Unbearable Surrender

Unbearable Surrender

Sometimes life brings us a challenge that is fierce. It can be a deep sadness or an agonising truth, and it can induce absolute helplessness.

This helplessness is not about fear, and it’s not about passivity, it’s about feeling, and settling somehow, into an unbearable surrender to what is.

Whether this helplessness has arisen from life circumstances, or through the ongoing practice of mindful awareness meditation which can expose things deeply hidden, being held in a safe space whilst experiencing this apparently insurmountable pain and anguish, is incredibly helpful.

As a mindfulness practitioner, holding a safe space with the right attitude and compassion for the distressed person, can be both challenging and healing to us both.


Yes, when someone is in such degree of agony there is an internal struggle to overcome our own protection barriers to be open enough so that we can ‘be with’ them. Open enough to sit calmly near yet deal with our mind as it wrestles with the uncomfortability of not immediately ‘helping’, not speaking to push back or stop what is going on, regardless of our internal drive to ‘do something’.

We too must experience this helplessness, and face a smaller, unbearable surrender. To let it be.

Apart from settling the mind we can also open the heart, again challenging in this situation, but it is this openness, this willingness simply to ‘be with’ them, that will ultimately help the person who is suffering.

As we sit quietly by, things may be said ‘It hurts so much …’ ‘I’m so scared … ’ this underlines the uncomfortable truth, the truth that we cannot control life.

In time something else may be said that is an opening for a gentle question. For me that once came when a person in an unbearable surrender situation said “Oh please, I just want this pain to go away …’ it was an entry to hold their hand and quietly enquire about their pain. This, in turn, opened a conversation that allowed the person to form a new relationship with what was causing so much pain.

By becoming aware of what she was experiencing, she was able to see things from a different perspective, allowing her to move into identifying and talking things out rather than suffering within the feeling.

Let’s not underestimate for a moment that for a person to feel this absolute powerlessness is profound. It takes courage to look, be with, and accept this great loss to our control of life, our sense of self, and our ego. 

And yet it is, in the end, most  strengthening and liberating.

Being aware of the situation rather than within a state of mind or feeling, allows us to perceive the dissolvable, impermanent way of things.

If even for a moment, this perception can lead to true liberation.

The presence of an open and non-judgemental other, silently invites a person in pain into the ‘safe space’ held, and allows them the freedom to move into the territory of their pain, and explore it.

Awareness of self and ‘being with’ another can be a first step to processing an agonising truth – the unbearable surrender, made just a little more bearable.

Being open to the joys and the sorrows of life, and the surrender to the impermance of life, is deeply connective to life itself.

Sometimes surrender just means becoming comfortable with the unknown.



Access helpful mindful awareness meditations here …


The Inner Critic

The Inner Critic

Most of us have one; that voice (maybe your voice) that is heard when you’ve made a mistake, not performed too well, or perhaps just set your expectations too high.
So, what can be done to help silence that voice?
Ignore it? Maybe, avoidance or suppression is a defence mechanism that can work for you however, a healthier way is to identify, befriend and investigate that inner voice.
How to recognise it? For most the inner critic appears as a voice, often with an attitude or tone that’s recognisable, or perhaps its more recognisable by a feeling – maybe a bit flat, anxious or depleted in energy – but however the inner critic appears in you, learn to recognise and get to know it for what it is, a Critical State.

How to befriend it? As with any relationship, it good to start with an acknowledgement “ah, hello! here you are again’, then take the time to get to know each other. How to respond to the inner critic? Having recognised and acknowledged your inner critic experience, ask yourself why. Why are you hearing this voice, feeling this way? The important thing is to question yourself gently, to be compassionate with yourself.

Once you become aware of why the inner critic appears you can begin to dig a little deeper into what TRIGGERS its appearance. No judgement on yourself, or others, just note what seems to be the case.

Each time you look or simply ‘be’ with conscious awareness about what happening in you, a little more resilience and understanding is built, a little more respite is earned.

What else can you do? Many people find using a journal to record and track your progress is useful. Reading out affirmations, or better still making up your own targeted positive affirmations, are helpful at these times. Taking up a mindful art hobby or body practice has good results too. Sometimes listening to talks or following a guided meditation are most useful.

The RAIN meditation, originally given by Insight teacher Michele McDonald and made famous by Tara Brach’s excellent work, was practiced and offered to us by Buddhist monks and nuns as a means of having tools to work with difficult or challenging emotional states. This meditation can be used to help strengthen your capacity to deal with these experiences and lead to a calm and steady state of mind and being.

My own adaptation of the RAIN meditation, called ‘Working with Challenging Emotions’ can be listened to here