Friday, November 21, 2008

Surrender to the Void

The Bucket List is one of my new favorite movies. That movie is packed full of powerful teachings and messages for us all.

As Edward and Carter, the two men who are facing terminal cancers, are in the midst of a sky dive, Edward yells out “Surrender to the Void…”

How often are we called upon in life to do just that… surrender to the void. We don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, yet we are in the midst of the leap. We have two choices: flail and struggle… or surrender… relax and let go.

I’ve been using that word… surrender… a lot lately. I feel like that is part of my training at the moment. It is something I believe we are all required to do repeatedly in life.

I too have jumped out of an airplane. A good friend of mine and I were each at ‘big birthdays + 1). She was turning 41. I was turning 36. We decided that for our birthday event, we would go sky diving.

It was on my life goal’s list to do this, so I was all for it. Our day arrived and we drove to the airfield. I had that sort of sick feeling in my stomach. You know the one. You want or need to do something, but you really really really don’t want to do it. I was excited, but scared to death.

Long ago, I made a commitment to myself that if I’m ever afraid of something and I WANT to do that thing… I MUST do that thing. I vowed to never let fear stop me from doing anything in life that I want to do. If I’m afraid of something, but don’t want to do it, I don’t have to do that thing. For example, I’m really afraid of rock climbing, but I have absolutely no interest or desire to do that. Therefore, I don’t have to go rock climbing.

Bungee jumping is something I’m afraid to do, but I actually want to do that, so it is on my life goal’s list! See how it works?

At any rate, sky diving was a life goal. My friend and I decided to do it, and there we were that fateful day, getting put into jump suits and strapped up with harnesses.

We were doing tandem jumps with our instructors, which meant we were actually strapped to their chests. It’s as though they are hugging you from behind.

When we arrived, we were assigned our personal instructors. My friend got a very responsible, competent looking/acting young man. I got his alter ego. Another young man… very young, who was a smart-ass, hot dog, hot shot. You could tell by his mannerisms and his attitude that he played fast and free with life and limb! It was very disconcerting.

My friend’s instructor was carefully suiting her up and explaining things to her. My guy was running around telling stories of near disasters, tossing me equipment and sort of half paying attention to how things were attached to my body!

I was somewhat nervous about it, and my friend was REALLY nervous about my guy. She actually suggested I might want to question whether I HAD to go with him! It was that freaky!

I kept remembering a story a minister friend of mine told about a bungee jump that she once did. She was having a similar feeling about her ‘jumping coach’ and reminded herself, “I’m in God’s hands, not this kid’s hands.” I decided to adopt that coping strategy for the anxiety in my mind.

As we got ready to leave the building to walk towards the plane, by instructor said, “Do you want to see the plane?”

I thought it was an odd question, I mean, we were about to walk to the plane and get in it! I just mumbled… “Sure” as we headed out the door. He certainly wasn’t inspiring confidence.

I think the hardest moment in the entire experience was putting my foot out of the plane and onto the strut. It was really happening at that moment.. All my instructor had to do was lean on me a little and we’d be on our way. I had to take a deliberate step to put myself in that position. That was the hardest moment of all.

As I stood there on the strut, my instructor indicated that it was time to go… and away we went! We began our free fall, and he was whooping and hollering in delight. It was pretty awesome!! Then suddenly he whipped his body around and we were facing upwards looking at the plane! That’s what he meant! We slowly turned back around to face the ground, and he whipped us back around again to look at the plane as it left us behind. I think he did that 3 times! I had no idea that was what he was asking me about as we had walked out of the building before the jump!

As we fell, I was aware of only two things at first. The stinging sensation on my face as we fell through a cloud was somewhat painful. It was like little ice crystals hitting me in the face. Suddenly I became aware that my mouth was wide open! I mean wide open! No sounds were coming out… I have no idea what that was about. Later, when my friend and I compared notes, it was revealed that she had the same experience. Why our mouths were hanging open initially, with no sounds coming out, remains a mystery! We both caught ourselves with this rather silly expression and closed our mouths.

The free fall was a really powerful experience. I was no longer scared. There was no time to be scared. All there was time for was SENSATION. I was fully in that moment, experiencing everything as it happened.

When the parachute finally opened, it was unlike anything I could have imagined. First, it was totally silent. When I was free falling, there was of course the yelling of my instructor, but what I was most aware of was the sound of the air whistling in my ears as we fell. It was loud! Once the parachute was open, it was quiet, peaceful…calm. We simply floated gently towards the earth. I was able to look all around, and see the world from an entirely new perspective.

It was an amazing gift. It was a gift I never could have received if I hadn’t “Surrendered to the void.”

I’ve drawn upon my sky diving experience many times in the years since it happened. It is a great metaphor for the leap of faith and the risks we sometimes have to take in life to move ourselves along.

I wouldn’t say it ever gets ‘easy’ to surrender to the void, but I do think it gets EASIER as time goes by. We have to cultivate that as a skill… surrendering. If we cultivate it deliberately along the way, we are more able to do it in times of difficulty when it is harder than normal.

How can you practice surrendering to the void? The possibilities are endless! Just pick one and go to it!

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