I am in my second year at Claremont School of Theology as a Doctorate of Ministry candidate. The Doctorate of Ministry degree is a project based degree. The student enters the program with a burning question or a ministry challenge and designs a project to investigate, experiment with, and learn something about the challenge and/or about themselves. After the project, the student writes the rest of the dissertation explaining what happened, reflecting on the results, and offering possible next steps. A lot of time and preparation goes into researching and designing the project, so it is serious GO TIME when the project commences. My project runs the month of April 2019 and I am excited about what I am learning and how the project is taking shape!
Two weeks before the project began, chaos on multiple levels threatened the peace, excitement and confidence I felt about my project. I encountered significant drama at one place I teach. I sent a text to a co-worker about helping with my project and the response ignited a series of tense conversations about our partnership. I initiated a phone conversation about a creative idea I had with another colleague only to have the conversation completely backfire on me. All of these situations attempted to suck me into the chaos instead of keeping my focus in the present moment of project preparation. In the book, Standing in the Fire, I read that when you are preparing for or you are in the midst of leading, you will experience what Larry Dressler calls, “the trickster.”
“I have to accept the law of the trickster. A creature in many shamanic traditions, the trickster serves as a rather sneaky teacher. Just when we think we are on the road to achieving our goals, the trickster throws us a curve ball, a snowball, or a fur ball—something completely unexpected that we have no idea how to catch, let alone hold on to.” (Standing in the Fire, 98)
The hope is that a leader learns to dance with the trickster-to see them for what they are, welcome them in the space, and become curious about their presence in our life at this moment. The first trickster I encountered, I actually laughed out loud. I had just reread the section of the book on the trickster and I recognized the situation for what it was and what it represented. The second trickster, I laughed a little less, but acknowledged the presence of a situation that could throw me off track and instead chose to see the situation as an opportunity for learning. The third situation, I did not find funny at all, but I adopted what I call an “Isn’t that interesting” stance.
The final trickster appeared in the form of the highway turned into a parking lot on the drive to my project. I had picked up my friends, checked the map on my phone, and left early so that I could arrive with plenty of time to go through my ritual of setting the space. As we turned onto the final highway and I saw the traffic had stopped, I grabbed my meditation stone and began moving my fingers around the stone while connecting to my breath. As the minutes passed, I began to visualize the space performing my rituals in my mind to set the space. More minutes ticked by and I began to sweat. I felt my heart clench and the muscles in my body grow rigid. The women in my car were talking this whole time while I was quiet. I decided to share my very human moment with my friends asking them to see if they could find a way out of this traffic. I found myself getting angry at the traffic while realizing that this experience was the last straw of two weeks of craziness.
My sweet friend leaned over and lovingly said, “you just need to surrender.” I replied, “How do you surrender?” She said, “You just do.” I clipped back that it was unhelpful to just tell me to do something without giving me a way to do it. She smiled and said that I would figure it out. I grabbed the wheel harder and made angry faces—like this, right?! After we laughed at my craziness, the cars began to move. I arrived 30 minutes later than I had planned and I had plenty of time.
“You need to surrender.” Her words have stayed with me for 3 weeks. I saw my chiropractor and she said, “All your muscles are on full resistance!” So for my own health, I decided to explore what it meant to embody “Surrender.” What is funny is that for the past year and a half, I have taught a yoga class called, “Surrender.” So, I thought….How do I teach this class? What words do I use? What does it mean to Surrender in a yoga pose?
In my surrender class, I will offer a shape of a pose and once the yogi moves into the shape or the shape that is right for their body, then I invited them to connect to how the body feels in this shape. They will scan their body from head to toe exploring with curiosity and wonder the sensations they are feeling: hot, cold, tight, sore, soft, hard, tingling. Then they will focus their attention on their breath noticing how the breath feels without judgement: shallow, deep, relaxed, strained. The yogi stays in the pose for 3-5 minutes to get passed the stretch of the skin, move passed the stretch of the muscles, and get into the connective tissues. In the 3-5 minutes, we also practice attending to the breath, wandering off in our thoughts, becoming aware that we wandered, and coming back to focus on the breath. If we do this 8x’s or 80x’s in 5 minutes, it doesn’t matter because that is the practice.
Applying yoga off the mat: For me, surrendering means acknowledging where I am in the present moment and feeling all the feelings of that moment. My initial response to challenging situations is to resist them, escape them, avoid them, or fight them. I could use yoga or meditation to provide escape and a calm sensation, but what if I could use my yoga practice to teach me how to BE in a challenging situation.
Since my project, I have had two opportunities to surrender. One of the experiences occurred when I drove my son an hour away to check on a concern we had about his heart. During this hour-long drive, everything inside me wanted to call a friend or think about our next vacation. I wanted to escape because I felt uneasy and uncertain of the future. Instead, I explored what I was feeling: sad, scared, nervous. Once I gave voice to the negative emotions the next words flowed out of me: I feel honored to be his mom, I feel so much love for this child that I would not trade places with his father who was at home helping our daughter get ready for school. What I noticed when I started practicing surrendering is that hard situations also hold beautiful feelings. It is not as black and white/good or bad as I had thought.
As I approach good Friday, I realize that my teacher, Jesus, experienced the final surrender. Even though his disciples seemed to be resisting, avoiding and fighting the idea of where the journey was leading, Jesus acknowledged where he was at every moment and felt all the feelings:
from seeing the joy as he entered Jerusalem to seeing the tears as he carried his own cross,
from the celebration of community in the last supper and lovingly washing his friend’s feet to crying out in the garden and washing the feet of the man who would betray him,
from hearing “You are not chosen, but instead we choose Barabbas,” to calling out, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
From the thorns in his head to his pierced hands and feet,
From the rough wood of the cross on his back to the heat of the morning sun and cool of darkness at midday
From the first breath to the last….The final Surrender.