essays

Gentle Gratitude, Sweet Surrender

poaching squirrelThe miracle of life is that just as I start to get bored or tired, it deals me something so surprising, so wonderful, so transforming that I know I'm alive. All I can do is weep at the beauty of it all. Sometimes these things can be quite painful when they first crash into me, but with a little time they always prove to be the eventual fulfillment of something I've wanted to happen. When my fear is confronted and put aside, I see the miracle.

If we desire a miraculous life, we must be open to it. We must dump our fears and expectations and simply surrender. Most people are proud of their unwillingness to surrender: "I must be strong", "I must not bend", "It has to be this way", "My way or the highway", "People are jerks", etc., etc.. They will never witness a miracle. I'm not talking about biblical kind of miracles, but the simple, almost invisible miracles that happen around us every day. Just being here, alive, and knowing I'm here is so stupendously improbable that when I think about it, my mind reels and I'm so grateful to have the chance to experience life at all.

We have a large Bald Cypress right outside our bedroom window and last spring I hung some of those bird food cages in it--the ones you put suet cakes and seed bricks in--and a bird bath in the shade. We quickly acquired a variety of birds: a family of Wrens, a pair of Blue Jays, a Mourning Dove, a pair of Northern Cardinals, a Redheaded Woodpecker, an American Robin, and an occasional band of marauding Grackles. About a week after I put up the feeders, the squirrel that lives in the old oak across the street paid a visit and hung upside-down from the branch, picking out the sunflower seeds and nuts in the block. I guess I could have bought all kinds of things to deter her, but what's the point? She's hungry too, so I bought a squirrel feeder and everyone's happy. I surrendered to life instead of wasting energy trying to control it.

The word surrender has all kinds of negative connotations. People tend to use it through only one definition, which is giving in or giving up. What I mean by surrender is letting go. Letting go of expectations, judgementalism, negativity, anger, and the addiction to drama that plagues the modern world. I've been learning so much about the power of surrender recently, and I have to admit that I feel much better letting life be what it wants to be. I've quit worrying about the things I can't change and I'm changing the things that cause me worry. Not having TV for a year has certainly helped because squirrel on feederI'm no longer being marketed to, preached to, fear-mongered, angered, lied to, or worse, numbed into a somnambulent state. I'm content with what I have because I'm no longer being told I need to buy a million products in order to be happy. I read. I play musical instruments. I listen to music. I meditate. I have more time with my family, and we eat at the table, sit in the living room and talk, and listen to each other.

Surrender doesn't always come easily--and it's an ongoing exercise--but I'm finding it's more easily attained by practicing gratitude. And gratitude is an attitude, not a state of grace. When I find myself slipping into an "I wish" state of mind, I look around and take stock of what I have, or I look at the birds and life outside my window, and I practice gratitude. I consciously work to change my attitude, and I'm instantly the happier for it.

Steph Waller is an author and composer. Her Rock novel, With a Bullet, which takes places in lat 70s London, is set to be published in Spring 2010. Read more at Incurable Insomniac and StephWaller.com.

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