Who knew a whole twenty minute walk down the river in the same city could put you in a new universe? Moving less than two miles away from my old place has taken me out of my comfort zone. In the last two weeks I have had to rely on things that I can’t control and people who can sometimes be unreliable. I’ve had to organise myself in the middle of the chaos, establish a new routine, get acquainted with a new yoga studio, familiarise myself with how the new grocery store is organized. The most challenging part for someone who works from home? The impossible three week wait for the internet to be hooked up in the new place.
Because of the extenuating circumstances I cannot control surrounding my move and other things in life, I’ve been thinking a lot about surrender. About the difference between letting go and giving up. About the difference between relaxing with what is and complacency; that fine little line upon which we balance when we act from a deep truth. And alternatively, the acrobatics we might be called to perform when we must cope with the things we did not actually decide for ourselves.
No internet at home means I’m like a junkie hopping from cafe to cafe looking for my next hit of free wifi. In the mornings it’s Caffe Nero and this afternoon it’s been the neighboring Starbucks. Here at this Starbucks it’s the same scene you’re guaranteed at any Starbucks around the globe: people drinking coffee and working on their laptops. But this Starbucks has a particularly entertaining view today. On the sidewalk just outside the window there’s a temporary road sign indicating a narrowing lane. It makes no sense because the street doesn’t actually narrow and there’s no construction. However, just next to this conspicuous sign sits a shiny one pound coin. (About the equivalent of $1.55) People spot it, bend down to pick it up but it doesn’t move. Some bored trickster’s idea of a good joke, every five to ten seconds, I witness a new sucker being born. No one’s immune. Anyone and everyone gives it a go — kids, the elderly, the nicely dressed to the less nicely dressed. Everyone tries to pick it up. And man, people are persistent. One woman, unable to pick it up with her hands gives it a kick then walks on. Another guy — a bum with a red hoodie, stomps on it a few times for good measure before staggering forward. Every few seconds it’s the same sequence over and over again; hope deflated. People’s reactions are similar — everyone plays it cool and tries to act casually. Some walk away sheepishly, some smile slightly embarrassed, some just pretend nothing happened.
As the sun moves behind the buildings and gets swallowed up by the incoming clouds, the coin is less visible on the pavement. Fewer and fewer people spot it and hardly anyone bends down to pick it up. But here comes the guy with the red hoodie again. He’s back from wherever he went and he’s no fool. He wobbles, a little unsteady, boozy on his feet; he might not be all there but he knows the coin is there.
Then he does something that no one else does. He takes the road sign, lifts it ever so slightly and places it back down on top of the coin, hiding it from plain sight then walks away.
Maybe this guy is the mastermind behind the whole shenanigan. Maybe there’s a camera crew filming this around the corner. Or maybe this is nothing at all and this guy is just tired of being tricked by that coin every damn time he walks down Putney High Street. Whatever his motive, whatever the circumstances, what he did struck me. Despite being unable to obtain the object of his desire, it didn’t stop him from doing something else about it. He surrendered but he didn’t give up. He let go of the thing he couldn’t control but took charge of what he could.
There’s something about a struggle that requires our full, engaged attention. As long as we’re invested in the struggle, the struggle will be right there invested in us. But if we recognise things for how they are and then let go of trying to change the things we can’t, suddenly we free ourselves.
Surrendering doesn’t mean giving up. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of the situation, an empowering acceptance that allows for a shift in focus. A shift in focus can make all the difference because in the end, it allows us to expend our energy where there’s a higher return on our investment. That coin isn’t budging from the pavement without paint thinner or a jack hammer? Let’s move the sign over it so at least we’ll stop being distracted by it or wasting our time around it so we can all move on.
It doesn’t surprise me that the bum with the red hoodie would be the most well trained of all of us when it comes to relaxing with what is. He reminded me that if I wanna set myself free I have to surrender. Over and over and over again. Ah, yes, but how? I’m still working on that part.