Friday, 26 February 2010

A Case for Surrender

If you are planning to see A Single Man, the new movie directed by Tom Ford, stop reading now - I don't want to ruin it for you.  It's a beautiful film, brimming with pain and, ultimately, salvation, although not in the way one might think.  I watched last night and it got me thinking about the power of surrender.  In the movie, Colin Firth plays a middle aged, homosexual academic who can not come to terms with the death of his partner of 16 years.  Eight months on, he is meticulously planning his own suicide.  The camera follows Firth through his last day of life, but everything does not go to plan.

And that's life, isn't it - our best laid plans scuppered and interupted in ways both irritating and illuminating:  People die/leave us/change; circumstances fail to meet our expectations.  And in this beautiful mess we have two choices - either hold stubbornly to our pain and disappointment, or surrender to the inevitable ebb and flow of life.  Put another way by Poet Greta W. Croby, "Loss makes artists of us all as we weave new patterns in the fabric of our lives."

Back in 1998 I was floored by the news that I would never be able to have children.  The consensus among the various fertility specialist I saw was that having donor egg IVF was my only viable option.  Furious and refusing to accept their diagnosis, I went into overdrive seeking specialists and techniques that might tip the odds in my favor - Traditional Chinese Medicine, psychotherapy, Reiki name it, I probably tried it.  After about three years, when I was tired of fighting with God about my predicament, I reached my surrender point.  I quit struggling and decided that with or without a baby I could have, would have, a wonderful life.  Several months later I fell pregnant, naturally, with my son Charlie.

You may argue that it was the all the treatments added up over time that enabled my pregnancy, but with the benefit of hind-sight, I beg to differ.  The inner shift I experienced when I surrendered was measurable -  it was if I removed a dam of resistance and allowed the waters of life to flow freely once more.  And although I never stopped wishing for a baby in my heart of hearts, I quit focusing on what I didn't have, and did a swan dive back into the life I actually had, rather than the one I thought I should have.

Colin Firth does not get the chance to kill himself in A Single Man.  He too awakes from his grief and notices that the world and all its beauty is still there, offering its hand if he will only grasp it.  Quite beautifully and ironically, he dies of a heart attack and is reunited with his lover upon his surrender.

I thought this an inspired way to end the film, which begs the question, what are you resisting in your own life?  Where are you trying to swim against the current?  If you are willing to take the risk and give up the struggle (though not the wish) you might be amazed at where the flow of life might take you.  As counter-intuitive as it seems, surrendering may be the most powerful thing you've ever done.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

My Life as an Atom

I recently read Deepak Chopra’s latest book Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul and came away with an unshakeable image of myself as an atom.  Or more precisely, I picture myself as the nucleus of an atom, with all the bits and pieces of my life rotating around me like electrons.  This is not as loony as it sounds.  Apparently those on the leading edge of science view the human body as nothing less than a hologram for the entire universe.  (More on this next week.) So if my body is a hologram of the universe, can’t an atom be a hologram of my life?

Atoms are the smallest basic unit of matter and are like tiny solar systems with a nucleus instead of a central sun.  The nucleus is actually a cluster of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons bound together by an extremely powerful nuclear force.  Around the nucleus, whirling at fantastic speeds, is a cloud of negatively charged electrons held in place by electromagnetic force.  Thus my soul is the nucleus of me, and all the events and circumstances of my life are the electrons

My interpretation of Chopra’s work is that we can choose to view life either from the perspective of the nucleus/soul - allowing life to spin around us trusting that everything is in perfect balance, or we can live from the ego’s perspective  - jumping on any number of negatively charged electrons and getting caught in the cycle of worry and the need to control.  He advocates the former and suggests adopting a type of “soft focus” awareness as the key to achieving it.  An example:

  • Your mind is calm and not overworked. You enjoy being in its presence.
  • You don’t feel haunted by guilty and shameful thoughts.
  • You don’t try to control your thoughts.  The more freely they come, the better.
  • When you make a mistake, you accept it and quickly move on.
  • Not every idea can be perfect or brilliant, and mistakes are often the best teachers.
  • There’s a contrast between good and bad impulses, but you take both in stride.  (In fact, sometimes you take secret delight in so-called bad thoughts, knowing that they’re just another part of your experience.)
  • Unpleasant mental images don’t make you afraid or disgusted.  You can adapt to the mind’s darker side.
  • You aren’t plagued by a judgmental voice telling you that you’re bad or unworthy.
  • You aren’t braced for the next disaster around the corner.

Meditation is one way to cultivate this awareness, as it seems the brain instinctively goes to the default soul/nucleus position when given half a chance.  Personally I don’t often sit still long enough to meditate.  But when I find myself getting swept out into electron territory, it is often enough just to remind myself that life keeps spinning on and on whether I worry about it or not.

The beauty of this philosophy is that we learn to welcome all thoughts, and indeed all of life, with equanimity - no need to condemn negativity as is so popular in some circles.  Besides, with its equal number of protons and neutrons, an atom is inherently neutral (as I believe the soul is) while an atom that is positively or negatively charged is not an atom at all, but an ion, which must go forth and find something to bond with to become balanced.  It is a “quest-ion.” (Get it?)

The ego hates this type of thinking because it thrives on drama – it loves all the to-ing and fro-ing of electrons.  But with the soul in the drivers seat instead of the ego, it’s a much smoother ride in the atom of life.