The Subtle Art of Surrender
Imagine you’re walking through a park on a beautiful, sunny day. Suddenly, you’re struck by an arrow. After a moment of shock, you realize it’s grazed your shoulder. The pain begins to mount and blood begins to spill from the wound. How do you react?
Are you relieved it was only a graze but quickly become furious at the negligence of the archer? Do you become frustrated by and impatient with the length of your hospital stay? Do you imagine what your day would have been like if this hadn’t happened? Do you think about some kind of retribution? Do you stew in your anger for the rest of the day?
When things don’t go our way, we often have these kinds of reactions, don’t we? We fantasize about what could have been.
But most of this kind of thinking isn’t helpful, is it? Most of it only makes matters worse.
This, the Buddha would say, is the second arrow.
While the first arrow and the pain associated with it were unavoidable, the pain associated with the second arrow — your response to the first — is up to you. And how you respond to the first arrow matters, doesn’t it? Because how you respond can add more pain to an already painful situation.
So, what do we do? We surrender. Let me explain.
Love your fate
Two thousand years ago, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus expressed this idea:
“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will — then your life will flow well.”
This is a confusing idea for most of us. If things don’t go our way, we feel justified in being upset — like the universe owed us something and then reneged on the deal.
But the message at the core of Epictetus’ idea is as simple as it can get: something has happened and you have only two choices, push against it or work with it; given those options, you might as well work with it.
We cannot change the past. What’s happened has happened. It’s done. That chapter has ended. The only thing we can do now is to take what has happened and make the best of it.