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The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Lifeby Judith Orloff M.D.
THE FIRST SURRENDER
REDEFINING TRUE SUCCESS, POWER, AND HAPPINESS
Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.
Are you longing for your life to be easier and more effortless? Would you like to stop pushing, micromanaging, and forcing things so you can relax? What if you could enjoy what you have instead of always lusting for more? What if you could live in “the zone,” propelled by powerful currents toward the right people and opportunities? What if you could stop worrying about money? Let me take you to the magical place where the river flows. Something good is coming. Prepare to experience the ecstasy of surrender.
This chapter is a love letter to the powers of intention, intuition, and staying close to your essence in practical ways with practical real-world results. It’s the perfect platform from which to make things happen in your life, from work to love to finances, and excel without ever losing a sense of soul. Here I present a new step-by-step model of how to achieve true success and power with more ease and contentment. My approach is twofold: it’s about devising action plans, creating a positive mind-set, being a smart communicator, and using the grit of determination, but without trying so hard that you burn out and sabotage yourself. As part of this, you’ll keep releasing fear, a virus of the mind that will spread to many areas and restrict your success unless you courageously transform it. My approach also involves surrendering to the mysterious, tender forces of goodness larger than even your will to succeed. Allowing yourself to be guided by them makes the difference between feeling frustrated that success is “taking too long” and being carried on wings by a great wind toward your destiny. Then, with these combined tactics, which may seem antithetical but aren’t, nothing can stop incredible experiences from coming your way.
Both as a physician and in a very intimate sense, I’ve seen that our attitudes about success and power can make or break our ability to surrender to flow on all levels. Why? What you and I believe--that success comes from integrity versus winning at any cost, from trusting your gut rather than succumbing to public opinion, from compassionate communication versus revenge, arrogance, or resentment--determines how we get along with ourselves and others.
Like many of us, I lead a busy life. I want to accomplish a lot. That’s why surrender is so important to me. I’m tenacious in pursuing my goals, but I don’t want to clog the flow of success by micromanaging or inserting my will into places where grace belongs. I feel successful when goals are progressing or at least when I know I’ve given them my all. I’ve come to appreciate that surrender is never about being perfect. It’s about doing your best and remaining authentic. Being perfect is impossible. It’s just a futile attempt to control what can’t be controlled. As a recovering workaholic, admittedly I still have a lot I want to achieve in my life, from writing to helping patients to teaching. There are also practical, noble daily successes, from working out to paying bills to making a dent in my to‑do list of chores. I take pride in my accomplishments, large and small, no matter how mundane. I also realize that success doesn’t have to involve many goals--what matters is the clarity and heart we bring to a task.
However, for me, success can never be about just what I “do.” It’s also when I can laugh, love, and really surrender to feeling happy about the tiniest things. It’s reveling in winter thunderstorms, warm fires, night-blooming jasmine, and shooting stars. It’s having a peaceful mind and some blessed downtime rather than knotting myself in frustration, especially when things fall apart. I don’t always succeed at this, but I am learning. If we can’t find even an inkling of happiness inside, on both steep and easy paths, we won’t be able to enjoy the aspect of success that I’m suggesting, which is independent of accomplishments. But this enjoyment is possible, and I’ll show you how to get there.
I’m a stickler about using time well. Life is precious. It goes by fast. Your time is the most valuable gift you can give to a goal or to a person. Thus, I intend to worship every moment and seek happiness wherever I go. Whether I’m presenting a keynote address or waiting in line in the post office, it’s in the doing that the ecstasy comes. My advice is to call off your search for happiness. As Willa Cather writes, “What if Life itself were the sweetheart?” Happiness is here, now, present in every moment, if you allow it. Don’t miss that gift. I even try to be happy when I’m miserable (it’s possible to feel both at once!) by remembering the treasure of simply being alive. You can make happiness what you want it to be. Surrendering to what is, instead of bearing down or freaking out, is a fundamental secret to being happy that I want to share with you.
Mastering the Art of Effortlessness
Though surrender is typically considered counterintuitive to success--it’s wrongly associated with weakness and defeat--I am here to tell you that it can make you more powerful. Surrender lets you turn away from old ways of doing things so that you can regroup and grow stronger. In both your career and your relationships, it can benefit you when done at the right time and in the right way. Otherwise you can jinx success by over-efforting and being too intense. For grace to enter your life, you must make room for forces beyond your control.
Recently I gave a talk about how surrender furthers success at a TEDx (Technology, Energy, Design) conference for three hundred movers and shakers in business and health care. Following my talk I was honored to be interviewed by a group of middle school student journalists reporting on the conference. They asked me, “How is surrender helpful for kids and teenagers?” My response: “If you’re lucky enough to learn how to surrender fear and worry early on, you’ll be much more successful. Many kids are full of anxiety and feel pressured on all sides by assumptions and assignments from parents and teachers. You don’t want to worry your way through school. Nor do you want to succumb to all the pressure. You’re at a perfect age to practice surrendering stress and unrealistic expectations so you can be more open, relaxed, and able to enjoy the incredible life that is ahead of you.” By their smiles I could see they liked that answer. It made sense to them.
Surrender opens you to states of grace where blessings of success are bestowed. You can’t will grace to appear in your life, but you can invite and welcome it in with a more surrendered outlook. Let the information I’m presenting about the proper role of taking action versus surrendering control enable you to excel in all areas. Striking this balance while also allowing grace to do its work lets you experience the art of effortlessness. In one sense, this entire book is about power: how to claim it, how to use it with both heart and intelligence, and how it can be misused or corrupted. And that’s why we begin here.
In this chapter, you’ll learn to reevaluate success and power in terms of what really matters, a value system that will last a lifetime. This takes courage and a willingness to radically question the status quo. Once you’ve identified affirming, durable beliefs about these topics, you’ll have something priceless to keep surrendering to as you melt rigid, frigid, and fearful places within. What a relief it will be to dissolve all of that pent‑up tension. This ongoing process is about purification and awakening as well as saving ourselves and our wild, precious world.
Surrendering to a New Paradigm: The Dance Between Destiny and Will
A mogul who rises to the top by hurting people has a crippled heart and is an abuser, not a success, no one to admire. True success isn’t using power just for power’s sake to pump you or your profits up. It is never causing intentional harm for personal gain, no matter how much money or status you accumulate. I love that Google’s intention statement as a small start‑up company was “Don’t be evil,” an admirable code of conduct that urges all its employees to act honorably and treat others with respect. We all know that the saying “Nice guys finish last” equates niceness with weakness. For me, the factor that decides whether you finish first or last isn’t about “being nice.” It’s about finding a smarter model for success where you’re able to be nice but also know how to mindfully use power to reach your goal.
We need a new conversation around what it means to be successful and powerful, to dispel dysfunctional stereotypes that keep us from soaring. We must break the rules of our psychotically materialistic society to find a more heartful way to live that yields concrete, everyday gains. We must reject the cult of greed, which equates success with people who make an excess of money, whatever the tactics, and tells us that we have to become tightwads or fear-based about finances to feel safe in an unsafe world.
I’ve consistently seen with patients and in myself that resisting or stiffening during challenging times only increases stress and saps power, creating what I call a bunker mentality. Everything becomes about defense, worry, and fear, not love. Similarly, people get more severely injured in accidents when they tense up. If you fight pain or adversity, the spasm of discomfort tightens. But when you relax, suffering lessens. This applies just as much to daily life. One patient got so uptight about money in the bad economy, she alienated her only daughter by refusing to help pay for her modest wedding on Santa Monica beach, though she could’ve afforded it. Another patient, a young, gifted actor just beginning his career, felt so inadequate around other “successful” performers, he’d freeze during auditions so his talent couldn’t shine. Both patients undermined their own success by surrendering to fear, an automatic reaction they didn’t know how to resist. In psychotherapy, I taught them to say no to fear and yes to the more loving, powerful parts of themselves, a conscious choice to move toward the positive. Similarly, I want to show you how flowing with challenges, rather than clenching onto fears and outmoded beliefs, enables you to solve problems more creatively. It’s miraculous how much your energy and focus clear when you shift from holding back to letting go.
As part of this new conversation, I’d like you to factor intuition into your equation for success. This inner voice that tells you the truth about things is the antidote to fear and an overanxious mind. It’s a creative ally that helps you hold a clearer, bolder vision of how to succeed, even when you’re at an apparent dead end. In over two decades of practicing medicine in Los Angeles, I’ve seen it all when it comes to people trying to make it big in their careers--but what’s often missing is intuition. I’ve watched my patients strive, hope, scheme, dream, get crushed, or triumph. But, prior to working with me, they were mostly driven by willpower, not their inner voice; this often threw off their choices. There’s more to success than just determination or even passion.
That’s where destiny comes in. It’s the reason we came this way, and it’s what can make us whole. We can’t control everything, as much as we may try. However, as I discovered in my life, the curveball is that destiny might not fit the scenario that you had in mind. As the Yiddish expression goes, “Man plans. God laughs.” To align with and fulfill your destiny, listening to intuition is key in the new paradigm of power. You can’t just think yourself there. Here, success is determined by your willingness to surrender to unexpected possibilities.
Let me tell you how intuition helped me find my true calling. In my early twenties, I’d dropped out of college to live with my artist boyfriend in an old converted brick Laundromat in Venice Beach. To help support us, I worked in the bedding department in the May Company, a job I enjoyed and which instilled in me a love for luxurious sheets and towels. During my time off, I volunteered in a parapsychology lab at UCLA with Dr. Thelma Moss, my mentor, and began to embrace my intuition after having been so frightened by it since childhood. Then one night I had a startling dream. In it, I was told, “You’re going to become an MD, a psychiatrist, to have the credentials to legitimize intuition in medicine.” In the dream this seemed perfectly reasonable, though when I awoke I felt like someone was playing a practical joke. Me, a psychiatrist? I am the daughter of two physicians and it might have seemed logical that I’d follow in their footsteps, but I’d never shown the slightest interest, nor had my parents pushed that, since I was terrible in science. Besides, I’d been around physicians all my life. They were nice enough but, honestly, a bit boring, though there were exceptions, including my parents. I’d always been more creative and gravitated to eccentric artists and outsiders. I didn’t know what career I’d choose, but going through fourteen years of medical training was definitely not my plan. In fact, after I took a career aptitude test in high school, the psychologist, whose brown hair was pinched in the scariest, tightest bun I’d ever seen, warned, “Never go into the helping professions! You’re better off in the arts.” It wasn’t surprising. Back then, the thought of listening to someone else’s problems had no appeal at all.
Still, since I was starting to trust my intuition, I decided to give my dream a chance, as absurd as it seemed to every logical fiber in my being. So I made an agreement with myself. I’d enroll in one course in Santa Monica City College just to see how it went. To my amazement, though I’d been out of school a few years and hadn’t missed it, I lit up in this geography class. We studied the moon’s cycles, the earth’s strata, and how the wind formed--natural forces I’d always felt inexplicably connected to. And so my learning cycle began. One class became two, and then I continued on to complete fourteen years of medical training. This dream led me to my true calling.
About success, my point is that sometimes all you have to do is open up a crack to your intuition’s guidance, whether you think it’s doable or not. That’s enough. I didn’t need to completely surrender to the idea that I’d be a doctor. I didn’t even have to believe that it was possible. However, what I did do was take a tiny step forward to allow for the possibility. Initially, my logical self kept insisting, “This is ridiculous.” True, on one level it was. But logic doesn’t know everything. Thank goodness I didn’t allow it to jam the works of my destiny unfolding. I was riding an invisible wave that felt wonderful and right. I just tried to let go and trust it.
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