One of my favorite authors, Charles Eisenstein, frequently says that what we really need to do in this time of climate and environmental destruction is to surrender to it. Trust me when I say he explains this much more eloquently than I will here, but the general idea is that our habit of working harder to bring about change, jumping into solution finding mode, etc, isn’t what is needed now. This “working harder, trying harder” habit in many ways is what got us here. There is something much bigger trying to come into being right now, and it won’t come into being with our effort. But this is such a hard concept to grasp for those of us who are ingrained in the idea that exerting effort is how to make something happen. So we then tend to ask, “Okay. How do I surrender?” “Did I surrender well enough?” “I’m surrendering! Now what?”. But Charles always emphasizes that surrender isn’t something you can “do”. Its something that happens to you.
I recently had a health problem. One evening, I started feeling a bit icky. The next day, I felt icky the whole day, but ignored it and continued with my “to do list” regardless. In the mid-afternoon, Cláudio said to me, “I’m going to go take a nap.” I rarely take naps, but when he said that, I realized that this forcing myself to keep pushing through was serving no purpose. I decided to surrender my to do list for the day and take a nap. It actually felt very liberating.
The following day, I again felt icky. I had been hoping all along that it was nothing big and my immune system would just take care of it. I did some mindfulness, listened to my body and continued with my to do list when it felt right and took a nap when it felt right. I did a little googling to see if I could figure out what was happening. I was obviously hopeful that it would be nothing that my immune system couldn’t handle, as out on the farm, I have access to little else.
The next few days continued similarly. Trying to listen to my body. Googling a bit. Sleeping when my body told me to, continuing with my to do list when my body allowed. Then Monday came around and my team of young, energetic workers showed up. I had SOOO many dreams for what I wanted us to start creating together. I spent about an hour with them, then Cláudio stopped by and asked how I was doing. I told him I felt horrible and that I was contemplating taking the broad spectrum antibiotics I have. He encouraged me to do so and also told me he would supervise my team for me if I wanted to lie down. Even though I knew he wasn’t going to have them doing what I would have had them doing if I was feeling good, I lied down and completely surrendered to letting go of not just my to do list this time, but my broader dreams and visions of what my team and I would create. Again, it felt quite liberating. One of the main reasons I am here in Angola is because of these dreams. But letting them go felt very freeing as well.
I called my expat health insurance company and told them what I was feeling and asked their opinion of me taking the broad spectrum antibiotic I had. The doctor I spoke to was reluctant to confirm my google diagnosis over the phone, but said, “If there is really no doctor in your area, take that antibiotic. But I strongly encourage you to see a doctor in person.” I took the antibiotic. This felt less like surrender and more like submission. I was afraid to let go of control of my body. Sure, there was some foreign bacteria or virus or something in my body, but now I was using some other foreign substance to try to beat that one into submission. It was scary to let go of control. To stop trusting my immune system to handle it by itself.
I got an email from my health insurance company that they have an agreement with a private clinic in Uige, an hour from the farm. Two days later I woke up feeling worse than ever. I asked Cláudio to take me to the private clinic. When I walked in, I felt like I completely surrendered to the rules of western medicine, or at least the rules of a rural private clinic in Angola. I had absolutely no energy. I sat down and essentially said. “Here is my body. Do whatever it takes. I’m so tired of feeling so horrible. Make me feel better. I give my complete control to you.” I can’t say it was liberating, disempowering anything. It just was. I was too miserable to think anything about anything or even feel anything. My awareness had already completely left my body.
They took some vitals, did some diagnosis, and said that I had malaria (this later expanded to include typhoid). They have a prescription for people with malaria and typhoid. They injected and IV’ed it into me. I passively received it. That’s the way the system works. No one ever held my hand, and said, “Linda, feel into your body. What do you feel? Ground into your feet. What’s happening in this moment?” I’m not sure how I would have felt if they had. But its not part of the process. Its a purely scientific process. There were foreign entities in my body that needed to be killed, and they have the chemicals that kill them and zab a dab a doo, no more foreign entities. Patient all better.
Except, it wasn’t exactly that simple. When they diagnosed me with malaria, they said my temperature was too high for them to give me the necessary injection. A nurse took me to a bathroom and told me to take a shower to cool off. I was too unaware at that moment to ask her to stay and help me. My memories of that shower are very vague. I know that I fainted in the shower. I know I lied on the floor and struggled to stand up for some time. I have a vague memory of the water turning scalding hot at some point. I have no idea if I fainted more than once. I don’t know how long I lied there. I know that when I finally got up and got dressed (my clothes somehow got soaked in the process too), and I walked back to the original building, there was a cool breeze and I felt absolutely amazing. Then I fell into a deep sleep in the examination room. The nurse came to give me a shot in the bum. She asked Cláudio about the large bruise on my bum. He told her about our dog, Zangado. When she walked out, I told him that I fainted in the shower, and if there is a bruise on my bum, it might be because of that. I was pretty sure Zangado was innocent this time.
The following day, I became vaguely aware that in addition to the bruise on my bum, there was a wound of some sort. But I had handed over control of my body. Even though I was being treated outpatient, I felt no awareness in my own body. I had completely disembodied. This body was this strange thing that was sick, felt horrible and I wanted nothing to do with it. If there was a wound on the bum of this body, that was no business of mine.
It was only two days later, that I was slowly starting to come back into this body, that I felt the wound in the shower and thought, you know, maybe I should bandage this thing. When I looked at it, I realized it was a fairly serious wound. I suspect its a 2nd-degree burn, but I can’t know for sure what it is, even whether its a burn at all. I decided I was tired of the surrender to the clinic and this wound would be my own. I wouldn’t ask the people at the clinic to give me their formula for healing it. After all, I had plenty of antibiotics in my body already, so infection wasn’t too much of a concern. I only shared my wound with Claudio and my sister (via whatsapp). We tenderly treated my wound, while staying present to feeling it.
A week after the initial visit to the clinic, I finished the treatment regime. While I certainly felt much better as far as the malaria and typhoid were concerned, I now had a variety of other ways in which my body no longer felt the way I’m used to it feeling. It didn’t quite feel like home, the way it used to. I realized I had to get to know it again. I restarted my mindfulness practices and very intentionally tried to step back into my body. I’m not sure I have ever felt so distant from my body, so it was quite dramatic to step back in. To claim my rightful place. To feel all these strange new sensations with curiosity and openness and wonder. “How long will you be sticking around?” “Are you here to stay?” “Will you go away as I heal?” “Will you go away as I clear out the remaining antibiotics?”
I realized I also received one of the most dramatic examples of “surrender” that I could have asked for. Now that I’m beginning to feel capable of tackling the to do list again, I’m doing so with more curiosity. Even though I have written other blog posts about letting go of my idea of an end goal for the farm (“How Little I know” and “Allowing to be Cracked Open), I realized just how hard it is to truly surrender our dreams and ideas to a larger source. To really truly let go. I’m trying to bring my mindfulness practice to the to do list and rather than do the next thing on the list, because its there and it will keep me busy, I’m trying to pause and ask, “What really wants to be created in this moment?” “What am I in service of right now?” “Is there something bigger that wants to happen right now?” even if what comes up for me doesn’t seem like it is inline with my larger dreams and vision for the farm.
I’m still recovering, and I’m sure the reflections on this experience will continue for a long time, but for now, I’m in awe of and very curious about this idea of surrender. I’m also strangely grateful for this profound experience of stepping out of my body and later stepping back in to a very changed body.