I can now surrender

For the longest time, I misunderstood the meaning of the word surrender. Or at least I had a narrow or restricted definition for surrender.

For the longest time, I thought surrender meant to give up or to give in. Like waving the white flag in a war. To me that meant:

  • To give up agency
  • To give in to addiction(s)
  • To give up critical thinking
  • To give in to the opinion of others
  • To give up authenticity
  • To give in to despair
  • To give up creating or building
  • To give in to arbitrary authority
  • To give up the fight–whether for health or justice or anything else desired

In short, surrender, to me, typically meant caving-in to the control of some-one/thing else. I’d be the loser, the victim.

Not a big wonder, though, when you consider how this wiki defines and differentiates surrender and submit, two words I had also equated:

As verbs the difference between submit and surrender is that submit is to yield or give way to another while surrender is to give up into the power, control, or possession of another; specifically (military) to yield (land, a town, etc) to an enemy.

As a noun surrender is an act of surrendering, submission into the possession of another; abandonment, resignation.


If I’d ever had a battle cry, for most of my life it would have been, never surrender!

In that context, you might then understand that it never felt right to me when people said, as they often do: “I surrender to God’s will.” It rankled me; just like the frequently-used Filipino expression “bahala, na” (“whatever will be” or ”it’s in God’s hands”) used to rankle me. In my early years living in the Philippines, I had (perhaps wrongly or incompletely) understood this fatalistic wave of the hand as an excuse not to act or take responsibility.

Thinking about this at a deeper level, I’ve come to see my own unwillingness to surrender as my attachment to needing to feel in control, of being the driver. There was my masculine energy of action, of leading, of directing the outcome, that I did not want to relinquish.

That energy plays out in a variety of ways, often productive, sometimes futile. In my work life, I claim that this was mostly positive energy that drove me to lead us to reach our goals. In Jungian terms, this was, in my view, my animus at its best.

Jungians have found that in every man there is a feminine sub-personality called the Anima, made up of the feminine archetypes. And in every woman there is a masculine sub-personality called the Animus, made up of the masculine archetypes.

Robert L. Moore

I can’t point to a specific moment in time when my understanding of surrender changed. But it did change. And maybe not that long ago.

It’s not that the definition given in wikiDIFF is wrong; it’s just incomplete.

I can now embrace surrender as a letting go… letting go of control, letting go of the outcome. This I’ve already done in various situations for decades and have already written about.

I can now embrace surrender as trusting the process… trusting that others will act as they promise, trusting they have my best interest at heart. And this too I’m familiar with and have already written about.

I came to understand that this kind of surrender is the exact opposite of submission, which involves following the whims and wishes of someone acting in *their* interest, often at the expense of ours. When we submit, by definition, we act against our own self-interest.

By contrast, when we surrender, we *trust* someone will act or lead us to happy outcomes, to bliss even.

Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change. The world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.

Marianne Williamson

A lovely and beneficial example of my surrendering came to pass just these past weeks when I allowed myself to follow the knowledgeable lead of my friend Jill as she drove us on our 9-day road trip through the breathtaking Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines with its remarkable 6-800-year-old rice terraces. That may have been the first travel in decades that I did not plan out myself and that made ‘going with the flow” with Jill extra special. She—and the mountains—did not disappoint!

Batad rice terraces, Ifugao, Philippines © FdZ2022

How has my new understanding of surrender affected how I’ve responded to my monstrous anti-cancer program?

To surrender to pain and discomfort does not mean giving up or giving in. It means accepting what is. With acceptance comes peace of mind.

I’m still not sure how this year will affect my physical or mental condition in the longer-term. Even now, three months after chemotherapy treatments and two months after radiation sessions, I’m still feeling the tingling in my fingers and feet (peripheral neuropathy), my nose still drips regularly, and my muscles are weaker than they were before all this started. My energy level is lower and I tire more easily. Yet finally my head has some fuzz and my legs were strengthened from walking in the mountains. So onward!

Now I can say bahala, na and mean it to say I can—or will be able to—deal with whatever comes my way or challenges life throws at me. I stay present in the journey, look for the small joys, and let go of the outcomes.

I surrender to life, its ups and downs. I love.

Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? what could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.

Eckhart Tolle

How easily do you surrender? What does surrender mean to you?

PS. Do share my post or journal with others if what you read here resonates.


  • For your additional meaning of the word I would use the word TRUST. I trust my doctor, my dentist, my friend Jill.
    I trust life, I trust God.

    My father fought cancer till he couldn’t anymore. The moment he surrendered to his illness, to the pain he asked his family and doctors to let him die. He had given up.
    He fought courageously till he couldn’t anymore. That is the moment he let go and surrendered to his cancer.
    I know you also don’t like the expression of fighting cancer. But it is really a fight.

    In my opinion it is difficult to surrender if you did not fight.

    As of the bahala na expression I would more see it as fatalism. Not surrender.

    But I agree with your viewpoint that there are moments where you need to let go and trust the system.
    To trust and give in.

    • We certainly agree, Sidney, that trust is a huge component of what I am describing. It’s fine that you prefer the more limited definition of the word surrender, one that happens after a fight. But I would look at your father’s situation slightly differently: he did not surrender after a fight and thus lost; he simply surrendered to the reality of his condition. His dying, I’m sorry to say, was inevitable; it was not caused by his surrender. As described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her five stages of dying, the last stage is acceptance, and that is what I mean by surrender and what I surmise your father did. Thanks for the dialogue. 🌸🙏🌸

  • From my one near-close experience with the Dalai Lama, I learned that the definition of compassion is letting go of attachment to outcome. I understood this subtlety immediately and have practiced this approach to life ever since. I think you also know this instinctively, and have practiced it in your relationships with others. You’ve now gone ‘next-level’ – what I recognize as compassion for yourself.

    So amazing to have a friend like Jill to surrender to!!

    • Agree, Judi, compassion for self is a huge component of surrendering, as you’ve defined it. And yes, Jill is amazing. 🌸🙏🌸

  • I adore your writing. It is timeless and universal even though personal.

    I *absolutely* see this awareness of surrender as a change for you – in you! And love seeing it. That Tolle quote is entirely the point: what’s next? What could by next? Choice. Only choice. In all things given what is. Options. Freedom if you see it. I so know that can be embraced with either weakness or strength, conflict or peace and surrender or control. Once one sees it (that point or the point one is at) you navigate 🗺 from there.


    • I so appreciate you, Joan. And thank you. Yes, options, there are always options, and I do typically choose the freedom way. 🌸💜🌸

  • Words are such blunt instruments. What matters isn’t what the dictionary defines a word as. What matters is what we feel when we say the word, and how well we make others understand what we mean when we say the word. You’ve done a beautiful job of both in this post. For me, when I use the word surrender I mean to not only accept, but to embrace. I expect that it may have a whole different meaning for a Ukrainian soldier on the front lines. ❤️

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