It can feel maddening when we find ourselves doing the same thing over and over – like being stuck in a pattern of overeating or sugar bingeing – especially when we know better intellectually. We really, *really* know what to do. So why don’t we do it?
In my experience, change is not a matter of knowledge; it’s not a matter of will power; neither is it discipline. While we may use knowledge to uncover solutions, will power to persevere, and discipline to carry out our desires, what drives our desire to change is something quite different, something radical and counterintuitive: grief. This is otherwise known as surrender. I find this beautifully expressed in the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Niebuhr
Serenity is acceptance, grieving what we can’t change, coming to terms with that which is out of our control. We feel our sadness, our powerlessness (powerless in the sense of we can’t change it, not powerless as in we are powerless), our futility in the face of one of life’s givens. We feel this and we mourn.
We may mourn what has passed and is no more; we may mourn a limit (you may need to mourn limits with sugar and food); we may mourn the ways we’ve been hurt. We mourn all the things that aren’t working; all the things we wish were different. It is this mourning that paves the way to adapt our behavior: to do something different. It is mourning that allows us to change.
We can’t change our behavior until we accept it for what it is, until we can look at it in the eye and see what’s there. This is why compassion and kindness are essential. We have to be kind with ourselves – especially our mucky, messy parts – to see what’s there. Otherwise, we feel too ashamed – we hide, deny, avoid, and we keep the old patterns going. We can’t change our behavior until we accept what can’t be changed. I’d also say that we can’t change our behavior until we feel our feelings around it!
I know that things like surrender, powerlessness, and grief are not exactly popular in our “feel good at all costs,” quick fix culture. I know surrender feels scary. It feels like giving up. It feels like letting go – we wonder, if I let go of the reins, of control, of trying to force it, if I surrender and grieve what I can’t change, won’t all hell break loose?
And yet, dear one, as someone who has walked the path of surrender, powerlessness, and grief, I would like to say this: they have tremendous power. I would also say this: they are not the end.
This is because “we become changed by what we cannot change,” as one of my teachers, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, says. Surrender, grief, mourning – they are fall and winter; when everything falls to ashes, when things look bleak and barren; when we go through a mini death, a loss. As we surrender, we move through winter into spring. We move into new life, into growth, into hope, into summer. This is when we find new ways of being, of thinking, of doing. As the part that we can’t change falls away, the part that we can change – ourselves – rises.
This is when we move forward, when we adapt, and when we see change in our behavior – like putting the fork down or throwing the candy bar away.
This is when we uncover untold resources within – when we discover that our drive for safety in food and sugar is not what we’re really wanting – that what we’re really wanting is love.
This is when we give up our small vision for ourselves and expand; when we realize that, yes, the Divine has something much bigger in store for us, much bigger than ice cream sundaes or Oreo cookies.
Nothing is lost in this world. Everything is recreated. I love the way the poet Lucille Clifton puts it: The end of a thing is never the end, something is always born, like a year or a baby.” Grief is not the end, but a beginning. What we think of as an end to one thing is also a beginning of another; a birth to new life.
Tools for you:
I invite you to explore these questions in your life: “What is coming up for me to surrender? What do I need to let go of?” Watch and listen for answers. I find that asking questions is a powerful way to invite change. (The answers are often surprising or humorous.)
Needing some hands-on help?
If youd like to read more about this topic, try these articles:
- How to gently change painful habits
- How I used grief/surrender to walk away from sugar when I was really, really tempted
- Use empathy to stop a binge
- How acceptance works to change stuck habits
If this is an area of challenge for you, I recommend my overeating program, Heal Overeating: Untangled. This 12 session audio program offers tools and guided audio exercises to help you move through grief and surrender into new life. Youll learn how to support yourself through the grief process, how to create new habits, and tools to lose your fear of difficult emotions. I created Untangled to support myself as I healed my overeating habit, and is a love letter from my heart to yours.