Surrender: A Practice of Uncertainty
COVID-19 has anxiety on high. To cope: It’s time to surrender.
There is nothing so anxiety-inducing as uncertainty. Our minds crave predictability: We want to know what’s going to happen next so we can plan for it. Some of us (like me) cope with stress and anxiety by planning for the future, by figuring out what comes next, by doing stuff.
But a fundamental truth about life is that we can’t predict the future. Doing stuff doesn’t change that. We can’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. While that reality has always been true, sometimes it feels more present. And this is one of those moments. The veil of illusion that we can control or predict the future has been lifted, and the truth remains: We can’t know—no matter how much stuff we do.
One of the first lessons of most meditation practices is surrender because if we attempt to sit still with our thoughts with the intention of controlling them, we’re certainly not going to get very far. Even if we do manage to rein in our thoughts with a mantra meditation or the like, emotions are still going to come up, and we’re about as good at controlling our emotions as the future—that is, not very good at all.
Emotions don’t necessarily reflect reality—we can feel something based on a thought that may or may not be true, or we may feel something simply because we didn’t sleep so well last night. And, yet, we can make space for those emotions without needing to react to them or even believe them. Uncertainty can trigger any very real number of thoughts and emotions, whether or not they have a relationship with reality.
So what do we do with our uncertainty?
We can distract ourselves from it, sure—and there’s some benefit to that. Binging the entire season of Tiger King might give us some temporary relief. But when we lay down to try to sleep at night, and it’s dark, and there’s nothing but our thoughts to deal with, whatever we’ve been trying to distract ourselves from is still just sitting there, knocking at the door of our minds.
So we must surrender. We have to stop trying to control our thoughts, our emotions, or the future. We need to focus on this moment, right now. Can we be kind to someone with whom we are sharing space? Can we reach out to someone over the internet? Can we cook ourselves a healthy meal? Can we simply sit with our emotions, stare at the wall, and allow our bodies time to process? There’s no right or wrong way.
Surrender shares a fine line with despondency, with giving up. Some moments feel too heavy to hold, so we stop trying altogether. Even that is welcome here—a nap, a walk, or a hot meal might shift the mood—especially if we acknowledge that it’s likely temporary.
Surrender is not about giving up or numbing out. It’s about being relentlessly kind to whatever the present moment may bring. For some of us, this means praying to some God or Goddess we believe may have some say in our futures. For others, it means remembering all the things that exist in reality that are so much bigger than our small lives—like sickness, death, rebirth, seasons, the moon, beauty, love, and human connection.
Yes, all this uncertainty is incredibly uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable is not such a bad thing. There’s no comfort in the growth zone, and no growth in the comfort zone. So we practice letting go to all that we don’t know, can’t predict, and don’t understand.
We remember what’s always been true: We can’t predict the future or completely control our environment. We let go into those truths. We surrender.
Want to dive deeper into “sweet surrender”? Read more about the act of letting go.