Psychiatrist Judith Orloff speaks on The Ecstasy of Surrender at TEDxAmericanRiviera 2012 – Transcript
Judith Orloff – Psychiatrist & Author
You know, I have a confession to make, I lost control but in the most wonderful way.
Before the sacred hours of seeing patients, before writing, I just put my arms out and danced. My body just moved to Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, spontaneous joyful movements. No arguing, no resisting, no holding back. I just let go. This is the ecstasy of surrender.
Today, your life is going to get better learning about surrender. As a physician and as a woman, this is so important to me, it’s what I want the most in my life: To be able to flow with things and not fight, not resist, not hold back and not always over think things. It’s such a joy to be able to flow.
Now what is surrender? In Sanskrit, surrender is samprada, the ability to give yourself wholly to something, to flow like water, to not force things. I’m defining it as the grace of letting go at the right moment, of knowing how to let go when the time is right, without torturing yourself with self-doubt or over thinking things.
Here how many of you over think? How many of you torture yourself with self-doubt? That’s very common, but surrender allows you not to do that. Imagine a life where you’re not doing that, and you’re able to flow more with everything, and have more peace in life. You know, that is the great joy of surrender.
Now, how surrendered are you? Let me ask you a few questions. Do you recognize that you cannot control everything? How many of you? I hope you do. If you’ve tried your best with something, and you’ve given a project, let’s say, all of your effort, are you able to back off and not torture yourself with self-doubt and just give the project some breathing room? How many of you are able to do that? All right, wonderful.
Can you admit that you’re not right? You have to be right all the time, or can you apologize, can you compromise, can you let go of the need to be right? Good, I see one hand.
Can you be spontaneous, and not have to plan every single thing down to the last detail? Can you enjoy life, can you stop long enough to let that enjoyment in and absorb it. Now isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t letting that enjoyment in? And that’s the point of surrender, as life goes by so quickly.
Now, you want to take advantage of every single moment, and to do that, you have to be able to let go.
Now, what stands in the way of surrender? In my life, I know this well, it’s when I want something too much. When I’m over invested in it. When I really want something a lot, that can clog the circuits. And so when you want something too much, that’s a sign you need to just back off a little so you don’t get overbearing with it.
Or, another thing is anxiety and fear. When you clench, when you get into fear mode or an anxious mode, that stops you from surrendering.
What fascinates me, is how hard it is for most of us to surrender. Did you realize how hard it is? But when you think about it, you need to surrender to delight in an orgasm. Don’t you? You don’t surrender, not much is going to happen.
Or, a good night’s sleep. Every night, you need to surrender when you go to sleep, otherwise you will be tossing and turning all night.
You need to surrender with a good belly laugh, or a good cry. I love the healing power of tears. When you hold back tears, that’s not good for your system. And so surrendering to tears, just letting it flow, or any emotions, such as grief when you experience loss, that is when you really are flowing with life.
And so what I want to say is that we need to bring surrender into other aspects of our life where the downside isn’t so obvious, such as hijacking pleasure. Because if something immediately hijack pleasure for you, you would think twice about it. Hopefully.
All right. How many types of surrender are there? There are three main types. And the most common type is the trial by fire kind of surrender where everything is going down and you’re forced to surrender because everything is so terrible. A bad relationship, your health is going down, and so you need to surrender. And crisis is an amazing opportunity. It’s how most people use of change. That’s what causes people to change, is crisis, have you ever noticed that in your life? When things really amp up, that’s when you change. And crisis is opportunity, it is opportunity, but it’s not the only opportunity.
Now another example of surrender, the second type, is learning to surrender anxiety and fear. Now what if you’re in a situation that’s totally outside of your control like flying?
I had a patient who had a terrible fear of flying. And she would get on the plane and have an anxiety attack. So the way I worked with her on surrender, was to really have her focus on positive thoughts. The great news is that we have control of our minds. Did you know that? We do. We have control of our thoughts. Just because you think something or feel something doesn’t mean you need to go in that direction.
And so I worked with her on focusing on the positive images in her life. The family, the children, beautiful images of nature which is so common, a sunset, a beautiful flower. And so she was focusing on all of this positivity rather than going towards a negative, and this helped her to gain more serenity in her life. And so that’s important for you to have some positive images, and some things that really move you.
For me, the image that moves me and centers me is looking at the night sky in a body of water. It’s so beautiful to me seeing the stars in the water, that that’s very calming. You see, so you have all of these ready for yourself.
Now the third type of surrender, and this is so essential, is accepting what is, instead of trying to fit things or people into some preconceived notion of how you think things should be. All right. This is not always easy, because you have your visions of things, you see, and then you have reality.
So, you have your choice again with that. I want to emphasize, this is a choice, and surrender means flowing with what is. I learned this early on as a psychiatrist.
Or I had a patient, Eve, who was 92 years old, and her daughter was dying. When her daughter died, she called me to be by her side in the hospital and see her [inaudible]. And as I was going down the hall, I heard her wailing and screaming. The nurses came up to me and they were very concerned with it, that she would collapse, she was a little old lady, very frail, and she was really making a lot of noise.
And in my psychiatric training at USC and UCLA, I was trained to treat patients at a kind of distance, and certainly to never touch them. You know, we’re never trained to even put a hand or pat them on the back, you know, keep a safe distance, but the minute I walked into that room, this little lady jumped into my arms, and wrapped her body around mine in the fetal position, and was wailing and crying and her tears were all over me, and the newly minted psychiatrist in me was in total shock, but I knew that I had to surrender to that moment, because it’s what Eve needed, and it’s what was right.
And so she spent about an hour crying, and then she detached herself from me, basically, and we talked, and then that was the beginning of her grieving process. So I learned how important it is to trust the moment to be there with people. It might not be what you thought — might not be what you thought but it is what it is. So you flow with that and you trust the integrity of that. You know, that’s trusting life.
I’m so passionate about surrender, because I learned about it from my mother, in terms of how she didn’t surrender. At age 70, she was a family practitioner in Beverly Hills, and she decided to take her national board exams. And for those of you who know what this is, it’s as intense as the bar exams is for lawyers. It’s so intense, and she felt that she needed to do this in order to keep up with the younger doctors.
And at that point, she was about the best healer I’ve ever met. She had a huge practice, she had all these patients who loved her. And in fact, when I was a little girl I used to go on house calls with her, and she even took me to the hospital when she made chicken soup for Mick Jagger when I was a teenager. So I got to meet him, and you could imagine what a thrill that was.
And I used to go with her in her pink Cadillac up into the hills of Bel Air, and I would watch her with patients. She would listen with a stethoscope, she had a bag, you know the old time family doctor, and she would listen to her patients. She was truly so gifted.
But the thing about my mother was that a million people could tell her how wonderful she was, and she would only look at her negative points and her self-doubt. And that’s not unlike a lot of people, that you could have so much going for, yet a small percentage, somebody says one little thing and you’re off and running.
And so she took this exam and put herself through so much stress. And 20 years before that, she had been diagnosed with a pretty benign lymphoma, but while she was taking the test, the month she took studying and beating herself up and not feeling she was enough, the cell type changed to a malignant leukemia.
And although my mother heroically passed the test, soon after, she died. And as she was dying, she said to me that she felt the stress of the test was what caused the cell type to change. And so, as her daughter, I was really standing there helpless. There was nothing I could do to intervene. I was there supporting her, but I watched my mother do this, and it was through losing the dearest person to me that I gained a very hard lesson on surrender.
Because I, too, am a workaholic, I too have self-doubts, I can push myself. So I’m my mother’s daughter, and so I knew in order for me to be happy and free and lead a beautiful life, I needed to surrender. I needed to learn how to do that and I didn’t want to follow in her footsteps in that sense.
And so I learned early on what it was like not to surrender. You know, sometimes life gives you some hard lessons, and I hope you’ll learn from them. You know, we all have hard lessons, I hope you learn from them. And I learned from this and thus it has spurred my passion in what it means to surrender.
Now if you want to begin to use these surrender techniques in everyday life, it’s really very simple, it’s not complex. You can start right away.
And how can you start? There are a number of techniques that I use in my own life, and I actually get a thrill out of them. I really do, because I can’t get this across to enough. It’s so enjoyable to be able to let go. And if you think ecstasy is impossible, you’re wrong. You’re wrong because ecstasy comes in the little things. It’s not only the huge triumphs. I know you set huge goals for yourself, I do too. But don’t wait for those huge goals. There are so many things happening every moment that you could surrender to.
So the way you start is the next time you drink a glass of water, sacred water, do you realize how sacred water is on our planet? The next time you drink a glass of sacred water, realize it’s sacred for one thing. And don’t take it for granted and drink it very very slowly. Every drop, the sensual pleasure drinking water. Now feeling it, imagine your shoulders relaxing, imagine that as an experience of pleasure going down. You’re not checking your emails, you’re not texting, you’re not thinking about the next thing, you’re with the water 100% and you’re experiencing it. Just try that, you can do that when you leave here. You can do it immediately. So that’s a beautiful direct immediate experience of surrender. Just try that, don’t think it’s such a little thing, it’s a beautiful thing and it expands to other things.
Now another technique that I love to use in my own life with surrender, is letting somebody go in front of you in a very long line. It’s so much fun, I can’t tell you how much fun it is. I love it because what happens is, in lines, people tense up and they get very uptight and they get angry. In fact, one cashier told me at the market, that somebody tried to cut in front of a man at the market, that man sprayed whipped cream on the person. It’s called the super market rage, there’s a name for it.
So there’s lot of tension in those lines. So what you want to do is the next time, let’s say, a mother with kids, and a big shopping cart comes, you want to say, “Go before me.” And then you want to look at the expression on her face. And what you’ll notice is that people are so unaccustomed to small acts of kindness or surrendering, that they look like you’ve given them a million bucks. They really do. I mean, they’re so astounded, and it feels so good and they say, “Thank you so much.” “You’re so kind, you’re a saint or something!” And it’s really a small act of kindness.
And then what happens? As you’ll notice — so I’d like you to try this when you go out into the world — is that the line starts to move faster, the tension breaks because your energy shifts, and then imagine the domino effect of kindness. Small acts of kindness can change the world. Don’t underestimate the little things. They’re very very potent, and I want you to enjoy them. Because it’s so much fun to see how you can shift energy and change the world in the most mundane aspects of life.
Now, another surrender, and this is the point of it all, is to surrender to joy. You know, to really make it a point, to not just be in your head solving problems or thinking. No, to surrender to joy, to go outside when you leave here, and look at a little bird flying in the sky, or a tiny little flower, and rejoice in that. We’re here on Earth, this is life, the beautiful life. You know, smell the night blooming jasmine. Don’t just keep walking. Don’t be too busy to let happiness in.
Now, allow all of these to come in the small things. It’s very very potent. So I hope you can gift yourself with that. I hope you can remember. Because the next thing is going to come so quickly, and time will keep moving. But if you remember this, this is the secret to life. The secret to living, if you can slow yourself down enough to do it and quiet that mind.
Now, a hero of mine is Gandhi, and he said, “If we want peace, we must be the change.”
We must be the change.
And this is so powerful to me, because using the techniques of surrender, you can be a pioneer to do things differently. You don’t have to do things like everyone else, that’s what’s so incredible about the TED conferences, and being a pioneer, is that you be the one to make the change. Don’t wait for that nasty person over there to change.
Now, you change your attitude with them. You know, it’s up to you, in the moment, to make the change, and then you can feel empowered by that. If you want to feel a source of power, that’s the way to do it.
Surrender is in a way counterintuitive because it’s associated with giving up and giving in and defeat, and I’m presenting it as a more powerful way of being in the world.
There are two things that I’m certain of. It’s that love changes everything, and that as individuals, we have the power to change the world.
Thank you very much.