letting go + surrender

There was a song playing on the radio Friday night that I hadn’t heard in 25 years, “Love…Thy Will Be Done” by Martika. And after being surprised that it had been that long (and humming a bit of her most loved hit, “Toy Soldiers”) I started thinking about the song and noticing that it was about surrender. I felt into the feeling of surrender and noticed that it was very different than ‘letting go.’ I finished my night and went to bed.

Saturday morning I exercised and cleaned up the remnants of a sleepover, but afterwards, as I was stretching, I thew on some alt-j and my mind turned towards the difference between ‘letting go’ and ‘surrender.’ (I think stretching your body helps stretch your mind.)

I’ve been working on letting go again (I need to remember it’s going to be part of my life, forever; it’s my soul work*, I think). For me, letting go has been a very active process. I think the level of work one has to do with letting go of something is directly proportionate to how attached we are to that thing/person/experience. Letting go is dismantling one thing and either simultaneously building something new or dismantling and then leaving empty space for what’s to be built next, but it is a very active experience. It is emotional exertion, work, release. It is prying the fingers open from around whatever we are grasping- sometimes over and over again until there is space, some looseness, some relaxation of the grip. Letting go is a very ego-driven determination of what’s to be done and then working on that process.

Surrender, in contrast, is activating a near immediate release. It is active in that I must decide to surrender, but after that, it’s just…surrendering. It is the attitude of “what will be, will be” and releasing into that, rather quickly. It is allowing Life to flow through, rather than directing where we wish to flow. It is the removal of self or ego as the determiner of the process. I choose to surrender, but then I get in the boat and float along with whatever comes (with hope that it will be something good for me). 

Both are necessary and useful, of course. As you know, if you’ve been reading anything of mine for the past nine months or so, I am all about using things skillfully (there is a skillful use for just about everything, we just have to find it and practice it; exceptions to this are any and all ‘-isms’). But I had forgotten about how useful surrender could be.

I’ve been reading Real Magic by Dean Radin. It outlines the scientific evidence for magic. It’s very compelling and if you’re into science + woo woo, I highly recommend it. One thing he notes is that some kind of surrender-like quality is necessary for magic to work well (or, at all). And I had forgotten how that has been true in my life.


Photo by Kunj Parekh on Unsplash


During my life as a Christian I prayed a lot. After I left that phase and moved towards Paganism and Taoism I began to see how prayer was a kind of magic, an interaction with the God/Goddess and the Tao. It all taps into the same energy, asking for something to come about. (Seeing these cross-religious connections is a big reason I became and Interfaith minister.) Based on what Dr. Radin writes, prayer is definitely a form of magic. Prayer has been very powerful for me at many points in my life and I have generally had good results from praying (which is to say: my prayers have generally come true). But one thing I realized from listening to that song by Martika is that I had not yet used surrender as a tool in conjunction with letting go.

I’ve been working hard to relax my grip, release emotional connections (desires, wishes, fantasies) and it’s been going rather well. I honestly feel like I’m about 98% done with the process (which means I’m feeling neutral-compassionate in general, seeing past/ignoring/understanding any bullshit, and not worried about public run-ins) . But surrendering is probably a tool I need to use to fully open my grasp and let the last grains slip away. To say “What will be, will be” and then go on about my daily business, unconnected, letting Life flow through me again. 

Some folks are better at surrendering than others. But I also think that surrender may be a tool we can only use when we’ve reached a certain level of letting go. When we’re contracted, connected, attached, hopeful, still fantasizing or wishing, it’s really hard to surrender. I am definitely not built to let go easily, so surrender is farther down the path for me. But I’m glad to remember that it’s there, when I’m ready.

What’s your experience with ‘letting go’ and ‘surrender’ friends? Are they different? Do you use them in certain situations or particular circumstances? Do they feel different to you in some way? How have you used them effectively (or not so effectively) in your life?

I hope this Sunday finds you well. You’re in my thoughts.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

::: ::: ::: :::

11 Feb 2019. I’ve spoken about soul work before, in this post (about half way down), but soul work is also the work our soul needs to do in this life, the deeper lessons we signed up for before we even incarnated. I have talked about soul mates and how I don’t much believe in them (also in that post) but I do believe in them from a very specific perspective. Soul mates are anyone, literally anyone, who helps us grow at a soul level. Sometimes it’s beautiful, as in a wonderful romantic relationship that helps us heal our soul. But it can also be painful and difficult and the healing that occurs because of such pain can also grow our soul. Anyone who helps us heal our soul or make it stronger or clearer is a soul mate. And that is also soul work.

I’ve been thinking, a day later, about how music is getting me through this surrender period. I don’t like it, to be honest, but it’s the right path (very often, soul work is hard work; it’s not fun or easy or even what we want at an ego level, sometimes). And so, music is carrying me along. I think there is a recipe for a good “surrender” playlist. 

One Part Songs That Make You Cry (whatever yours are, these are mine):

Anytime You Need a Friend | Mariah Carey

Love…Thy Will Be Done | Martika (obvs)

Where Does My Heart Beat Now | Celine Dion 

This Isn’t Everything You Are | Snow Patrol

It Looks Like Rain | Jann Arden

Breathe (2 AM) | Anna Nalick


One Part Songs That Feel Like Prayers

Life Is Beautiful | Vega4

Somewhere Over the Rainbow | Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Better Days | Eddie Vedder

Sky Full of Stars | Coldplay

No Envy No Fear | Joshua Radin


One Part Songs That Give You Hope

One Life | Hedley

I Choose | India.Arie & Bonnie Raitt

Human | The Killers

Skankin’ to the Beat | Fishbone

Hallelujah | Panic! At The Disco

100 Years | Five For Fighting


What gets you though the hard parts, fellow travelers? It’s music for me, always music. 

17 Feb 2019. I’ve edited this post a half-dozen times since I wrote it. I’ve learned a lot about my self and my needs as I’ve tried to express myself and understand how this process works for me. What I’ve really come to see and feel is that letting go and surrender are very much like cleaning out an attic or old boxes from another life. It’s work. It takes time and sometimes it goes slowly. You can get easily captivated by small things and spend hours re-living old memories, dreams, and desires. You can easily throw some things out. You can want to smash other things against a wall. And you can also be surprised by what you find, what you didn’t remember being there. I didn’t remember that, besides lust + sensuality + connection there was also a desire for laughter + kindness + being supportive to someone I could care about + the desire to show someone how unique they are in the world, and to celebrate them. It shouldn’t have surprised me, because rooms in the heart are rooms in the heart, but it did. Just like cleaning an attic, you can get stuck there, in the dust and memories, if you’re not careful. But if you are deliberate and take one step forward each day, you can get the job done. Letting go of the memories and desires, surrendering to what comes next. We really do need both. 

21 Feb 2019. I want to write this down so I can remember the words and the feelings. And if it helps someone to read this, I want to write for that reason also. Now that the letting go is nearly complete (at least it feels that way) I am sitting with the feeling of not being wanted by the person this post is about. My initial reaction to the rejection was from the gut: “Fine. I accept the rejection. I will leave.” It was clear and true, but still a thing with weight and cutting edges. It was hard and heavy inside me. Now I am sitting with it and finding the feeling of rejection sitting more in my heart. I am humbled by it, but, perhaps for the first time in my life, I’m not letting it ruin me or my sense of self. I’m sitting with it- the sadness, the loss, the curiosity and just letting it exist inside me. It’s not fun to be rejected, but it is humbling to my ego (which is a good thing!).

I’m actually feeling a sense of compassion for myself and the other person, and I can feel that compassion might lead to gratitude. (I’m not pushing that edge right now, but I can sense that it’s there.) I’ve had to ask some questions in this process: what, if anything, do I need to learn from this? what, if anything, do I need to change because of this? does/should this rejection define anything about me or my value? (sometimes we need this kind of humbling experience to see where we are toxic or where we need to change and grow.) I know what my answers are, and, as I sit with them, I feel a sense of grounding and beauty about myself that I’ve not felt before. With my bed head, no make-up, and snuggled pjs and robe, I looked at myself in the mirror this morning and thought, “You’re lovely. And you’re fine. You’re real and beautiful.” This was a revelation to me, in some ways. A new level of self acceptance. 

I’ve been wanting to day dream about what comes next for me- what my days and weeks will look like, because they need to change- and I haven’t really felt the pull to do that with paper, pens, visions, etc (to make it happen). But I can see that this experience needed to happen first. I needed the feeling of rejection to sit in my heart and show me something new, to help solidify a stronger, hopefully more flexible, version of myself. It’s not a fun experience, but it’s very valuable and helping me heal even more. 



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