On Monday, October 25 I had a call from my oncologist’s office about “elevated liver enzymes,” which could have meant that my liver cancer had returned. I went through a very difficult week, culminating in a stressful PET/CT scan on Thursday, and then got the results on Friday late afternoon—no cancer. My body was completely cancer free, although a stent I have in the bile duct of my liver has shifted somewhat and will need to be watched in case I need some surgery to fix it. This blog contains an essay I wrote a few years back on what it means to truly surrender. I had planned on writing something completely new, but it’s message is still so strong and clear that I don’t feel that I can improve on it. Below I tell the story of how, in 2004 when my mother became very, very ill, I surrendered myself and the situation to the Divine.
And surrender is what I finally did this past Friday morning, October 29, when I was falling apart, waiting for that phone call from my oncologist’s office, with no strength left, consumed by fear, and with no place left to turn. But I found my refuge: in complete surrender. It’s just something we have to do when our back is to the wall and we have been moved into a space that feels beyond our strength. Strange as it may seem, it’s the only way to find peace, by realizing that any and all outcomes are all right, that the Universe is not capricious and chaotic but has our highest good as its goal, and that we are all right and will always be all right.
One of our strongest human tendencies is to want to control our fate. But, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re planning something else.” There are times when all out best-laid plans fail us and the ground under our feet seems to crumble. Tragedy strikes—we lose a loved one suddenly to death, our marriage fails, a long-time friend betrays us, our body “betrays” us as we are struck down by a catastrophic illness. We lose our job or financial catastrophe strikes, leaving us frightened for our very survival, barely hanging on.
When such things happen to us, we enter a dark night of the soul. Nothing we do seems to help and things just keep getting worse. We pray, we try harder, we negotiate with God. We struggle to make things work out, but the world continues to fall apart around us. We lose control and fall, down and down and down.
A Story of Surrender
Back in January of 2004 when my treatments for breast cancer were finished, I felt that I was at last free to regroup and heal my spirit, my body, and my immune system after months of aggressive slash-and-burn therapies. Even though I felt the rising of a great spring of inner joy, I planned nothing ambitious for the coming year. I just wanted to live quietly and learn the art of simple happiness and peace. I felt that I needed this time to begin integrating the cataclysmic transformations that had shaken my soul. I knew I had been on a great Underworld journey and needed time to reflect on who I had become, what I had learned, and how I was to share my newfound vision in the world.
Just as I was beginning to feel that I was truly coming back to life, disaster struck. My mom’s health began to fail and she was in and out of the hospital with dangerously high blood pressure. When I went home to see her in March of 2004, I ended up spending my birthday in the emergency room. She had to go on dialysis and dropped from 145 pounds to 111 pounds. I was petrified because I’d read studies that said that stress selectively knocks down certain NK cells and other cancer fighters in the immune system. Also, my mother’s deteriorating health brought to the surface all my fears of getting cancer again and dying.
While I could keep a lot of stress in my life at bay, there was no way I could run from this—the fact that I might lose my mother so soon after my triumph over cancer. I felt unprepared, frightened, helpless, and most of all angry. Every day I would walk up and down the beach, yelling at God. “Why are you doing this to me? Do you want to kill me? I did everything you asked me to do while I was sick—everything. I held nothing back from you. All I want is a little peace, and this is what you give me! I’m trying so hard, but it’s just not good enough. I’ve prayed and prayed and you haven’t answered me. Why have you abandoned me? Why?”
Fortunately, I have a friend named Isabelle who truly listened to me and gave me spiritual solace during this time. While Isabelle is exquisitely beautiful and appears quite delicate, she is a true steel magnolia. She learned strength as a small child when her family fled Poland during WWII to escape Hitler and became refugees. What Isabelle told me is this: Everything that happens to us in life is a potential lesson. We can either resist it or we can surrender to it in the belief that the Universe truly never sends us anything that is not for our highest good. “You are loved and protected more than you can possibly imagine,” she told me. “Nothing will ever happen to you that you will not find the strength to face. Your mother is on her own soul’s journey and you can trust that she is in the arms of a loving God who will never leave her or forsake her.”
One day, I finally surrendered. While I wanted my mother, who was only 72, to regain her health and live, I accepted that I was just a finite human being and that I did not truly know what lessons were being taught to me and my family, or what agreements my mother had made with her soul before she entered this lifetime. I gave myself over in faith to something greater than myself, believing that everything would work out for the best, whatever happened.
I did this with all my heart, holding nothing back. I knew that my mother might die, but I also knew that it would be all right, that I would be all right, along with my brother and my sister. If my mom needed to return to her true “Home,” I would not keep her here.
Then a strange thing happened. She got better, much better. She began gaining weight and holding her own, adjusting to the twice weekly dialysis. Our relationship deepened in a profound and loving way. And my mother, that great soul, after a life of unforgiveness, struggle, and bouts of depression, finally surrendered herself and found peace. For the last year of her life she became my greatest teacher. She was like an angel, giving thanks for each day, forgiving her enemies, laughing often, and becoming even more dear to me. She shone with an inner radiance. And when she finally did go Home, she was prepared.
The Art of Surrender
Surrender is one of the hardest things we can ever do, but it is the very thing that we must do. I’ve been to hell and back—several times—and I know that the love of God/dess will never leave us or forsake us. We are watched over by powers—angels and guides—beyond our imagining. Not a second of our life passes without their loving protection.
My African friend Malidoma Somé has a saying, that a defeat in the human world is a victory in the Spirit World. When we surrender, we win through to becoming something greater than we were before. We win through to a new definition of the power of love.
Since I first learned to surrender, I have had to relearn this lesson many times. Each time, it is a challenge. Each time it must be completely sincere or it is not complete surrender. And every time I truly say, “I trust, I believe, I surrender,” the world rearranges itself in a miraculous way and all is well, no matter what.
Do not fear surrender. It is not defeat but a greater opening to the powerful currents of the waters of life. Dive in. Commend your being to the rushing currents. Let your heart and soul be carried by them. May they bear you to new beginnings.