The long surrender

It’s true what they say… in order to really learn something, you just have to step forward with the audacity to teach it.

Several weeks ago, I introduced a new series called “Let go of the Ground” about the importance of surrender in the process of transformation and growth. As soon as I introduced it, I knew I was onto something important, and so I started working on a special “e-basket full of goodies for your transformational journey“. I gathered a lot of ideas, did a number of interviews and was quite excited about offering it to you, my readers and friends. It felt like a calling. It felt important. It felt like an area in which I had, rather reluctantly, become an expert.

I thought (rather arrogantly, I admit) that I had been sufficiently through the chrysalis stage of surrender and transformation, that I could (from my butterfly perch up there on the top branch) offer wisdom and encouragement to all the other caterpillars and chrysalises down below. I had full intentions of releasing that offering on my 45th birthday (May 20). It seemed so perfect, so arrived and self-actualized right there in the mid-point of my life.

But it seemed God had other plans.

“There’s a deeper lesson you need to learn first,” Sophia whispered, and then she handed me an oddly wrapped package. Inside was the “gift” of another opportunity to surrender, another opportunity to gain wisdom, and another chance to learn just what it means to be broken open and transformed. I nearly threw that package right back in her face. “That’s okay,” I wanted to scream. “Keep your ugly gift. I’m quite fine without it. I’ve had enough of these and one more just feels like too many. Give it to someone who needs it more than I do.”

And then She patted me gently on the head and said, “You need this, my dear. It may seem like an ugly, useless gift right now, but you’ll see the beauty of it in the end. Go ahead – open it.”

And when the wrapping slipped off, broken pieces started falling out into my lap.

Just before Easter, my mom found out she has cancer. And not just a simple “cut you open and toss it out” kind. It’s the kind that’s full of unknowns and uncertainties. The kind that leaves us all shaky and unsure of where the ground has gone. The kind that leaves me wondering whether I have what it will take to sufficiently support her through it. She started chemo yesterday and then there will be surgery, and more chemo and…?

And then, as though that weren’t enough, other circumstances in my life started breaking me even more wide open. I became painfully aware of how little was under my control and how little I could “fix” on my own. Some areas of my life that I thought were up to me to hold together started falling apart and some of the shattered pieces started slipping through my clinging fingers. Finally, after a fight that lasted far too long, coupled with WAY too much anger and betrayal, I had to let go – surrender – and admit that I didn’t have the answers. And that letting go involved hurting someone that I care deeply about.

What did I do? I cried, I screamed, I paced the house like a caged animal, I cried some more, I spent a lot of time doing nothing, and… I may have thrown a few things. It wasn’t pretty. It still isn’t.

But then, gradually, I started listening to the whispers of Sophia again. “Remember those things you were going to teach people to do during their process of surrender? Why aren’t you doing them?” Oh yeah. THOSE things. The things I KNOW will help me work through this bitterness and self-pity. (Oh, but how I wanted to stay right there smack dab in the middle of a pool full of self-pity!)

I started directing some of those screams and cries toward God. (Some of them just came out as “God – what the FUCK?” But the God of my understanding can handle that.) I went to my son’s grave. I made my best effort to surrender my pain into God’s hands. I made regular trips to the labyrinth. I trusted my broken pieces into the hands of some people who love me and know how to support me. I wrote in my journal. I went running (and talked to a few geese along the way.) I painted (though the best I could do some days was to cover a canvas in black paint). I listened to music that inspired me (an album appropriately titled “The Long Surrender”.) And finally, I let a professional into the private spaces to help find better ways of rebuilding what is broken.

And what am I learning (or re-learning) in all of this? I am learning that Sophia God has a better idea of what I need than I do. I am learning that, in the end, God longs for my happiness as much as I do, and s/he wants to bring me through the pain back into that place of joy. I am learning to trust that still small voice in my heart that points me to what I really need. I am learning how much I have the capacity to give in a relationship before I feel depleted and need to re-fill the well (and say no, if necessary). I am learning to trust my fierce voice instead of silencing it. I am learning which relationships I can trust and which I may need to let go of. I am learning to be much more honest with myself and the people I love than I’ve ever been. I am learning that flowers always come back in Springtime. I am learning that screaming and crying are okay, as long as they’re not the only things I do. (Trust me – the screaming and crying is far from over, but they feel a little more healthy today than they did a few weeks ago.)

This morning I feel more peace than I have in a long time. This morning I might be able to add a little light to that black canvas.

Some day, I will be ready to offer you my learning, and I know that it will be the deepest, richest thing I can possibly offer. It will not be cheap or easy, but it will be full of the wisdom that Sophia God has lent to me in this long surrender.


p.s. One of the concepts I teach about in How to Lead with your Paint Clothes on is “Embrace the Chaos”, about how the most chaotic times in our lives – like the one I’m in right now – are often the best breeding grounds for creativity and growth. It’s one of the many lessons I’ve learned in leadership and life. Check it out, even if the only way you’re a leader is in the fact that you “lead” your dog for a walk every day (as one of the new members of the Paint Clothes Tribe said).

Let go of the Ground – guest #9 – Christine Claire Reed

This week, my guest is one of my dearest friends, Christine Claire Reed. I met Christine online a couple of years ago, and since then she has become my cheerleader, confidante, supporter, and friend. I have been known, on occasion, to send Christine frantic emails when I most need a shoulder to cry on, and she has always responded with just the right kind of wisdom to help me find the hope again. What I love most about her is that her wisdom comes from a deep and authentic place in her heart, a heart that has known great suffering, pain, and mental illness, but has found a way to continue praying, hoping, dancing, and seeking joy, even when there is no ground beneath her.

In this interview, Christine shares an experience in which she learned to “give up fear in order to surrender to joy.” (The rest of this interview will be shared when I release the e-course.)

Let go of the Ground – guest #8 – Amy Oscar

Amy Oscar is one of those people who exudes wisdom and depth, even when her words are limited to 140 characters on Twitter. I haven’t known her very long, but I have already learned from her, been challenged by her, and been encouraged by her many times. Recently I participated in Amy’s Wisdom Series, and I would highly recommend that you read every single one of the contributions because they are all amazing. My own contribution is here.

Amy is an author, speaker and professional intuitive consultant, encouraging clients and students to develop a personal relationship with the Divine. In this interview, she shares a personal story of when she had to make a difficult choice to give up a dream in order to support her family.

Once again, the interview was longer than this, and she had so much wisdom to share, but the rest of it is being saved for when I release Let go of the Ground, the e-basket of goodies for your transformation journey.

Let go of the Ground – guest #7 – Chris Zydel

I still have a number of juicy interviews to share with you for my Let go of the Ground series. This week I had intended to share more, but at the beginning of the week I was in a place where my own “letting go of the ground” was where I needed to place my focus, and so I spent a couple of days mostly in silence, avoiding social media and this blog.

But now I’m back and ready to share. This week I’m excited to introduce you to the “Wild Heart Queen” (her Twitter handle), Chris Zydel. What a delight it has been getting to know Chris over the last year or two! She is such an inspiration to me in both her work (teaching and writing about intuitive painting) and her generous spirit.

Chris knows a lot about the importance of surrender. When she teaches people to dive into the process of intuitive painting, she’s really teaching them to surrender to the creative goddess. In this interview, she shared her own process of surrender when she realized intuitive painting had become her primary path and it was time to step away from her career as a psychotherapist.

If you want easy, try MacDonald’s down the street

I get discouraged by how much our culture values “easy”. We want easy money, fast food, drive-thru spirituality, and ten easy steps to fix any problem.

We’re living in a culture where MacDonald’s and Wal-Mart thrive because they not only promise to make life easy, they make it cheap. Next to easy, cheap is our second highest good. If you can combine easy AND cheap, you can make a million dollars of that easy money.

I’ve got news for you, though… there is no easy path.

I’ll say that again, just to let it sink in… there is no easy path.

Keep choosing easy and cheap (whether it’s over-processed white bread or overly-simplified spirituality), and you’ll pay for it in the long run. It may not be right away, and the marketers may convince you that easy-street is working for you right now, but you’ll always have to pay. Eventually.

It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to realize how our earth and our cultural diversity are paying for all of the easy choices we’re making. Climate change, plastic islands floating in our oceans, species going extinct – those are pretty hefty payments for our easy lifestyles. And we all know at least one story of a business that had to close (and a little piece of our diversity, creativity, and culture died with it) when Wal-Mart moved into town. When I was in Kenya, I searched everywhere for funky African fabric but found very little – “well-meaning” North Americans had dumped all their cheap cast-off clothing on the market and killed their fabric industry. Cheap and easy always ends up being destructive.

Similar things are going on in the online world. The proliferation of e-books, e-courses, and e-workshops is both overwhelming and a little discouraging. Once again, it’s easy that sells. Give someone “ten easy steps to zen” or “spirituality simplified” or “your best life NOW (without any effort)” and you’ve got a sure winner on your hands. And THEN, throw ten of those e-courses into one bundle, offer it at drastic discounts, and you’ve got pure gold. Just sit back and watch the money flow.

I can’t help but think, when I see those bundles of e-courses, “how can someone actually process all of that information and make it a meaningful experience?” But perhaps, unlike me, people are more interested in deep discounts than meaningful experiences.

Sadly, people selling creative courses on the internet will soon find no market for them, just like the fabric manufacturers in Kenya.

I can’t help but go back to what I said earlier.

There is no easy path.

You can read all of the e-books or blogs you want, memorize hundreds of “10 easy steps” and you are STILL going to have to do the hard work if you really want to grow. Only YOU can do that work.

You can go to all the right retreats, sign up for all the e-courses you can find, and you STILL have to go through the depths of pain when someone you love dies or betrays you. Not even a guru can make that easy for you.

You can try for cheap and easy all you want, put a bandaid on the pain, avoid the conflicts in your relationships, and all you are doing is delaying the agony. Trust me, you’ll have to pay – eventually.

But let’s be honest, hard doesn’t sell.

Even as I prepare to release my e-course on “Letting go of the ground” about surrender, transformation, and growth, I know that it does not have the makings of a best seller. It’s about “hard”, not about “easy”. It’s about working your way through the pain, hanging onto trust when you’re in the middle of the goo, and surrendering to the Divine. None of that is easy. Or cheap.

And yet I know that I have to release it, because it is my truth. And my gift. And I know that it is desperately needed in this easy-seeking culture.

I know pain, I know surrender, and I know transformation. I never thought that those things would serve as my gift to the world (and I’ve resisted that realization, quite frankly), but life is full of surprises.

I have been to hell and back – more than once. I have suffered the loss of a son. I have been raped. Twice I’ve had to live through the attempted suicide of my beloved. In a three month period, my dad died tragically of a horrible farm accident, my uncle died suddenly of a heart attack, and my grandmother died of natural causes.  I have been to more funerals than I can count. (I am not saying those things to suggest my pain has been greater than yours. There is no measure of pain – it just is.)

And yet, despite all of that pain… you want to know something? I am completely in love with life.

Oh sure, when I’m in the mood for a pity party, I can let myself wallow in bitterness with the rest of them, but most of the time, I soak every bit of goodness I can out of life because I know that life is good. And God is good. And people are good. And there is hope.

Yes, my path has led me through a lot of pain, but I can’t imagine living such a rich, full life any other way. Pain has been my greatest teacher. And that’s what I’ve realized as I’ve done all of the interviews in support of “Let go of the Ground“. The people I’ve interviewed are wise people largely for one reason – they have let pain and loss and the gooey-ness of surrender be their teachers. None of them believe in cheap and easy either. They have walked through the surrender and the pain and they have emerged into wisdom and rich beauty. Just like the butterfly.

Here’s one thing I have learned to trust in all of those painful experiences… even in the deepest, darkest pain, God is there.

The God of my understanding doesn’t like cheap and easy. I don’t think we get to have it both ways. Either you take easy street and reject God, or you dive into the messiness and pain of life, and delight in the presence of God in both the pain and the beauty.

Here’s another thing I know… beauty is magnified by darkness. Think of a rose without the shadows between the petals. There would be no depth and beauty if there weren’t dark shadows. Life loses its richness without a mix of both light and dark.

So I’ll stick with this path, release the e-course I feel called to release, and trust that those who have grown as weary as I have with cheap and easy and need something deeper will find their way to it.

Most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free “travel packages” sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage – “a transformative journey to a sacred centre” full of hardships, darkness, and peril.

  • Parker Palmer, Let your Life Speak

Sometimes you have to go to the labyrinth

Some days everything falls apart.

Some days it feels like nothing will ever be hopeful again.

Some days you think you should wear a sign on your forehead warning people before they come near.

Some days the path you thought you were meant to follow gets lost in the fog.

Some days it’s hard to believe in the wisdom of nature and trust that, like the geese returning in Spring, you will find your way home again.

Some days it’s hard to remember that transformation doesn’t come without surrender. And surrender doesn’t come without pain and confusion.

Some days it’s hard to remember that Spring will always come, green things will always grow again, and what lay dormant will some day be full of life again.

Some days it’s hard to trust God.

Some days it’s hard to trust other people.

Some days you just have to pay attention to the wisdom written on walls and go find a garden to wander in, even if that garden is still emerging from the snow.

Some days you just have to sit with the struggle, be present in the pain, and wait for God to show up there.

Some days you just have to admit that you don’t have it all figured out. And you can’t do it alone.

Some days you have to accept that when you are called to teach something, you will also be called to wander into the depths of whatever it is you’re called to guide people through.

Some days feel like the middle of the fire.

Some days it’s hard to remember that the fire refines the gold.

Some days you just have to go to the centre of the labyrinth, lie on a bench and cry out “Okay Sophia God, whatever it is you’re trying to teach me, I’m listening. See this? It’s called surrender.”

Some days, you just have to remind yourself of the wisdom you’ve gained in the past, and trust that the wisdom you are gaining now is even deeper.

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