Surrendering feels like giving up, admitting defeat, and either being taken prisoner, or cutting your losses and hoping something else works out for you.
Surrender, however, has redefined for me in a way I’ve actually found useful.
I was subbing a friend’s yoga class.
Right away I knew one student was going to be… unusual.
Positioning herself front row center, directly in front of me, she had created an elaborate set-up for herself which included an unique assortment of props, including 2 bath towels.
Even more curious, though, was that just beyond the fortress of bolsters and blocks at the back of her mat, she’d positioned a very large orange.
People just don’t snack in class, much less with an orange they’d have to peel and dissect.
I decided not to comment on anything and just see what happened next.
From the moment the class began, this student simply did her own thing.
In the beginning, it was vaguely related to what I was instructing, or at least in the same ballpark.
Before class I always ask to be informed about injuries, and she’d said nothing. During the warm up moves, I whispered if there was anything I needed to know about injuries and she just shrugged.
Within a few minutes, however, she was completely in her own world of poses.
As we moved through sun salutes, she decided to lie down in pigeon.
When we were in standing poses, she knelt and did backbends.
I’d offer a child’s pose and she’d decide it was time to practice headstand.
Basically, she followed about 5% of what was being instructed, if even that much.
(Again, I’d like to point out that she’d positioned herself in the center of the front row.)
After about 15 minutes, I whispered to her if she needed to modify because of injuries that was fine, but that it was very distracting to have someone in the front row completely doing their own private routine.
She shrugged and said, “Fine. I’ll go to the back.”
Once in the back row, she felt even more free to “Go with the Flow” (the flow being entirely hers, not mine).
She did decide to join the class in a sustained forearm plank, but unlike the rest of the room, she opted to do it facing the back wall.
For those of you who haven’t shared class with me, while I always encourage people to “Move Like Yourself,” it’s also true that I’m not offering a “Self-Expression through Creative Movement Workshop.”
Anyway, halfway through the class–after multiple trips to get more props for her experiments–she decided it was time to go.
And yet somehow she felt she didn’t have the strength to open the door to the room. She had to get my attention and wave me over to open it for her.
As she departed, I asked her name, and she told me, and then she wanted to confirm that my name was “Jackie.” (I probably should have said, “Yup. I’m Jackie the yoga teacher” but I told her it was actually “Edward.”)
She wished me a snarky “Namaste” as she exited, then suddenly darted back to retrieve her orange, which she’d now positioned on the stereo speakers.
And with one more “Namaste,” she was gone.
Now obviously, this person has “issues”–the front desk told me parallel stories–and might even have some clinical form of Oppositional Deviant Disorder.
What I took from the encounter, however, was that I was pleased that I was able to maintain a relatively serene, slightly amused attitude towards this behavior (definitely not always true in prior decades), and more importantly, that I understood in a new way what it means to Surrender.
First and foremost, in an obvious way, I define a “Good Student” as someone who is willing to be taught.
Instead, this person–although positioned in the front row–had shown up for a class, but at the same time had paradoxically decided NOT to take the class she was in.
It really is a mystery why she was there in the first place.
Why choose to ignore everything that’s being offered to you, and simply fall back on your old routine?
(Note: If it’s just to hear my latest playlist, I’ll happily give anyone the Spotify link).
To be willing to be taught does involve a kind of surrender.
Yet it doesn’t mean I give up my own ideas, or my critical judgment, or my ability to think for myself.
It doesn’t mean that whatever I’m being instructed in is automatically going to become my new way of doing things, tossing my own methods out the window.
It simply means that I’m going to step out of the driver’s seat for a moment, and allow someone to take me on a different journey, going in ways and directions I might not have chosen for myself, potentially ending up in a new destination.
This kind of surrender means you’re not giving up anything; you’re allowing other things to arise.
I’ve been trying to apply this concept to my life in general, practicing being willing to live the life that’s actually happening in front of me, rather than reacting against it.
Instead of automatically applying my old templates and patterns to every situation, I’m trying to respond to what is actually being offered to me in the present moment.
One final thought:
I wonder if perhaps she never intended to eat the orange, but that it was an inanimate pet, parallel to the TWIN PEAKS Log Lady or Tom Hanks with Wilson in CASTAWAY
Whatever the case may be, even if I taught her nothing, I’m grateful for what this rogue student taught me.
(I’m curious: Who’s taught you something in a way that’s surprised you…? And what life lessons are we sometimes still unwilling to be taught?)