Surrender surrender surrender. This is the message I have been downloading big time over the last couple weeks. The more complete version would be to say: a practice of surrendering in order to create meaningful, nourishing space for expansion, joy, alignment, and unexpected growth. I’ll get to that second piece in just a moment.
When we surrender, there is gentle acceptance. There’s a sense of mutual understanding with the ever elusive universe. It might mean letting go of what no longer supports us, that which has been familiar to us, or what no longer is meant to come with us as we venture into the next portal of life. Surrender might occur when we don’t know what the next step is. It’s a friendly pal to uncertainty. We are in the awkward position of limbo or the ‘wait and see’. It’s sort of similar to when I bake, which is something I still do not feel totally adept and comfortable with. I can only breathe, cross my fingers, and hope it works out as I stare into the oven waiting for signs of life.
Surrender is letting go of knowing the outcome. It’s practicing that big scary thing everyone talks about – trusting the process. This has never been easy though. I don’t think it ever will be. The concept of surrender jolts my must-have-everything-in-control self. It is the unnerving, prickly thorn that startles me when I am attempting to create a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Like, why are you there? I was enjoying creating this gorgeous piece of art, and then, ouch! It’s there in the delicate, detailed sand castle you’ve been building for hours that still needs tending to. You are sure you’ve measured out sufficient distance from the sea to avoid any potential flood crisis, and yet that one huge wave comes crashing in. You close your eyes, tighten up, and ask the sea goddess to spare you. You release a big sigh of relief upon seeing that it barely touches the moat of your castle. Okay, okay, yes it’s all part of the process, but it's very uncomfortable and annoying. (But also slightly exciting? Is that right, could it also be oddly intriguing and exciting?)
Surrendering challenges all the parts of me that want to know exactly how the thing is going to work itself out. The practice of surrender often struggles to play well with my perfectionism, my desire to be a certain kind of successful, my partner’s peculiar habits when I’m in the luteal phase, my long list of adulting to-dos, and my concern about how I'm going to financially support myself as a PMDD'er in a capitalist world. But curiously my dear companion Surrender does seem to play quite well on the playground with my inner kiddo for some reason. “You can do it. Come down the big scary slide! Just let gooo!” It reminds me of when I would play goalie at recess. I didn’t know when the soccer ball was going to come back my way or what maneuver I would need to defend my net. It just happened. The ball swiftly catapulted my way. I followed my instinct, did my best in the moment, and apparently it worked out, because my classmates would ask me to be the goalie next recess.
I’m learning this month that surrender, or gently and mindfully releasing control, is deeply connected to my inner child. The little part of me sparkles with joy when I can simply flow in the moment, no agenda other than to be present. It's the Little Mo that gets caught up in a good mystery, becomes curious about everything, and believes in the whimsical. Unless it's a scavenger hunt or a Clue escape room, there is no urgency to cross off some checklist or strive towards some outcome. I am just now genuinely making this inner child - surrender connection, which is wild to me given I spent years training and working as a clinical child psychologist. I played every single day for years as a therapist with youth. I knew logically – “academically” and “clinically” – that play was the therapeutic work of children. Yet, here I am humbled by this clearly simple lesson that was just being covered by all the sticky layers of ‘being a grownup’.
While it may feel tough to distinguish, surrender is different from giving up. Our adult brain decided at some point that when events, ideas, relationships, goals, and projects don’t go as planned or get halted somehow, there is something dreadfully wrong about us. Shame builds. We jump to the conclusion that we should ‘throw in the towel’, because…
Sigh. That’s heavy. Our inner kiddo who loves to reinvent when the going gets tough is feeling bummed that we’re getting stuck in that swirly thought twister. They would love for us to think outside of the box. What would it be like to harness that inner imaginative kiddo who dares to think bigger, who believes that the world is full of wonder, possibility, and new ways of being? Remember your inner child who incessantly asks: “But why? Why must it be that way? Why can’t we just do it another way?”
Kids learn about themselves through play. As adults, joyful play can be one supportive channel through which to practice more flexible thinking and show up more kindly toward ourselves, especially when we are in a moment of uncertainty or on the verge of some significant change. Play helps us practice surrender. Play has been shown to support in coping with stress, improving mood and memory, uplifting energy and motivation, fostering creativity, and strengthening relationships of all kinds.
Play can be difficult to tap into as an adult for many reasons. Some may include the following:
~ You were not allowed to or didn't feel safe enough to play as a child in the way you wanted to.
~ You had to focus on other needs at an early age, so you are still learning how to play.
~ You played as a child, but you've somehow lost touch with that inner kiddo.
~ You struggle with chronic illness, traumatic stress, or your mental health which affects your capacity to play.
~ You sense there's less time or energy to play because of so many adult responsibilities.
~ Current societal structures and beliefs do not prioritize joy, play, and pleasure.
For anyone who struggles with play, there is nothing wrong with you! Your inner little kiddo encourages you to practice. They also have some ponderings for you (as they typically do), that they hope help you…
We have believed that play is not a productive use of our time. Our beautiful, curious kiddo brain grew up and was taught that play must be earned after many hours of hard work. We learned along the way that play only happens on the weekends, on designated holidays, or when in the presence of children who invite us into their world. We forget that our own inner little kiddo is still in there, inside of us waiting to get in touch with the magical work that is play. Do you remember? Play is the work of children. It is no less deserving of our precious attention now that we are a few years older. We learned about the world through play. We navigated how to create relationships while playing. We expressed our thoughts, feelings, and wildest wonderings via play. We regulated our nervous system through play. What happened along the way that tricked us into thinking this was no longer true for the inner innovator, questioner, sensitive, explorer, and creative that still gently call from within when they need us?
Surrender and joy are more closely linked than we might think. When we practice surrender, it's a release of the tense shoulders and a loosening of the jaw. It permits us to feel freer, less agitated, and more open. Surrendering is the act of allowing what is as it is, which gives us a realistic picture of what we are working with. It gifts an opportunity to shake off that which is not serving our spirit anymore, to tinker with old structures or routines, and to experiment with new approaches. Surrendering can be a necessary part of joy. In order to access ease, peace, and fulfillment, we must first notice with compassionate care what needs our attention in the present moment. We then know what needs to be pruned (or burned to the ground) in order to create space for what actually makes sense and what fills up our cup.
Sometimes surrender is a matter of embracing change. I know I have found myself resisting change, even though I know it’s the right move. We’re human. We get attached. We become attached to ideas, to coping mechanisms, to ‘how life should go’. When we cling or rigidly attach ourselves to former identities, relationships, jobs, behaviors, or plans of action that no longer fit, it can become truly uncomfortable. It exacerbates a feeling of disconnect, heightens our stress, contributes to more delay, and can close us off from potential doors of opportunity around the corner. Looking through your closet and forcing that pair of pants or that one shirt to fit your style and size feels the opposite of joyful. Instead of reaching for the same clothes over and over, even though you know it no longer fits who you are now, what might it be like to step back and let them go? What might it be like to shift the mentality to something along the lines of: “This doesn’t feel like me, and I want to be the truest me. Let’s go thrift shopping.” There can be joy in softly letting go, and embracing a refreshed version of how you see yourself and your vision.
When I acknowledged and accepted that PMDD would be a chronic condition that I would need to manage for a long time, it was a profound act of surrendering. It wasn’t what I “wanted”. In fact, I grieved that ‘old me’ for so long. Sometimes I still do. Yet my being needed me to surrender to this truth, and to hold it with deep understanding, patience, and love. It has been in these moments of surrender, that I have been able to learn how to flow with discomfort and adapt to change in a more fluid way. I have also gained more trust in my intuition, the worthiness of my needs, and the okayness to ‘just be’ or to evolve. Most of all, through the surrendering, I get to be wholly authentically me, in all my sacred messy. There is at least an ounce-ish of joy in that.
Joy as a path to surrendering, and surrendering as a path to joy. That’s where I have landed with all this. Thank you for being here in exploring this with me. I invite you to reflect on the following questions to see what comes up as your truth.
💛 Your energy is precious. You are not expected to hold it all, do it all, have everything work out perfectly. What needs your prioritized energy right now? What feels most doable right now?
💛 Think about what needs your attention. What needs to change for ‘this’ to feel more sustainable? (‘This’ will look different for each person. ‘This’ might mean parenting, job or career, family responsibilities, an intimate relationship, joyful play, career, self-care, chronic illness management, spiritual development, etc.)
💛 What does Surrender mean to you in the current phase of your life?
💛What no longer fits who you are or where you are? What needs to be let go at this time to welcome in more ease, alignment, and joy?
💛 What are three tiny ways to practice Surrender?
💛 Try this practice: Imagine yourself with your palms up and open. You’re holding in the palm of your hands all the shoulds of what you ‘need to control’. Now, tense up those hands into fists, and imagine you're grasping on very tightly to all these things. They are there under your tight control, heating up in your hands. Deep inhale. Now, dear one, start to gently loosen the grip and exhale. Now completely release them. Do a little shake. Let all that tension go. What do you notice?
Sending you so much loving care,
Dr. Mo offers a mindfulness based program for those living with PMDD. In Mindfulness for Your PMDD Journey, you'll learn about ways to cultivate mindful presence to better flow with the emotional, mental, and physical waves that come ashore with PMDD. If you're a clinician looking for training on premenstrual disorders, email Dr. Mo to coordinate a training workshop.
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