By Nancy Thompson
“Surrender Dorothy,” the Wicked Witch of the West wrote in the sky in the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” What she meant was, “Give up. Stop fighting. Stop struggling.” Taken out of the “us vs them” context, that doesn’t sound so bad. No fighting, no struggling – sounds pretty good, actually.
In Buddhism, surrender is not about handing over our power to another entity or becoming subservient. It’s about giving up, not giving in – as the song says, “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield … ain’t gonna study war no more.” It’s about surrendering our small, limited concept of ourselves in order to see the larger, interconnected, fullness of being. We give up the things that keep us trapped and gain freedom. Surrender is similar to the concept of renunciation in Tibetan Buddhism. In “The Wisdom of No Escape,” Pema Chodron writes that “it has to go with letting go of holding back. What one is renouncing is closing down and shutting off from life. You could say that renunciation is the same thing as opening to the teachings of the present moment.”
What we surrender are the self-defensive strategies that keep us separate from others, that lock us into the self-other binary. Instead of measuring ourselves and our accomplishments against others, clinging to what we’ve managed to accumulate, we see that we can be OK without that. “The ground … is realizing that we already have exactly what we need, that what we have already is good,” Chodron says. It’s also seeing that everyone stands on that same ground, that everyone is inherently whole and worthy of respect and dignity. If we are truly living in that place, there’s no need to struggle, to fight for a bigger piece of the pie, to try to defeat everyone else and come out on top.
Letting go, surrendering the things that keep us apart and opposed ends the struggle and lets us relax. “The purpose of a spiritual discipline is to give us a way to stop the war, not by our force of will, but organically, through understanding and gradual training,” Jack Kornfield writes in “A Path with Heart.” … “When we let go of our battles and open our hearts to things as they are, then we can come to rest in the present moment.”