I was walking to work this week and two adults on bikes swerved passed me on the pavement narrowly missing me. Not anything unusual in that. I see it happening all the time.
But I noticed my chest tightening, my breathing become shallower.
In my mind, all sorts of thoughts were popping up, most of which weren’t too polite.
You see when I was 8, I was knocked down by someone riding fast on a pavement. I wasn’t too badly hurt but I was very scared and in shock as a result.
Now whenever I see someone riding close to me on the pavement, my body remembers that experience and I tense up. It’s not that I’m in real danger each time, but my automatic response is to brace myself, as if I might be. I being to feel anxious and stressed.
Now this article isn’t so much about the effects of trauma, though you might also wonder how your body responds to memories, both good and bad.
It’s more about what you do with those memories as a response to the here and now, how you process your anxiety. You may have noticed me alluding to my internal dialogue, including some choice swearing at the pavement cyclists. So what is it about that inner rant?
It’s not the only one! I can go into other mini rants at inconsiderate drivers, waiting too long for someone to respond to an email. This goes on and on.
Those rants are fuel to a fire of discomfort, anger, grit in life. Fine in the moment. Those might be healthy and appropriate responses to those experiences. But I’ve also been noticing the repetitiveness of the cycle of thinking. Every time x happens, I think and respond y.
The idea of surrender
What’s been coming up for me as a different response, is the idea of surrender. Surrender to the moment, that the behaviour of others won’t necessarily change, that my experience of comfort or discomfort is not changeable in the moment. It is just that, an experience.
This isn’t about being passive, or giving up hope for the possibility of change. It’s more about accepting how things are in the here and now, without expectation that they must change to feel ok.
Do you notice how much energy you spend in trying to change things, particularly if the feeling is one of discomfort?
Giving in to the moment
Surrender is about giving into the moment being just what it is. There’s a very helpful mindfulness meditation that brings this idea to life, where you visualise yourself as a mountain. In the meditation, you are never changing, although the landscape and the weather change around you.
Surrender is about being the mountain, accepting you are the mountain, an immoveable and alive centre of awareness, around whom weather systems of feelings and actions of others swirl and have the potential to distract. While all that time you are nothing but the mountain, observing from a point of stillness.
In counselling work, this is one of the most difficult areas I find. How do you balance the need to take your power in life against accepting that some things or more often than not, other people, can’t or won’t change?
It feels like a delicate and difficult process to experience both and hold them in equal esteem.
So this week’s Lifeline is about surrender.
This week’s Lifeline
Find a quiet place where you can be free of interruption. Imagine, if you will, a situation you find yourself having a repeated response to (where anger, irritation, sadness or another difficult emotion are evoked.) A word of caution, don’t relive something that was traumatic, more an everyday occurrence.
Relive the experience in your mind’s eye, evoking as much detail as you can. The light, the sounds, people involved, the location, the words or actions. Be in touch with all your grit and resistance.
Now reimagine that experience, with a quality of surrender. That the experience is just that, nothing more. Nothing has to change, not your feelings or the experience itself, just your relationship to it.
Allow yourself that complete surrender, in your imagination. Breathe into it.
When you are ready, come out of the experience and write about that, both the first time and then imagining it with surrender. What, if anything, was different?
What about you?
Are there things in your life you feel you can surrender to? Or is that idea alien to you and if so, why?
Want to explore what you might need to let go of?
Are there areas in your life, you’d like to explore more deeply and to think about how you might change your relationship to them? If so, why not get in touch to book a first appointment?