Thursday, July 5, 2007


I've been thinking a lot about a comment that Lisa CK left after my "Keep Kicking" post.

"Don’t confuse surrender with passivity. Passivity does not involve the intentional choice that surrender does."

I've always thought of surrender as a negative action, an admission of defeat. My birth date, August 15, is also the day that the Japanese surrendered, officially ending WWII in the Pacific. Depending on your viewpoint, that surrender was either an intentional choice that no doubt saved the lives of tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians or it was a shameful admission of defeat.

It's interesting to me that very few Americans know that date, but I'll bet that 90% of Japanese can tell you the significance of August 15. The Japanese women in our San Gabriel neighborhood never forgot my birthday because of its link to V-J Day.

I'm still not sure how I feel about making the conscious choice to surrender and in what circumstances I would consider it a personal victory. But I do know this: the hardest part of surrendering is giving up control, something that, in case you haven't noticed, I'm reluctant to do.

Is it any wonder that when I look back at that live-saving surf episode, I regret not kicking my legs. Participatory kicking would have given me the allusion that I had some control over the situation.

My regret should have been that I didn't ask those two lifeguards, "Is there anything that I can do to help you?" Something tells me that they would have answered, "Just hold on" or "Enjoy the ride." Then I could have surrendered in their arms and remained regret free a quarter century later.

(I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on surrender. Have you ever surrendered? What were the circumstances? What was the outcome?)


Anonymous said...

Hmm...I'd have to say I'd "surrendered" a few times here and there, but usually after I tried to do everything I could about a situation...coming back to live in the U.S. was a big thing, I think I just felt it was the right thing to do but I did worry about it. I found once I'd made my decision it was a lot easier to handle, sort of "what will be will be" kind of thing.

Lisa C.

janet aird said...

I'm at Kim and Jimmy's, so I asked them. First, they both said that not kicking made the lifeguards' job easier to do.

Second, I don't think that kicking or not kicking is the best analogy here. That's a spur-of-the-moment decision. I think what you're doing, researching, networking, etc, is more like someone knowing they're going to be swimming in the ocean and finding out all about it. Is there an undertow? Are there sharks? What do I do if I encounter one? If someone comes to help, what do I do?

I think Lisa's right. Passivity is deciding that nothing is going to help. Surrender is a tactical move.

Frankie said...

I'm afraid I've never surrendered and would love to learn! Surrendering is accepting that we are powerless over certain situations. They usually involve a partner i.e. a friend, relative, or romantic partner. I guess a disease is a partner. We're told to fight a disease, if you surrender then it's defeat and death. But fighting is a war-like attitude, does it truly foster healing? What about making friends with the disease? Does our attitude whether seeing the disease as an enemy or a friend really matter? I think the best we can do is stay true to ourselves, and whatever feelings come up, good or bad, in your case Susan being true to yourself is being the very special being that you are.

Cricket said...

During treatment for a case of post traumatic stress disorder, I only turned the corner from the constant terror, anxiety, and nausea when I gave up my usual self-imposed mandate to be highly competent and in control--and surrendered to all that the PTSD could hit me with.

It was sheer hell, but when I finally gave up control and let all of it roll over me and do its worst, I finally started to make progress and learn a new way to cope with it. The dire scenarios I thought would result never materialized.

I discovered I had an autopilot of inner strength--even when I relinquished control--of which I was absolutely unaware and still don't quite understand. I suspect you're wired the same way.

And as a former lifeguard, I can also confirm that trying to kick would have made your rescuers' job much more difficult.

Love you lots.

Susan Carrier said...

(Susan posting for Mary)

Dear Spunky,

just read your blog.
I have had to come to terms with this too!
Probalby infertitly was my first challenge with this
YOU or I have never had control..if ya ever thunk you did.....
it is only an illusion of "the mind" the ego state .
that is why it is so hard to keep our balance . I need continual
practice to keep my mind from taking over..I need to remember that my mind
is only a tool.
and that spirit is the real presence behind everything.

The Buddhist definition and Christian definition of surrender have
completely different meanings I think.

Religious surrender is usually accepting Christ..
Buddhist is accepting the human condition..suffering.
I too have thought that the word...surrender meant giving up or
I've since learned .....
The mind plays a trick on us..the mind being
"the ego" it tricks us into believing we have control.

Susan,great food for thought ..glad you 've posed these questions.
You have us all thinking , growing and learning.
I'll be at the reading on July 15th .
Love ,

Carolyn H. said...

Sorry, to be so late with this post. I hope I can still be part of this important conversation. Here are my initial thoughts:

Surrender? Passivity? Giving up? Making choices? I don’t know. The lines are very blurred for me. After fighting with all I had to save my daughter from her own self-destruction and not making a dent in the situation, depression overwhelmed me and I became suicidal. It was never logical to me, but the burdens kept piling on and I felt unable to bear the weight. I knew what I’d give up and what pain I’d cause, but it was apples to oranges to me. It’s not something I can rationally explain.

My daughter’s doctor recognized the suicidal symptoms and suggested I go to a hospital. Her recommendation was strong, but the decision was mine. I struggled. I felt that I would simultaneously give up on two opposing aims if I were admitted. I felt I would be acknowledging that I wasn’t dedicated to suicide and my despair, and I felt I would be showing how weak I was that I couldn’t heal myself. (Logic was not a major player in this drama.) But in the end, I went. I was locked up. Did I surrender? Was I fighting for my life? Was I passive? Was I wise? I don’t know. I am embarrassed that I needed such help. I am grateful that I received it.

By unanimous vote of those around me, it was decreed that my decision-making wasn’t very sound at that time. And because of that, I made a decision to let others take over for a while. (Was that sound? Was that stupid?) I went into a quiet mode where I surrendered control of my actions and took in a lot of messages from others, all of them telling me that things weren’t the way they seemed to me. I took a break from making decisions, good or bad. In my opinion, that was very passive. Yet, I am assured it was exactly what I needed to do. It seems to have worked.

I still don’t know if I was courageous and strong or weak and despicable. Or all of the above. So, I have no answers to your deep questions, just some experiences that inform me that clarity is not always forthcoming and that we make some of our most important decisions without it. And we move forward, struggling to keep our balance.

You certainly are not passive in your approach to your cancer. Your attitude and actions are an inspiration to many of us. You do not hide from the reality of your situation and that enables you to make accurate, tactical decisions, perhaps even to surrender sometimes. I would include the word “acceptance” in the equation. I think it allows us to see the truth and is the key to finding balance in this shifting world.

Karen said...

Wow. This is the most powerful string to read. Carolyn, your post is like a poem. Lisa's profoundly deep comment has really spurred a world of brave, honest and very deep soul searching.

Susan, I am one of those of historically ignorant Americans who didn't realize the significance of your birthday (well, at least as it relates to WW II). Of course your having been born on that day would make the word "surrender" especially meaningful to you.

Here's my take on, and experience with, surrender.

When I had my accident, and was partially paralyzed for a time, I surrendered. I stopped fighting fate. I relaxed and let others do what I couldn't. I remember the feeling well, because it was unlike anything I'd ever done before. But I most certainly did not give up. I let go in many ways, but not all. I didn't try to do what I knew I couldn't do (care for myself, for instance, or for my family, or try to run or drive or eat). I focused entirely on what I COULD do. Little things. Like hold a pen and write (very badly at first, like normal now), or repeat the small motions with my legs and feet which I could still perform, or (later) practice standing (while holding on to another person), or (later still) pumping food through a tube into my stomach. Baby steps. That's what I took. That's what I MADE myself take, with great difficulty, because it was hard to do even that.

In an earlier post, I said I decided to pretend I was a fairytale character. I'm serious. That's really what I did. I thought "The world is a miracle, magical, and my magic is limited, but at least my magic gives me the power to love the tiny tasks I can still manage and, by baby steps, to find my way back into the living world as a whole person, even if I never completely recover [which I have almost done, but not completely]."

I remember the night before I was intubated. I'd been fed entirely by IV for several days, and the nurse said that if I couldn't swallow by the next morning, they'd have to put a tube down my nose and throat, to feed me. I was aghast. All night, I prayed. I summoned all of my spiritual energy and tried to visualize success, and at the same time I prayed to God, or the Universal Spirit, or whatever it is, to please allow me to swallow the next morning. Dawn broke. I tried to swallow, and choked. And I thought "Of course. I knew that would happen. God isn't going to change the world to suit me." But at the same time I swore that I wasn't going to lose faith or stop loving God and creation just because things weren't turning out the way I wanted. No fairytale heroine would ever do that! So I kept on helping myself, being realistic about my limitations, expecting neither too much nor too little and, above all, thanking God every baby step of the way for the power at least to take baby steps.

That's the way I surrendered. And I've been much happpier ever since.

Karen said...


One more thing: I think that the part of surrender you need to think about is accepting your limits. Not trying to do more than you can do right now. Not feeling that you're losing something if you don't go full bore. Baby steps. That's what you need to embrace now.

With much love,
Mrs. Duck

Susan Carrier said...

Wow! Karen's right. I'm so appreciative that Lisa CK got us thinking about this subject and inspired so much beautiful sharing in the comments section.