The Two Sides of Surrender


The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull
The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull

After last week’s post Susan wrote:

“Thank you Jeanie so much – a powerful post. Commitment to feeling our experiences, bearing our own cross and the surrender to that. I remember many years ago being very badly burned by steam on my right wrist while cooking something on the stove. I HAD to move on – there were pressing things that needed my immediate attention (it’s a long story so I’ll just give the bones of it). While I was waiting in the car later on wondering how in hell I was ever going to bear this, I also wondered how those being tortured would ever be able to withstand the pain. What went through their minds? What was it that they withstood their pain if they could? Did they surrender to that – the pain? Should I just surrender to it? I did, and the pain was GONE. I will never forget this … a true miracle …”

In a culture which idealizes competition and winning, the possibility that there could be positive side to surrender is difficult to accept. Through our ego’s dualistic, good/bad, win/lose lens, surrender is viewed in the context of a heroic battle. From this perspective it’s bad enough to lose a war, contest, or athletic event when you’ve tried your hardest, but surrendering is out of the question.  Giving up is a sign of weakness. A character flaw. A failure. A shameful loss of face.

But this is not the only way of seeing surrender. Occasionally, something unexplainable happens and our perspective changes.

The indispensable condition is that you have an archetypal experience, and to have that means that you have surrendered to life. ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Page 972

Susan’s story suggests this different way of looking at surrender. A healthy way that promotes healing. A way taught throughout history by Sages, Spirit Persons, mystics, and psychological giants like Carl Jung.  A way not directed to the outer world, but to the universe within. Few of us discover this way until a time comes in our inner life when our heroic struggle to stay in control and press on regardless only increases our suffering. This happens when we’ve focused overlong on outer-world forms of success while ignoring the conflicting inner forms that our heart and soul require.

800px-white_flagAs long as we ignore the fact that our outer and inner goals are in conflict, our suffering will continue. Because all the money, fame, status, prestige, public and parental approval we’ve struggled to attain isn’t making us happy. And because admitting we’ve ‘failed’ to achieve the happiness we long for is too painful. So we do everything in our power to repress the realities of our hearts and souls, and that only exacerbates our suffering.

So what heals it?  What brings the “real” solution? Surrender. To the realities of our heart and soul. To the fact that we hurt and need help. That we’re miserable. That we want to make a change but are afraid of making a terrible mistake. And to every other reality we’ve hidden behind our persona of having it all together.

A religious conversation is inevitable with the devil, since he demands it, if one does not want to surrender to him unconditionally. ~Carl Jung, Liber Novus, Page 261

But this way requires extreme caution. Because like everything else, surrender is dualistic: God’s way and the Devil’s way. There are helpful and harmful ways to surrender. And it all depends on the impulses to which you surrender.

Unhealthy surrender succumbs to powerful forces from within and without that tempt you to give up living your own life or act out in negative ways. Unhealthy surrender allows others to take responsibility for your life. You stop growing, following your passions, developing your gifts, searching for your unique destiny.  Negative surrender wallows in disappointment and self-hatred. It sinks in lethargy, drowns in hopelessness.  And it can cause great damage to others in the process. For example, surrendering to your ego’s hatred and revenge by being cruel to others is no solution because your ability to give and receive love is harmed in the process.

Healthy surrender is an act of courage in which you face your suffering. Positive surrender relinquishes your ego’s need to squelch your inner realities. It gives up trying to control people and situations. It stops fighting your heart’s need for feeling, compassion and understanding, your soul’s need for creativity, passion and meaning. It gives up your ego’s pursuit of unfulfilling goals in the outer world and attends to your child’s need for love and intimacy. Positive surrender frees you to live to the fullest with all the life energy you have at your disposal without wasting it on denial, escapism or self-hatred.

450px-guiding_angel_-_tiffany_glass__decorating_company_c__1890Healthy surrender is not a victim’s descent into lethargy. It is a warrior’s ascent to compassionate action which causes the least possible harm to others. It requires a warrior’s focus, self-discipline, and self-examination. It requires patience to consider each step carefully before taking it.  Flexibility to walk a tightrope between opposites. Restraint until you acquire the wisdom to know what must be done. And accepting responsibility for the pain you cause others when you do it.

Numinosity, however, is wholly outside conscious volition, for it transports the subject into the state of rapture, which is a state of will-less surrender. ~Carl Jung, CW 8, Para 383.

I know the healing way of surrender is available, but I don’t know why it comes to some and not others. Perhaps Susan’s story provides a clue. Perhaps a commitment to feeling empathy and compassion for the pain of others is a prerequisite. Maybe we have to take the first step.

Image credits:  Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull,  Angels for You, White Flag, all from Wikimedia Commons. Jung Quotes: Thanks to Lewis LaFontaine.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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9 Responses

  1. Thanks Jeanie for using my comment from last week as a launchpad for your powerful post illustrating that surrender does not mean defeat when looked at in another necessary way. There are many impulses we surrender to unconsciously – overeating, drink, drugs, overspending, hurting others and ourselves in the process unable somehow to use restraint. I am guilty of this sometimes when the delicious unhealthy food that is available gets into my stomach before you can say Jack Robinson. Especially when I am conflicted about something. Tamp the feelings down; how better to do this than by stuffing them down with food. Immediate gratification. And disgust at myself afterwards for complete lack of self-discipline. And those feelings of defeat – of myself, in spite of all good intentions to eat healthily. An act of self-destruction –
    It is true that we are afraid of facing our fears yet how else can healing occur unless they’re fully felt and given their due… and let go of the overly demanding ego. Surrender to all that is within and tread the fine line between those opposites contained within by each of us. No easy task, but a worthwhile one. Perhaps we’ll find compassion for ourselves and thereby for others.

    1. Thank you, Susan. Your examples of how we surrender to the instinct for nurturance are very helpful. Most of us can relate to that. Our physical instincts have a powerful pull on our mind/body, and the history of humanity’s evolution into consciousness is essentially about integrating our love/hate relationship with the urges of our bodies into a healthy, unified attitude that neither ignores nor obsesses over them. No easy task, indeed!

  2. Thank you, Jeanie. What an important post as I figure out where to surrender and where to resist. I know very little about surrender unless I’m cornered with no choices left. Susan’s story and your discussion of it made me remember how I got through the worst crises of Vic’s illness and the worst years (not days or months, but years) of grief. I remembered others on our planet with cancer, many without doctors, treatment, clean water, food, or the smallest comforts. When I remembered our common suffering, I could take a wider view of my own.
    After Vic’s death, I remembered the widows of the world who grieved for their partners, had no resources to care for themselves, and had no community or family. It sounds morbid, but it wasn’t. It was my way of doing the Buddhist tonglen practice. I grieved in a protected environment, while so many others grieved in war or cultural collapse. Even though surrender was my only choice, I knew I was not alone. In the end, everyone has to surrender to frailty and mortality. Susan’s example hurts, but I know that we’re lucky if we get to practice and learn a few techniques along the way.

    1. I appreciate your observations, Elaine. I don’t think remembering the widows of the world is morbid. I think it strengthens our empathy as well as giving us another outlet for, and perspective on, our own grief. I do know, however, that for some people, this whole topic of pain and surrender and grieving sounds morbid and self-indulgent. Yet you and I know from experience how necessary it is, as did Jung and Jungian analysts in general, because if we can’t grieve our losses consciously, our body just absorbs and manifests our hidden pain. And yes, surrendering to what is, to the realities of our life, hurts, but it’s also the portal to compassion and love. Two sides to everything…… 🙂 Thanks for writing.

  3. The patriarchy – represented by angry, aggressive, menacing men – resurfaced in my dreams during the recent elections. In one, I was in a small, bare room with another ‘presence.’ My hands were shaking as I turned the door knob while telling him that we had to escape. We ran through what seemed to be the inside, worker’s entrance corridor of a mall. Then we were suddenly back in the room. This sequence went on several times. Finally, a group of menacing men with weapons appeared to be chasing us through this corridor. I stopped running and told the ‘presence’ that we might as well give up/surrender. They lowered their weapons, smiled and one of them gave me an award for having beautiful teeth.
    My daughter, who is aware of my struggles with coming to terms with the patriarchy, interpreted this dream as my being awarded for ‘giving in.’

    1. Wow. Thanks for sharing this fascinating dream, Gail. It’s interesting how this particular election brought up so many scary dream images for a lot of us. Well, only you would know which side of surrender this dream represents in you. I think you might have a better idea if you analyzed the emotions your dream ego had throughout the dream, especially at the end.
      If it were my dream, I’d think that if I felt I was surrendering from a place of strength—for example, if I felt I’d done it for practical reasons like survival, but hadn’t lost my determination to escape their domination when the time was right—it would mean one thing to me. Whereas if I gave up in utter hopelessness and despair assuming I’d lost forever, it would mean another. The good news is, as long as we’re alive we can continue to practice our inner work, learn more about ourselves, and grow and change in ways that feel important to us. And further dreams will continue to shed additional light on this issue. I wish you enlightening and empowering dreams. And again, thank you for writing.

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