of what defines a life with purpose, in reality, seem to confine me.

When life deviates from my expectations and circumstances are out of my control, I feel lost and unsettled. Narratives of my inadequacy and despair fill my soul. I become bitter and resentful that I am not ‘getting what I deserve’ despite my best efforts.

I recently started a guided meditation practice to help calm my restless mind. One of the lessons I learned through meditation is that the harder I try to focus, the more difficult it is to experience meditation. Meditating requires letting go of my thoughts, not trying to control them.

Until lately, surrender was not an active part of my life. Having grown up learning about Christianity and going to a protestant church, I recall how surrender in a spiritual sense meant surrendering to the will of God. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, faith lost its role in my life. Surrender became a foreign concept to me…a little bit absurd actually. Surrendering seemed weak and helpless. I perceived it simply as giving up.

In efforts to grapple with a year of anxiousness and uncertainty, I have been reflecting on what it means to surrender and the potential for it in my life. I have reached the understanding that surrender is the practice of letting go of what I can’t control, with intention. It is not simply giving up. It is not apathy. Rather, it is a firm sense of trust. It requires me to acknowledge the whole story at work instead of being fixated on specific outcomes that I envision for myself.

Surrender is not the absence of uncertainty, but rather, the act of holding space for it.

When I choose to surrender, I feel my world expanding. There is more space in my mind and a greater sense of abundance rather than scarcity. Instead of narrowing in on isolated moments with scrutiny, I look at the big picture. I imagine an expanse of possibilities and not simply just the challenges I must endure. I give myself permission to rest and be fully present in pain and discomfort.

The feeling of being lost and restlessness continue to prevail. Although I have not fully committed myself to spiritual surrender, I have begun to meditate on surrender as it relates to faith. Though at times it feels unfathomable, with wonder and curiosity, I marvel at the mystery of faith. I yearn to be steadfast and rooted, wrapped in grace rather than entangled in my fears.

I soften my gaze, loosen my shoulders. My palms face up, in a posture of receiving. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Letting go with purpose is liberating.

Unknowing is not my undoing.

I yearn for what I cannot see or control, waiting for me beyond the horizon.

Naomi enjoys engaging in many forms of art and creativity, especially writing, reading and painting. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia where she works as a dietitian. In addition to learning about nutrition, she has a particular interest in health promotion, equity and well-being, and hopes to one day pursue a master’s degree in these areas.

Discover more from Naomi Oh .
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