Practicing the art of surrender didn’t come easy for me for a long time. I insisted on being in control of every corner of my life–pouring hours into formatting and editing a report at work that literally only a few people laid eyes on, finishing term papers weeks in advance so I could meticulously check errors or other imperfections, and cleaning every speck of cat litter from the floor so freakin’ often you might as well have fastened a broom to my right hand.
And yes, my work projects were always the best. And yes, I always got an A on my papers. And yes, my apartment always looked amazing and felt wonderful to be in.
But the hard work also came at my own detriment.
I was addicted to activity and struggled to relax and be present in my own body, unless I could mentally check-off everything that had a sense of incompleteness. Because incomplete means something could go wrong, and I would be to blame. Or that someone would notice and think less of me. In the process of perfecting, I was completely cutoff from the neck down. Fixating, hustling, ruminating. Not surprisingly, my body developed chronic pain in multiple places, and I felt overcome by a malaise of unworthiness.
It certainly doesn’t help that there are touches of controlling behavior that I’ve inherited. Obsessive compulsive disorder runs in my father’s side of the family. And autism runs on both sides of the family. I can hyperfocus like an Olympian.
But most of my tendencies I can trace back to my family upbringing, religious indoctrination, and education. Perfection was preached implicitly and explicitly. I still remember my lit teacher threatening the class that one small grammatical error would fail your essay. Every day for 13 years I filed into the multi-purpose room along with hundreds of other children for chapel to listen to someone to tell us about all the horrible ways we would go to hell–including things like drinking, having premarital sex, and clapping in church. I was trained to be a lifeless robot with no room for error. And to this very day, I can still remember how it felt to be yelled at if a food crumb was found on the floor of the living room. Not to mention countless spankings for simply existing as a child.
That all being said, how the conditioning happened isn’t really all that important. Just knowing that it wasn’t my fault that I had unhelpful perfectionist patterns for so damn long was a huge relief.
The patterns have affected me, both physically and emotionally, and there have been plenty of occasions where I couldn’t be present or emotionally available for a loved one because I felt so distracted by the heavy burden of scoring perfection at work or school. When a person is conditioned to show up a certain way, the ego grabs a hold of that conditioned behavior like a lifeline, while any trace of the opposite behavior goes straight into the shadow of the unconscious mind. Imperfection, laziness, and surrender laid dormant in my unconsciousness for a solid 30+ years.
The amazing evidence that I’ve been able to embrace imperfection now is that I can go to sleep at night even though there is mold growing in my bathtub. I can relax and watch TV with my loved one every evening, even though there are a billion items on my to-do list as a solopreneur. I can make hella mistakes doing whatever, but I know how to hold myself with great self-compassion.
The truth is that the tendency to obsess and be perfect still comes up. Pretty often. But I know how to be with the discomfort of not giving in to these impulses. The emotional integration is where the gold is at–being with the discomfort of being imperfect and allowing incompleteness to just exist.
“The person who commits himself to a life of continuing confrontation with the unconscious within himself, will also confront the unknown in the world at large with an open mind, and what is more the heart of wisdom.”June Singer
Surrender is hard to embrace. Hard to honor. Hard to be with. To allow yourself to experience transformative surrender, you have to approach it mentally, emotionally, and physically. Mentally, you have to acknowledge that you’ve pushed it away into your unconscious mind. Emotionally, there has to be an intention of integrating what feels so uncomfortable about giving up control and letting go. Physically, your body needs to practice the movement and sensation of surrender. If you’re like me, you struggle with chronic armoring in your muscles, as though you’re constantly preparing to go to battle–the battle of doing, producing, and perfecting in a never-ending war of to-do lists.
When you’re addicted to perfection and hustling, surrender must be approached–oddly enough–as a practice. I am a changed person not just because of the initial inner work breakthrough, but because I dedicate time and energy towards dropping in to my body, creative unconscious mind, emotions, presence, and instinctual feminine movement. It doesn’t need to be sophisticated or take up much time. To learn more about the power of surrender, why we need it, and a couple tips on practicing surrender, see my Youtube Video: Surrender.
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