Eckhart Tolle says “Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to, rather than opposing, the flow of life”. The word surrender can sometimes have a bit of a negative connotation, like it means giving up or carries a quality of weakness along with it. But what ET is talking about here is something different, that I think can be one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves in traversing this cancer journey. This surrender is not one of “I give up”, or “I don’t care”, or a “whatever” attitude. Rather, the surrender he is talking about, and the one that I believe can bring us so much freedom, is more of a conscious acceptance of things as they are, of recognizing that no amount of resistance, opposition, defiance, or angst is going to change the facts or the events that have happened up to this moment. Because the moment is what it is. We can bang our head against a wall or scream at the universe, but that won’t change the facts. This type of surrender requires tremendous strength (the opposite of the weakness some might think it entails); the strength to see clearly the conditions in which we find ourselves, and to accept them wholeheartedly. If we do not surrender and accept our situation, we allow ourselves to stay in that mindset of resistance and continuous struggle, thinking “why has this happened”, “this can’t be happening”, “I can’t deal with it”, and “this is horrible” and we just create inner turmoil, distress, more discomfort for ourselves (and maybe even physical illness like ulcers, irritable bowels, or weakened immunity). On the other hand, if we can accept the situation as it is, we eliminate much of that distress, and can instead focus our minds and our energy on what steps we can take to make the next moment closer to the way we want it to be.
You might say, “this is BS, how am I just supposed to accept that I have cancer and have to take all of this crappy treatment?”. I don’t mean that you have to like it, or that you have to believe that it is great. Because let’s face it, some moments suck. And some situations we find ourselves in are really really difficult to deal with. But no amount of inner resistance will change the reality of the circumstances of this moment. That inner resistance just creates more suffering. So instead, we can learn to accept the circumstances as they are, and then choose our next steps from there. And hopefully from that place of peaceful acceptance, we make wise choices and are able to find some bright moments, even amongst the difficult ones, and then eventually better days come, as they typically do.
Let’s take an example. On the day before our next chemo, we could lie in bed and cry all day with misery anticipating how shitty we will feel after chemo, and remind ourselves of every yucky side effect that might arise, and how angry we are that we have to do this. On the other hand, we could accept that this cancer is, in fact, here, and needs to be dealt with. And this treatment is what we need to get better, so we will use that last day before chemo to get a little fresh air or exercise, and then prepare a few things we know will bring us comfort on those hard days ahead. See what a better approach the latter would be? And how much better we will have made everything, including those crummy post-chemo days, by having our favorite comfort foods or movies ready and prepared, as well as getting some joy and fun out of that last good day before treatment.
This is not always easy. It takes practice, just like everything else. So just start by trying to notice when you are resisting. When you feel inner resistance, inner turmoil, irritation, opposition, or defiance toward your situation. Once we notice we are doing this, we can see how it doesn’t make us feel good. How we feel tense, anxious, agitated, perhaps even sick to our stomach or slightly tight in the chest. We can then take a few deep breaths, and practice accepting the situation as it is. Stop and breathe a while here. It may take some time. The situation is what it is, so why fight it? Once you feel the resistance slipping away, notice if you feel a little more freedom, a little more openness, lightness, or clarity. And then you can choose your next actions from that place of peaceful acceptance and stillness.
For me, this practice of surrender, of quiet acceptance of my cancer and of what I needed to do to get myself well again, really helped me get through it much more easily. Surrender allowed me to feel peaceful inside, even though a battle was raging between the treatment and the disease. I chose not to let my mind and emotions also fall into battle. Surrender also showed me the depth of my resilience and strength, making me even more able to handle each next challenge with grace. And this practice continues to help me now, 4 years later, when stressful things come up with the cancer follow up, with some of my ongoing side effects from treatment, or from other non-cancer related life stressors. Give it a try and see if it helps you in the same way.
(And enormous gratitude to Eckhart Tolle for his wisdom, which has guided me and taught me so much. If you haven’t read him, please do).