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The Making of a Coherent Narrative: Surrender and Agency

Mary Painting

Congratulations! You have made it through college, you have reached your goals, you are churning and burning in your career, you make good money, are married and have kids, you own a beautiful home, your kids are in all things soccer mom/dad worthy, but sometimes you get this odd feeling that things are not quite right. Your exterior life is almost picture perfect. You have been talking and dreaming about this life since you were young. It is the American dream.

But, there is a dissonance.   You cannot quite put your finger on it, but you can feel it. Everyone around you tells you how blessed and lucky you are and you nod in agreement. Then when you are alone, you may cry, feel depressed and despondent, and feel guilty because you think you really are living the life, but one voice says, “Shame on you, is this not enough?” and another voice you can barely hear, is muffled saying, “Something different, please, save me.”

Some say it is like waking up from a dream and finally going home. This story is illustrative, it is not autobiographical nor is it universal to all cultures, but there is something universal in the evolution of this theme – the journey to find home. I am not speaking of the home that you own or desire to own or the home you long for in your more nostalgic moments, but I am speaking of our spiritual home.

We do not really talk about our spiritual home in day-to-day discussions. We save that “other talk” for church or with our “church/religious friends.” I mean really, we must be politically correct these days and not offend anyone with our beliefs. This PC stuff has turned us into the scary me stuff. We are afraid to talk and share real meaning together. If we do, we may scare our exterior safety net away. Does not sound like a very safe safety net does it?

We lived the way we were told. We were motivated. We had goals. We achieved them, one after another. Thanks to agency, we have this exterior safety net that we like, but sometimes we get deep feelings of loss, because we still feel we are missing something. That seemingly annoying voice that is muffled, keeps getting a bit louder. It is chipping at our agency.

Our agency voice says “don’t let the block down, you may die,” not physically, but what that voice of agency is saying is do not let go of the exterior safety net because if you do, you will fail and if you fail, you will be miserable. Then, that is it, the adventure is over. Life as you know it, is gone. There is nothing but misery ahead.

That muffled voice keeps coming back. Sometimes we can almost decipher what it is saying. When we slow down just enough and let go of our attachment to our external safety net, we can hear it loud and clear. It says, “Let me teach you another way.” That is our surrender voice calling us home.

When we hear our surrender voice getting louder, we start asking a lot of questions about what we are doing in the world and whether we are satisfied with the identity we have created for ourselves and whether we are living the life we truly desire to live. With these questions, shame and guilt may arise for even asking the questions. Shame for even thinking about it and guilt for thinking more intently about changing course and how that course could affect our loved ones.

Which one do we listen to? Do we not need a healthy dose of agency in this world to make things happen? Is surrender survival of the weakest? The answer to this perennial question is that we listen to both. But agency got me to this confusion, to this place of moral crisis, why the heck do I listen to that voice anymore? Here is a formula to consider – surrender empowers agency. This does not work the other way around.

When we consciously decide to surrender, we are not saying we give up.   What we are saying is that we give in and that means we start providing ourselves with knowledge from within, we allow that small muffled voice to come to life without feeling shame and guilt and we cultivate that voice in a safe space to investigate what message we are really hearing.

For some of us, that voice may say to us that it is time to change careers. For others, the voice says the career is good, but the work/life balance is not. It directs us to seek a different way of engaging in the work we find fulfilling. The surrender voice can show up in relationships – new and old – directing us to let go or take a step forward. The voice can also inspire us to pick up a new healthy habit or let go of an unhealthy one. The surrender voice can show up in a myriad of ways.

How can I have access to this surrender voice? Slow down, and quiet down. Do it often. I am not saying we must convert to a monastic lifestyle to access this surrender voice, but take the time to slow down and quiet down on a regular basis.

There are many ways to do this – small study groups, religious ceremonies/services, physical spiritual practices such as yoga, tai chi, martial arts and more contemplative ones such as prayer and meditation. This slow down and quiet down time can be found and experienced in walks through the parks, journaling, music making, and art.

When we access both voices – surrender and agency and employ the formula of surrender empowers agency, then we find ourselves in the midst of making a coherent narrative.  The making of a coherent narrative is key to living a peaceful, whole, wholly, and joyful life. As we give in and tune in more in our slow down and quiet down time, we are better prepared to put the pieces of our coherent narrative together.  Each of those pieces of our narrative is the fuel that guides us back to our spiritual home.

Om Shanti Om ~ Athea


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