I think everyone’s life can be summed up by a few sentences.

This may seem limiting. A label. Not to me. It’s like saying that every life is a poem. The words aren’t always a prison, but instead are a beacon, a lighthouse, a cry that lets others know what the rallying call is. It’s like an archetype that brings in the numinous. It’s both a lesson and an energy source to the deepest soul. It’s like the recognizable “hook” in a song or a symphony. Beethoven’s Fifth has thousands upon thousands of notes and progressions, but we all know it by just four notes. Those four notes conjure up an entire world of emotions and ideas when we hear them, even out of context. To me, a life’s phrase can be like that.

One of my inner rallying calls is, “Power is achieved by surrender.”

At first this sounds trite. It’s a common spiritual aphorism. It’s simple and may even be simplistic. But that’s also what archetypes are — through the simple we can access the numinous. It is easy to take words as limiting rather than accessing the preternormal. I first heard this concept that power is achieved by the deepest surrender before I was ten years old. I heard it without thinking about it at all. I saw more of the energy behind it when I watched the movie Gandhi in my teens. Something ineffable touched me in the moment when I saw how powerful that man was. He invited others to show the violence in themselves upon his own body, surrendering to their physical power but in the process bringing forth something exponentially more.

Gandhi had shown me a different side of Power, but at this time it was limited to an intellectual concept. It lacked any sense of the sacred, that access to thaumaturgic change that touching something transcendent can bring. This took time to access for me, through my childhood into my adult life.

In my childhood I was surrounded by family members who seemed overly powerful — at least to a child. My mother was a very aggressive person who didn’t respect boundaries at all, and even took them to mean a personal attack. “I’m your mother!” she would yell, as if that meant she had rights over every aspect of me. Every aspect of me: my body, my space, my mind, and my emotions. I was her life.

Acting powerful in an outward sense did not help. Screams or a stubborn “NO!” made it worse, even to the point of threats of being kicked out to the streets at a young age. So I became a bit of a martyr; I gave in before conflict could arise. I split myself; a part of me would be the mother-pleaser, The Explainer, who would present me to the outside world in a logical, sensible fashion with no rough edges. The appeaser. The rest of me could be screaming, hurt, or could be feeling any other emotion including joyful ones. I was still there, but unconscious. I was filled with a kaleidoscope of exploding emotions, but through The Explainer’s voice those emotions came out as reasonable and confident, and explained things so they wouldn’t trigger much in the people around me. There were times when the glass walls around The Explainer wouldn’t hold, but largely they did. I survived.

This was the beginning of my focus on Power. This was an intensely disempowering state. I walled away much of myself — and thus my power — in order to be safe.

After I left home, the sense of imbalance related to Power was palpable almost all the time, like a steady drop of acid within my stomach. I accumulated skills through universities and I learned more about social interactions and transactions of status. I studied the times when I felt powerful and when others felt more powerful than I. I wasn’t interested in being upwardly mobile or accumulating money — I simply wanted to experience what it felt like to feel powerful, irrespective of what others did and irrespective of what importance they accorded me. This was what made me notice the difference in a few spiritual teachers, such as Krishnamurthi and Ramana Maharishi, whose ashram I stayed in for a while in India.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

– Walt Whitman

One of the barriers I felt was simply in how little I connected to myself. I explored my splits, the cuts I made in myself. These were the subpersonalities in me, or even sometimes what Jung would call a complex. These are far, far more common than we think. Who is truly whole within themselves, in all their selves? For me, The Explainer excelled in mathematics and computing, the dry emotionless presence that could be as close to a computer as a humans can be. I grew up in an autistic household — it seemed natural to me. Other parts of me also wanted to feel powerful, so my inner protector emerged that could ward off others by planting bombs that scared them away.

But other parts of me also wanted to come out and play. I studied acting to give expression to many other emotions and the selves connected to them. I studied monologues that helped bring these aspects out. The abandoned child raging for a connection. The schizophrenic looking for something solid to hold onto. A man stepping off his heavy-trodden life and starting anew, boarding the nearest ship that would hire him.

Surrender in an Indian dance

My teachers never taught it as such, but I would say now that great acting is all about surrender. It takes great surrender in order to let a very real but different self to come through. This was why I was never a great actor then — only a good one. I wanted to drill holes in my psyche to access myself, tight steel lustrous pipelines that would erupt emotion on command, like a geyser. Others were supposed to feel that it was real, and feel awe. But something made of steel is always built around control. To surrender would have been to turn the world upside town, to bring the underworld into unbounded air, not to send emotions through a rigid pipeline. Surrender would have meant not treating the director as God, but treating being real as God. Truth is God, whatever it may be in that moment.

You can see the idea of surrender appear here in my life. Surrender is connected to acting for me because this is where I was first taught it on an experiential level. My best example was through a clowning teacher. I saw many spiritual teachers, read many books, and got involved with many groups such as Gurdjieff and the Michael Teachings, but surrender goes beyond any teaching. It’s like diving off an airplane.

My idea of surrender has changed through time. It ranged from the physical, to the emotional, to the conceptual. That is, it held the ideals of ultimate relaxation, peace, and seeing all sides and beauty in everything. But these were ideals, and so The Explainer clung to them and protected the inner selves in the only way it knew how. Words can be a defense when they protect you. They don’t have to be at all, as I’m learning.

Now I’m going to another level of surrender: the surrender to myself. To allow the different selves in me, that label of subpersonality, to dissolve those glass walls and roam free. And it is scary, like all freedom is. Going to London Drugs in the post-Christmas rush, did I really know if I would bring someone out from inside me who panics under that Group-Think rush to buy? I looked down and noticed my arms protecting the shell of my chest, but I didn’t feel like screaming.

Part of me resists: “I am a teacher. I can channel great wisdom. I can help others. I can see others clearly. The labels I put on what is underneath imply that I am screwed up for the rest of my life, and I refuse to be that.” We think teachers should conform to a definite image.

So now, if I feel like a drowning man within my ocean of emotions, I let myself feel it and cry desperately to be saved even if another part of me knows it is already perfect as it is. It is All That Is. It’s about the experience, not desperately clinging to the part of me that truly does know. I already am the teaching I seek — but there’s more wisdom in letting go to the unknowingness.

This is how my life has shaped around that phrase, “Power is achieved by surrender.” Saying that to myself has as much power as the mantra “I AM”. Or for the gnostic Christians, “I AM THAT I AM“.

What are some of your life phrases?