Existential Surrender and Intimacy With Life

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I was sitting in an Alanon Step meeting last week, working on step #3: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” I was listening to the stories of people in crisis, or people who were impacted by the crisis of those they loved dearly. I was observing the intimacy involved in sharing: people were admitting things that would be difficult to disclose in other places and with other people, primarily that they had messy lives and didn’t always know how to clean up those messes. In short, people talked about what it was like to turn their lives over to their personal God.

I thought about my relationship to my own personal God and how that relationship translates into the way I relate to other people in my world. My life has been touched many times over by other people’s addictions. I’ve struggled to keep a sense of control over everything from my responses to people I’m frustrated with, to the kind of food I put on my plate so that I at least know I’m taking care of myself. Still, there have admittedly been days when everything I planned for my own care seemed to be derailed by the crises of other people. If there is anything I’ve learned, it is that crisis seems to be an inevitability of life, and somehow turning over my sense of control to something I do not entirely understand has been helpful. But I am going to use this thought to transition to an even broader concept, that being the experience of intimacy.

As I sat and witnessed people talking about their surrender to a higher power, it occurred to me that this would require an astonishing amount of capacity to be intimate. What is the connection to intimacy? Vulnerability. Surrender requires vulnerability.

I thought about how people often expect their relationships to be smooth sailing, and the disappointment they experience when they hit a bump in the road. I then thought of how life is: as far as I know, and based on the numerous conversations I’ve had with people both as a therapist and outside of my role as therapist, nobody has a life without bumps. Crisis occurs. Sometimes, it is self-created crisis, but sometimes, it is simply a matter of inherent situational tragedy and having a normal, human, crisis response. I then realized that when I surrender my power, I am really surrendering the idea that I’m in control of everything and impervious. I am admitting that I am vulnerable. More importantly, I am being intimate.

Now, here’s the rub: I’m not just being intimate with other people. I am learning to be intimate with the entire world. More so, I am learning to be intimate with life itself. This means accepting that there are events that take place around me over which I have no control. How I choose to engage that reality will greatly impact my experience of the world. I can’t change the fact that an earthquake can shatter the foundation of my home. I can’t change the fact that an irresponsible driver can come speeding around the corner while my child is crossing the street and can hit them. I can’t change that a dear one can get cancer and die. I can’t change many things. It is, if I pause to really digest this information, painful and terrifying. However, it is unchangeable. The only power I have is over my response to crisis. I don’t want to negate natural biological reactions to trauma. This occurs. Still, my acceptance even of this will provide me with greater personal compassion and the ability to open myself to the world at large. I will have an increased scope of vision, and my capacity to accept all aspects of life with more grace could be a potential result.

I will close with Kierkegaard, who so wisely said:

in possibility all things are equally possible, and whoever has truly been brought up by possibility has grasped the terrible as well as the joyful. So . . . such a person graduated from the school of possibility, and he knows better than a child knows his ABC’s that he can demand absolutely nothing of life and that the terrible, perdition, and annihilation live next door to every man (p. 156).

Kierkegaard, S. (1944). The concept of dread (W. Lowrie, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Originally published 1844).


— Candice Hershman

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