I’m going to do things a little bit different today.
Truth be told, I write (type) on average over 15,000 words each week. Like I tell my wife, I’ve never worked so hard sitting on my ass in my entire life—and I’m not going to lie, it’s taking a toll on my body. Repetitive strain has been aggravating my wrist (think carpal tunnel), and my back has gotten weaker as my belly has gotten bigger.
Today is the first day of September, the month of my birth, and throughout my life this has been a month of adventure and reflection. Prior to the pandemic, taking a solo trek into the wilderness was a staple ritual that I always looked forward to. Seeking wisdom in solitude was, for me, the best way to get grounded and regain my sense of balance. The absence of this annual journey has delivered the opposite.
Just for fun, here are a few shots from my last trip in the Wind River Range, Wyoming. It was a beautiful day, then I heard a thunderous BOOM! and the storm overtook me in less than fifteen minutes. It lasted about an hour, and it left enough hail to make a snowman. The second shot was the following morning, and it perfectly captures the serenity that I was after, and the sanctuary the wilderness provides.
And then there’s this:
That sign was at the trailhead, and that’s when I knew I was on the right path. If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got. The lessons I’ve learned out on the trail always have a way of relating back to life.
While I still consider myself to be fairly well grounded and balanced, I am fully aware of the creeping stress that tugs at the edge of my mind. I sense that need to “escape” from the mental barrage of daily headlines, of more bad news, of things that are beyond my control. Seeing the writing on the wall, having a strong sense of where things are headed and how this is likely to play out, is a heavy burden to bear.
And yet life is still good. This is a default setting in my mind.
It comes directly from a great deal of suffering, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, over the course of a lifetime—and I am fully aware that many if not most people have suffered similarly, in their own ways, often times much worse than I.
The truth is, life is full of suffering. It’s full of sadness and pain, grief and loss, of unexpected challenges, setbacks, and change. This is just the way it is. Nature does not care about your garden or your home, and I’ve reflected on this cruel indifference over the course of my life. There is a liberating beauty to it, when properly understood.
Life is not fair, but if you really think about it, that’s the only fairness that truly exists. It is the universal lack of fairness that “levels the playing field,” whether we’re talking about a vicious predator tearing into the flesh of tender young prey while the mother shrieks in dismay, insects eating your garden, or a storm destroying your home.
Life is not fair, and that’s a fate that we all share.
And yet, life is still good. FACT!
But it’s easy to lose sight of that fact. Very easy. Especially when it feels like the world is going to hell and the sky is falling down all around us. But life is still good.
What do I mean?
It irks my wife when I flippantly declare that all we have to do is eat, sleep, and procreate in order to survive. This is a primal perspective and it shatters the illusions that we are somehow a sophisticated and civilized species. That’s a farce. We are a wild and unruly species, emotional, spiritual, impulsive. We lust, we crave, we conquer, we sulk; we have good days and bad, pure intentions and others less.
Humanity is a mess, but this too is something we all share. In reality, no matter how much we like to pretend that we’ve “got our shit together,” there is always some unrefined element of our life that gnaws at the fringe of our awareness. Most often we try to shut it out, stuff it, and carry on as if we really do have our shit together—and some days we pull it off better than others, am I right?
In fact, a great many people go through their entire lives living in this illusion, that they’ve got everything under control, that they are being good, that they’re doing what must be done to make the world go around, that they’re working hard so that one day they can retire, and on and on. I say this is an illusion, because as the pandemic reminded us, everything can change in an instant.
Everything that makes you feel as if you’ve got it all together can be snatched away in a second. You could get abruptly fired. Your house could burn down. You could get that dreaded phone call informing you that a loved one has been lost. You could be diagnosed with an incurable terminal disease. You could go in for a routine shot and end up paralyzed for the rest of your life, or worse. Someone could drop a bomb on your house or some other form of senseless evil could strike terror in your life and shatter the illusion that you’ve got it all under control. You don’t.
And neither do I. Nobody does, and that’s just the way that it is. Am I wrong?
And that’s really okay, isn’t it?
In fact, it can be downright refreshing, if not just a little bit depressing, depending on how you frame this reality—that is, depending on your world view.
“He’s got the whole world, in his hands…”
Now, please forgive me for a moment while I split some hairs:
I am aware that the vast majority of Americans, as well as my family and friends, likely hold some sort of Christian worldview. Without dissecting the epistemology of various denominations, I want to focus strictly on the rudimentary basics: There is a God, the God who created the world, and the God who is ultimately in charge.
The phrase, “God’s will be done,” ties directly to our not being in control, and when we surrender to this fact it can be a liberating and refreshing experience. Some might point to the story of Job as an example of how all hell can break loose, suffering can ensure, and yet if faith is maintained, then life is still good. Let that marinate.
On the other hand, fewer Americans profess faith in God now than ever before. Christians will be quick to point to this as the driving factor behind the demise of our once great nation. They will say, “When we turned our back on God, God turned his back on us.” I’m not going to argue that, nor do I want to hold it out as an argument for why things have gone so horribly awry in such a short amount of time.
We’ve talked about the shocking rise of Satanism, after school Satan clubs, Satan in pop culture, and other Satanic influences that are corrupting our culture, like Marxism.
But we need to set that all aside.
For those who don’t believe in “magical talking snakes”—to quote a common atheist derogative—the reality that life is not fair, that bad things happen to good people, that evil preys upon innocence, and all manner of needless suffering are surefire proof that there is no God, or at the very least, that God does not care.
In essence, how could an all powerful, all loving, all knowing God allow children to be abused or good people to be tortured in cold blood? Again, I will refrain from taking up the debate to make the broader point: Despite these evils, life is still good.
It is an undeniable fact that there is evil happening all around the world, every second of every day. Yet the opposite is true as well. There is goodness happening all around the world, every second of every day, whether we happen to notice it or not. These are universal truths that are directly observable, and therefore need not be argued.
Furthermore, one need not invoke the name of God to contemplate the implications.
Perhaps the greatest divide in our society revolves around polar opposite understandings of the nature of things. Put bluntly, God is a highly divisive topic. Quite unfortunately, what too many people fail to see is that this is really just a wedge of words. It’s like Mormons bickering with Methodists, or Buddhists bickering with Baptists. It’s all head level debate that’s serving the ego’s need to be right.
It reminds me of a passage I encountered in the Yoga Sutras:
“Surrender to God, this is the heart of a yogi…”
When I first read those words, my head just about exploded! What the hell was this?! I was not ready to surrender to anything, let alone some distant deity derived from ancient eastern scriptures. But I was naive in my interpretation. The sutras are rife with references to the Lord and to God, and in time I was fascinated by the similarities to Christianity. I saw patterns of the human spirit crying out, reaching out, stretching out to touch the hem of divinity. I saw the human heart seeking God.
“If anyone lacks wisdom, let them ask God…”
What does it mean to surrender to God? It means accepting the gift of life just as it is. It means accepting things are beyond our control, bad things happen, but life is still good. This is what surrender to God means to me, in just a few words.
Our minds tend to make things complex. This too feeds the ego and upholds the illusions that keep us lost in the mental mirage. The halls and walls of our inner world are constructed by the stories we carry with us throughout life. These stories are the product of our minds trying to make sense of our personal experience.
But these are just stories. Subtle layers of illusion. Indiscernible distortions. These are the mind’s interpretation—a head level interpretation—of what our life has actually been. But underneath all of this, there is a stillness and deeper knowing that transcends our understanding. This is inner peace. This is the peace of God.
The good news is, one need not believe in God or be thinking of God to experience this. In fact, it’s really quite the opposite. It’s the thinking that gets in the way, pulling our awareness into the endless stream of thought that carries us away from what is.
What’s real right now? Resist the urge to start trying to catalog all of creation.
What’s real right now immediately exceeds our limited cognitive capacity. The question exposes the vulnerability of not knowing. I don’t know what’s happening in Ukraine, or to my kid at school, or to my distant loved ones, or to the global food supply, or in the halls of congress right now.
I simply don’t know, and I accept that fact—in other words, I surrender to it.
So, what’s real right now is that I don’t know, I can’t know, and thus I can let go and surrender to the fact that I’ll never know everything. That frees up some space in the brain, doesn’t it? No need to keep track of everything, because quite simply, I can’t.
But I do know some things. I know some things in my heart, even if I lack the words to express them. I know the glow in my heart when I hug my wife or see the light in my child’s eyes. I know the feeling of the sun on my skin, the smell of the ocean, the sweetness of birdsong and the feel of my guitar. I know the smell of good food, the laughter of my friends, and the sense that all is right with the world.
I know these truths without a thought. They are undeniable, visceral, and real.
These are the things that percolate to the surface when I’m alone in nature. Today I’m sharing them with you, as a reminder to myself, that life is fundamentally good. These truths are the source of inexplicable peace, joy, and inner strength.
We need only surrender to realize it.
Make surrender your secret weapon. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
Let me know if you have any questions.