Updated: May 31
The impact books have on our lives is not limited to the words written between the covers. Some books inspire new thoughts and send us to unexpected places. Follow me Down the Rabbit Hole in this recurring segment.
Unsurprisingly, over the past four weeks Down the Rabbit Hole has been showcasing all things menstruation. Why is this unsurprising? Because we’re currently reading Seeing Red: The One Book Every Woman Needs to Read. Period. by Kirsten Karchmer. And it’s about periods.
If you’ve been reading along you may wonder what on Earth I have left to say about this book. Surprisingly, I’ve already said quite a lot about periods. Surprising because menstruation is taboo. And people don’t talk about it much. This week I’m going take a break from that theme to talk about surrender.
In her book, Karchmer recounts a conversation she had with her midwife Laurie Fremgen who advises her “’…the greatest power doesn’t come from control and domination. It comes from the ability to let go of anything at any time. When you’re a black belt in surrender, nothing and no one can control you.’” Upon reading this section, my mind immediately flashed back through times in my life where I too chose surrender and how peaceful it felt. I feel more relaxed just thinking about it. Sigh.
Before we get into that, lets back up a minute and talk about the word surrender. If you’re like me, you now have Cory Hart’s Never Surrender stuck in your head. And if you didn’t already, you do now. You’re welcome.
The word surrender carries quite negative connotations. I can feel my body tense up even as I read it. Surrendering is grouped in with giving up, losing, weakness, and failure. In today’s world there is a push to be the best at everything all the time. Losing is not an option. Never surrender!
The flip side to that attitude is that it thrusts some people into perpetual battle mode, treating life as something to be won. You’ve seen these people. They’re the ones yelling obscenities during traffic jams, asking the manager to go against store policy, complaining while in line, and persistently trying to sway people who carry a differing opinion. These people resist chaos, trying to find order and achieve control. Ironically, sometimes losing control of themselves along the way. It sounds exhausting.
You can’t fight entropy. Now I have Muse’s song The 2nd Law: Unsustainable in my mind.
I digress… as usual. Back to the delights of surrender.
This concept may seem counter to what I’ve been saying these past four weeks. I’ve been advocating for change which requires concerted effort against the status quo. Do I think I should surrender against the fight for equality? Heck no! But that’s not the type of surrender I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is choosing my battles rather than treating life like a war to be won. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a little healthy competition, as anyone who has played board games with me knows. Life doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing win-or-lose. When it comes to trivial achievements, I’d rather earn the most victory points in CATAN than be the first car to reach the red light.
An antidote for chronic controllers is to surrender to the idea that not everything can or should be controlled. Go with the current instead of paddling against it. This first step can be very difficult but results in an easier and calmer experience. And not just in the moment. The ease of surrender can spill over into other areas of life. Just as I talked about in This Story Is Eerily Familiar, “…stress impairs our ability to focus and learn. In fact, chronic stress changes your brain, negatively affects working memory, and makes it hard to learn and remember.” Surrender to the insignificant frees our resources to focus on the important battles.
What memories arise when I think of surrender? There are many.
I surrender while behind the wheel. Road trips are much more enjoyable if I am not frustrated by the car in front that drives under the speed limit most of the time, buy excessively speeds at the sight of a passing lane. I don’t have to worry about being rear-ended if I give the person tail-gaiting me the chance to pass. While I’ve had a hearty laugh at road-ragers flipping the bird, my favourite reaction to the finger is by a family member: she responds by blowing a kiss and mouthing “I love you.” Not exactly an example of surrender, but too hilarious not to mention.
Airports are great places to surrender. I’m not talking about surrendering your window seat to the person pretending to not know how to read their ticket. I’m talking about the lines, the delays, and all the other details that are out of the traveler’s control. Following a flight from Australia with my family we landed in LA airport tired and late. Our connecting flight had left without us, and many, many others. My children were 3 years and 10 months old at the time, and consequentially neither me nor my partner had slept much. What to do? We got into line to book a new flight. The line was long. An irate passenger unapologetically bypassed the line and berated the airline staff. Others saw him and did the same. I was impressed with the airline staff’s composure. By the time we made it to the desk I was expecting a next day flight just as the other passengers had received. My surrender left me space and energy to act respectfully. This story has a happy ending. The airline staff put us on the next flight. Like my grandmother used to say, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Or flights, in this case.
My most peaceful surrender was a near-drowning while white water rafting. We talked about it briefly on Seeing Red Episode 4 . I was thrown from the raft and found myself caught in an underwater eddy dubbed The Green Room by the tour company. I remembered their instructions. Go into a ball and wait to surface. Fighting would only use up energy and oxygen. I waited. And I waited. I used my last breath, feeling a tightness in my chest, resisting my body’s intuitive urge to inhale. And I knew that imminently, I would. There was nothing else I could do to change the inevitable. I braced myself to inhale the river. I surrendered.
Kidding. Obviously, not the end. After I surrendered, I surfaced. The rescue boat picked me up shortly before I entered the serious rapids. The moral of the story did not evade me: if I had fought against the water, I would not have made it. I had only enough oxygen to survive immobile and calm. Sometimes going with the flow is not only easier but gets you to where you’re going.
If you’re still not sure what I mean by surrender and control, check out this Zen Habits article The Ridiculously Awesome Practice of Surrendering By Leo Babauta.
This idea of letting-go reminded me of the By the Book podcast episode about Manoush Zomorodi’s book Bored and Brilliant. The show’s hosts read the book and put it into action, and though it doesn’t seem to be talking about surrender per se, the challenges within do seem to nurture the same skills. This book inspires people to put down their devices, using boredom to cultivate creativity, producing passively instead of aggressively.
What does this all have to do with periods?
As we talked about on the podcast, over 80% of people with periods suffer. And as Karchmer reminds us, this is common but not normal. While Seeing Red offers readers ways to end that suffering, surrender can be a valuable tool. Like I said in Shh… Your Feelings Are Trying To Tell You Something, our thoughts and emotions influence how we experience pain. Most control is an illusion. The only control we truly have is over our own actions. Surrender is an option when we feel compelled to control the uncontrollable.
Can you think of a time when you surrendered to your circumstances? How did you feel? How did it benefit you or others?
We’d love to hear from you. Comment below, email us, or connect through the Book Interrupted Book Club Facebook group! Or better yet, help us fight the stigma and have fun along the way by creating your own period inspired video. Send it to us and we’ll add it to the Menstrual Musings playlist on our YouTube channel.