I’ve been thinking a lot about the balance of effort and surrender in life these days. In my yoga teacher training we studied the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the one that has stuck with me all these years later is Stiram Sukham Asanam which loosely translates to the following phrases: the asana must be steady and sweet, or stable and joyful, or a balance of effort and surrender.
The effort part I get. It’s doing the things we have to do all day—getting up and dressed, making food, feeding the family, going to work/school, exercising, grocery shopping, more cooking, talking, emailing, writing. It’s concrete. You can make a list of all the effort we have to go through each day and can see the accomplishments of a day.
Surrender is the trickier part. It’s the thing that goes along underneath all of the effort. It’s what can make the effort feel more or less effortful (exhausting!). There are these moments in life (or maybe each day) where we don’t notice the clock, where we are less in doing mode and more in being mode. It feels more relaxed and calm. That’s the surrender part—the letting go of outcome, the trusting that even though we can’t completely control what’s happening, we will be ok.
As a childbirth educator it’s the thing I’m trying to impart the most to my students—birth is a balance of effort and surrender. There’s the huge effort of coping with labor and getting the baby out. And in the midst of this, somehow letting go at the same time. Surrendering to the labor, to the process. But how?
One way to be more conscious about surrendering is through practice and developing awareness.
I encourage my students to practice whenever they can—not only in class. We have opportunities to practice letting go all the time!
Here’s an example: you’re on the subway commuting to work, and the train stops, and you’re already late because your alarm didn’t go off, and you have a really important presentation first thing. Is your heart racing already? Mine is just thinking about it! The effort has already happened—getting up, dressed, fed and to the subway. Now that the train is not running, it’s out of your control. Yikes!
Now, eventually, the train will start moving, you will probably make it to work, you will probably get to your meeting and do your presentation.
But what happens in between, while you’re on that train? Do you start freaking out? Sweating, gritting your teeth, going into catastrophic thinking mode (I’m going to miss my meeting, I’ll lose my job, I won’t be able to pay rent this month, I’ll die!) Ai yi yi!
It feels that serious in your body and your mind because the lizard part of your brain that’s being triggered in this moment doesn’t know the difference between being stalked by a saber-toothed tiger and being late for work.
It doesn’t know the difference between being a life-threatening situation and getting your kid to school on time.
For me it’s about recognizing the triggers. And when the response gets set off—usually it’s fear or anger—figuring out how can I settle into surrender mode. It’s pretty much a daily practice for me. Some days I’m better at surrendering than others and I can find the feeling of flow as I move through my daily activities. Some days I surrender at the end of the day by curling up on the couch with a pint of ice cream watching the Bachelorette.
Where do you practice effort and surrender?