13 December 2008


I'm writing this post because there are things I want to say, which is novel. Usually I only update it out of a vague sense of obligation. I'm giving up obligations.

A lot has happened since I last posted: much travel, some organic farm work in Georgia, a torrid and lovestruck affair conducted partly in a gorgeous beachside motel with a spectacular view of the sea (and the other part in Orlando, in the shadow of the tackiest, silliest, most brightly colored mouse on the planet), and now I'm staying in North Carolina for the holidays awaiting a plane ride to Zihuatanejo, Mexico,* where I plan to reside for awhile.

But all of that is completely beside the point.

The point of all my time so far has been figuring out what I want to do with my life: not how I wish to kill time making money till I eventually kick the bucket, but to what end I most desire to use the time I have. And figuring that out has been all about surrender.

I'd like to explain what the fuck I'm talking about here before you make the association with twelve-step programs and go read about something more interesting on Wikipedia.

The surrender I'm talking about is the crux of taking your life in your hands. It's drawing a line in the sand and saying, "No. I'm not doing this shit anymore. My life is fucked. I will not live like this." It's having the courage to give up control of your life to whatever the fuck runs the universe. (If you have an idea of what that is, great. It's not necessary, but it's helpful. Mine is a vision of the flow of the universe itself, as a big playful omniscient puppy.)

I started surrendering in October, when I was babysitting for some family friends. I'd known I had to, but I'd put it off. It scared the fuck out of me. I mean, it's not like I was doing a very good job of living the life I actually wanted, but hell, I could do better, right?

No. No, you can't. Nothing runs your life better than the thing that's been trying to run it your whole life anyway. The universe has a flow to it; that is, in fact, all it really is: everything that is, flowing. It's beautiful, and being a part of it fucking rocks.

Yeah, this sounds like some kind of Born-Again Christian testimonial of how much finding God changed my life. The reason is because sometimes Born-Agains aren't full of shit. Sometimes they've actually given themselves up to their God, and in that case they and I have more in common than I do with most of y'all who are likely to be reading this.

Absorb that fact for a moment.

I know you guys. There isn't a single one of you I think is reaching their potential. Not even those of you with your shit together. Getting your shit together is just baseline functionality in this world. Stopping there is like calling yourself literate because you finished The Cat in the Hat without help.

Some of your lives suck outright; some of you haven't admitted that to yourselves, but it's no less true. And you're thinking, "Yeah, the last thing I need is to lose the last shred of control I have over this trainwreck. Good advice. I'm sure it wouldn't leave me eating a bullet or taking every pill in this house."

There's only one sane reply to that:

Shut up, you fucking pussy. Your whining is not endearing. I know you are whining because I have been watching you keep a strangle-hold on that one shred of control for years** and your situation has not changed in all that time. You are still miserable. You are still having trouble talking yourself into hope. You still wish you were somewhere else, someone else, living some other life. Your joys are fleeting. You wake up every morning and have to convince yourself to get out of bed and start your day. You have no compelling answer to the question of why you don't just kill yourself now, except that you don't really want to, or maybe other people will miss you.

When are you going to start living? When do you stop just waiting to die?

When you stop doing the same stupid shit that hasn't worked so far. A "pull" door doesn't open no matter how many times you push on it. Your life will not change no matter how many times you repeat your patterns of behavior. Isn't it time for something new? Isn't it time you stopped being miserable?

Surrender still sounds scary. It sounds like giving up, like sinking further down into the abyss, like a standing army of every vague and nameless demon you fear might be waiting for you in the darkness of your own soul. Maybe like if you don't control your life, you won't even be you anymore, you won't even be real, you'll just disappear into the morass of horrors.

Don't worry, that's normal. The terror, I mean; not being dragged into the pits of hell by gap-toothed harpies and unborn fetuses wearing little hair ribbons. (Yes, I'm scared of fetuses in pink ribbons. Moving right along...)

The thing you might not have realized is that you pretty much have to be desperate to surrender. You have to finally understand that you can't fix your life yourself, that nothing you do is going to make this better, that there is no panacea for human misery. That's when you turn yourself over to something else, when you draw the line and say, "I'm yours. Make me better. Take whatever you want, kill me, just please get me out of this."

Understand that I'm talking about myself here too.

Surrender is unconditional. If you're to stop trying to run your life, you have to stop it on all counts, in all aspects, of your life: emotional, physical, romantic, financial, medical, professional, psychological, everything. This takes awhile; it's hard to break the habits of a lifetime. Be easy on yourself, but keep affirming your surrender. Say it any way you like; I think of it in sailing terms, as standing at the helm but letting the whipstaff swing however it pleases, because the idea of doing that still scares the fuck out of me. Let the universe, or whatever you envision running the universe, do the steering for you.

That means surrender is not just about letting go. It's about cultivating a new attentiveness to the world and how each thread of it touches you. After all, if someone else is steering your life, you have to learn how to take their direction. It's like relearning how to see your life, not as a series of difficult tasks to perform or hoops to jump through, but as a unified organism with a place in the larger organism of Everything. With time and attention, you learn to see the way the world moves, how it makes things happen in your life, and you learn to follow them. You become part of the flow instead of resisting it. It takes time and sometimes it's frustrating, but so is anything actually worth doing.

And it's worth it. God, it's worth every damn second I spent trying to think of a reason to wake up in the morning. I'd have given another decade of misery for this, it's so sweet. I'm still a neophyte at this game, and I can't believe it could get better, and somehow it just keeps doing it. I found true love, and discovered I didn't need it. I wanted somewhere to retreat to and get my bearings and really start living my life, and I have the choice between two (TWO!) beautiful, seaside, tropical, affordable, laid-back locales with good contacts in them to help me get oriented. I'm living on my own terms. I'm getting so close to discovering my ultimate desire I can taste it, and it involves becoming my own hero, self-sufficient, someone I respect above all others -- which itself means I need to draw up training plans so that I can learn to outrun a car, heal myself, and focus my brainpower and energy much more efficiently, among other things. I am having the time of my life, literally. Every week, I look back at where I was the week before and think, "Really? How could I have been such a benighted fool? Was that really only a few days ago? I'm so much different now, so much better. I wonder what I'll be like next week."

And these changes still scare me a little, but they are so wonderful most of the time I don't have space for fear amidst all the gratitude. I feel alive.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure and honesty, I've put up two posts that I found hanging around finished as drafts. They're backdated: look for them here and here. The latter may be helpful as a counterpoint to this post, since it's me explaining how I felt about my life in April and what I planned to do with it then. That was somewhere around when I started realizing that taking responsiblity for my life was going to be important. I'm glad I did.

*You remember the name of the town, don't you? I could use someone who knows how to get things.

**Yes, years. All of you. No, you are not exempt from this statement; if you wish to beg exception, email me.


dimestorefind said...

1. I beg exemption. This counts as your email.

2. What better reason not to kill yourself is there than wanting to live?

3. I do not think it wise to advise any/everyone on medication to just unconditionally surrender their dependence. Please note that this is coming from me, someone notoriously distrustful of the medical system.

Slade said...

1. Check your email on this sometime in the next couple of days. I'm stealing wifi and it may take a bit to answer.

2. Do you have something in particular you're living for? Because "I have a survival mechanism" sounds like a stupid reason.

3. I never mentioned meds. Surrender may mean going on meds or off them, or none of the above, as determined by the situation of the person in question. It's not about ceasing to do something in particular or even everything in particular. Just the one thing: trying to control your life. That's the only thing I gave up. It worked.

I doubt I mentioned this at the time, but back in October I came down with asthmatic bronchitis. I didn't realize it was anything but a weird cough until I was immobilized on the street throwing up bile and couldn't stop. I didn't have insurance. Some guy from CMU stopped and walked me to the university clinic. They couldn't help me because I wasn't a student, but they sent me to a nearby cheap clinic attached to a CVS. The CVS guy told me it might be pneumonia but was probably bronchitis, and made it so the visit was free and gave me info on this place called MedExpress that had a special cheap program for uninsured people. I went there the next day, they diagnosed me, and I walked out with a handful of prescriptions. I was well in two weeks. Do you see the pattern? It couldn't have happened any other way. I'd never have heard of MedExpress on my own, and the CMU kid wasn't savvy enough to send me anywhere but the CMU med services, and yet I ended up exactly where I needed to be because I let the universe work. And it's not a passive process: I spent about a week before that wondering what the fuck was wrong with me and trying loads of home remedies to stop coughing -- before the universe sat me down puking and told me to stop being a dumbass and get help. That's how this works, as an example. It's not the best example, but you asked about surrendering your health and that's how I did it.

dimestorefind said...

1. Check your email for my response.

2. I'm not talking about a survival instinct, I'm talking about the very real desire to live.

3. "If you're to stop trying to run your life, you have to stop it on all counts, in all aspects, of your life: emotional, physical, romantic, financial, medical, professional, psychological, everything." That sounds an awful lot like meds to me, even if you didn't mean it that way. Please see my email for discussion of the direction of the universe.

Pete said...

Responsibility is exhausting. I can see how abdicating responsibility for everything in your life probably would be exhilarating and liberating.

But for those whose responsibilities mean something to them, it's probably not such a good idea.

And for those of us with some flavor of mental illness or another, it's a cataclysmically bad idea. We can't just let the wind take us; we know from experience that it's going to take us into the rocks. Big, sharp, nasty, pointy rocks. Swarming with sharks. Sharks with machine guns.

Sometimes, the universe responds to surrender with a single round to the back of your head.

No, you can't control everything in your life, and trying will wear you down to a nub. But an awful lot really is under your control. I don't control what life throws at me, but I do decide how I'm going to react to it. I don't get to control who I am, but I get to choose who I want to be and how I can make myself more like that person.

I'm glad you've found a path that makes you happy; truly, I am. Me, I'm going to keep exercising what control I'm able over my own life I'm able, playing to my strengths, shoring-up my weaknesses, and doing my best to get where I want to be -- even if there are a whole lot of blind alleys and wrong turns between there and where I am now.

Anders Brink said...


I understand what you are saying completely. But yet, let me just say that it is not "giving up" control that is the solution. The solution is to understand which things you have control over, which not, and concentrate only on a small portion of it that absolutely matters to you. That is what you are saying, if I read you right.

One central tenet of Buddhism is precisely this. We want and covet too many things. Not as in material things, but as in we want to be in control over too many things. Give up control. Surrender. Or as Pete says, decide which you really, really need, while accepting that even this decision may be made wrongly. (Wrong means realizing yourself oneday that it was not the best. It does not mean other people disagreeing with you.)

And above all, keep dealing with reality.