I was having coffee with my friend Scott in East Austin the other day and we were discussing our current life situations. He’s new to Austin, single but dating, successfully building his software company and navigating social changes to better align his lifestyle with the people he surrounds himself with. I similarly am navigating new opportunities in my life, figuring out what I want the next few years to look like and trying to make decisions that often feel anxiety stifling and insurmountable. I felt caught in a fear trap. I knew what the positive outcome of my decisions could look like but was second guessing all the things that could go wrong. That’s when Scott hit me with the wisdom – as one does in the form of an unsolicited book recommendation – to read The Surrender Project and let go a bit on the steering wheel of life.
My natural state is to grasp for control and certainty in everything. I have tried every trick in the book to quell my anxiety and yet it maintains its stronghold as a devilish mind trick. When Scott shared the Surrender Project, I was yet again inclined to seek out the wisdom of another who put a check on the busy mind. The Surrender Project reads as a first persons’ application of a mindfulness strategy and less a traditional spiritual growth book. The book is the autobiography of Micky Singer’s life and how he truly surrendered to what life put in front of him, weening himself off of his mind’s chatter toward a life of acceptance. He relinquished control and let life do its thing.
While it starts with Micky denouncing western society and relegating himself to a life of meditation in the countryside of Gainesville, FL as a way to quiet his mind, he ultimately comes to a crossroad between solitude and helping others. After a few happenstance opportunities where he begrudgingly accepts offers to help others’ (like teaching part-time at a local community college or tutoring a well-off business man in an economics curriculum), Micky eventually surrenders to what life presents to him and moves from a place of restraint to a place of openness. Whenever someone asked him to do something that his mind was screaming “NO” or “HOW COULD I DO THAT?” he started to say “YES” and reframe his mind.
Micky surrendered by giving up what “Mickey” wanted and surrendered to what life, or others, presented. It wasn’t without complete filtering but when life offered challenging decisions, he trusted the way of life to dictate the next move and leaned down the selfless path. He wasn’t a push over, he was faithfully letting the desire to help others prioritize his actions.
“The more I let go of “Mickey” and just committed myself to the task life had given me, the more the spiritual energy flow increased within me. It was as though by aligning myself with life’s outer flow, the beautiful, inward flow of energy was naturally strengthened. By now, I had become thoroughly convinced that the constant act of letting go of one’s self-centered thoughts and emotions was all that was needed for profound personal, professional and spiritual growth”
I’m in awe of this approach. I understand it in concept but in practice it’s stifling.
“As long as I made getting rid of myself my only goal, every situation was a fruitful one”
To remove oneself, and thus the ego, from a decision is extremely difficult however, if you look at every decision as an opportunity and not as a consequence you’ll start to ease into a place of surrender. Whereby I have often tried to understand how I can mitigate my downside, surrendering means seeing the upside in everything, understanding the downside but not harping on the future outcome – just letting it play out.
Even in Micky’s darkest hour, while under indictment in federal court for corporate fraud (he was ultimately found innocent as the responsibility landed on one of his executives), Micky was in a place of acceptance. He recounts a number of times where he consciously stops and thinks while sitting in front of the judge in southern Manhattan to just acknowledge how incredible life is and what life put in front of him when he embarked on his ‘surrender’ mentality. Micky’s only desire was to find the truth in life. That enabled him to surrender his day to day control and let life carve its path through the canyons of his years.
I was inspired by this book and it gave me a bit of a reprieve when I needed it most. Since finishing the book however, I wouldn’t say that I’ve relinquished my neuroticism or anxiety. Clearly this is not an elixir but a practice of the mind. Like anything else, it’s the consistent dedication to a craft that creates perfection. It starts with small decisions and progresses to bigger ones but I know that I need to surrender more, prioritize others and loosen the grip so that the ride feels less bumpy.