“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” –Herman Hesse
I recently interviewed a man who leads personal development programs with the help of a horse. Specifically, Brian Reid puts people who are stuck and struggling on top of his horse to get them out of their heads and into their hearts. When Brian’s coaching clients climb up on the horse, relax, and release tension all the way down to their, ahem, butt cheeks, they start to feel more trusting and empowered. From this place, he says, they can envision a successful resolution to the issue they’re grappling with.
To explain this phenomenon, Brian says, “They understand that surrender equals control.”
I’ve been pondering these paradoxical words in the wake of a huge shift that just happened in my life. In truth it happened to my husband, but, because I was trying so hard to control his life, it happened to me, too.
As I’ve mentioned here before, my husband is an African immigrant to the United States who left behind his life, language, family and electrical career to marry me. I’ve consequently felt pretty responsible for his welfare over here and tried my best to help him succeed. Being a Type A personality with a streak of control freak, I’ve also attempted to engineer most aspects of my husband’s American life, including his career path.
For three years we searched and applied for electrical jobs while my husband held down a supermarket job. I employed all of my networking and public relations skills on the quest, writing impressive cover letters and cold-calling local electricians. I printed up business cards for my husband before he’d mastered enough English to pronounce the words on them, and last year I urged him to enroll in trade school to work towards his license and impress potential employers.
As tuition bills mounted and months and months passed without so much as a “Thanks for your application,” reply, my husband became disheartened and I grew more desperate. I didn’t know if we were up against racism, xenophobia, a struggling economy or all of the above, but I knew that insisting upon this career path was draining the joy from us.
In the midst of this dark time I sat down to pray one morning and started to speak the words “I surrender…” to God and whoever else was listening. I choked on the words as a tidal wave of emotion gushed forth and I began to sob like a little child. All the anger, resentment, frustration, disappointment and heartache that I felt about the situation came pouring out. As the tears subsided I quietly released my ambition for my husband and asked a higher wisdom to prevail.
A few days later I was talking to someone in the renewable energy field about my husband's interest in those technologies when it suddenly occurred to me: Why not consider a related path? I checked in with my husband and discovered that he was completely willing to change professional gears in order to meet his ultimate goals—financial security and job satisfaction. “God knows what I want and God will show me my way,” was what he actually said.
And so we became willing to surrender the electrical licensure path, prayed for guidance, and reached out to our community one last time for leads and luck. Within weeks my husband had an entry-level technician job in a related industry with good pay, full benefits, appreciative employers and opportunities for advancement. It happened with no cover letter and no business cards, and he received the offer during his first and only interview.
I was dizzy for days from the speed of these events.
I’ve come to realize that when I’m holding tightly to agendas and specific outcomes, it’s usually because I fear that my needs won’t be met. In the grip of that fear, I lose control of myself, and I lose sight of other options. When I take inspired actions toward my desires, surrender the results, and allow something bigger to take over I feel more peaceful and, ultimately, in control.
I’m not saying it’s easy to “Let go and let God,” as they say in Twelve Step parlance, but I find that it can build faith, trust and confidence. It also cultivates peace of mind, unlike obsessive thinking. When I gnaw like a dog on the bone of my willfulness, all I get is ground down teeth.
A student of mine recently remarked that the desires she holds most lightly are the ones that manifest most easily for her, and often in unexpected ways. Thinking back on my own life, I can attest to the truth of that experience. While I may not always get what I want (and who’s to say that that’s a bad thing, given the vagaries of my mind?), I can aim in that direction, do my part, and have faith that I’ll get what I need.