Surrender in order to release being bound – bound to things, to outcomes, to routines and plans. How many times in this life have I heard, Colleen, let it go. I’m fierce, some say. Stubborn, the people who live with and love me say. I hold tight. I’m a mom, and when those babies were finally put into my arms, that mother bear instinct hit hard. I must’ve always known it. And when it surfaced, it got me to fight for one of my infant’s release from the NICU, where he suffered for not being with his twin brother. I couldn’t even talk about this fight for four years. I couldn’t even re-enter those halls of memory where I took one baby home and left another, where my husband and I balanced time and energy between the two of our infants. We balanced our sleepless bodies into the unroutine of driving back and forth to the hospital, slingshotting time between feeding and loving both babies and each other. Crushed and balled up in the safety of our own room, in our own blankets one night and the slushy soothing snore of one baby sleeping, I told my husband we had to fight.
“Now it is time to fight,” I said. “It is time to fight for our son.” And in the morning, I drove my car with two baby seats to the hospital for our son in the baby NICU and I took on the status quo, the motion in place. I took on doctors who “knew” better than me. And in the corner of the NICU while I railed against that doctor, a nurse quieted herself in her work, becoming invisible to my heavy voice and my heart panting and bleeding through my angry pleading words.
She came to me later, when my heart rate had settled and only quiet tears bled just a little, where I held my baby in the hospital, breaking to hold my other baby snuggled home safe with his father at the same time. She said she heard what I had said to the doctor. She said it fiercely, so fiercely that I looked up, held the baby closer, apologized for deigning to speak back to the doctor gods who reign over the hospital halls. She placed her hand on mine. She looked me in the eye, fierce and loving. I was confused. She said, “I believe you. I believe you are right, and the doctor is wrong. And I will get your baby home to you.”
Sometimes in warrior pose, I imagine my drishti gazing over my third finger as some secret power and I pretend I can use my gaze to burn a hole in the studio wall, and not just to char and smoke and burn it, but to get all the way through it. To get through. And I feel powerful and intense, significant with sweat dripping, muscles speaking, breath even and paced – maybe like a warrior. But sometimes I look around and I imagine that everyone in the room is doing the same thing. That everyone is powerful and using their own secret powers, but… Honestly, some of us don’t look that powerful from the outside. I could walk by some warriors and knock them down. I myself, fiercely burning holes in walls with my fire gaze have been adjusted in warrior and have fallen crumpled and awkward to the ground with a simple loving, guiding touch. Not very warrior-y.
My husband flies a powerful jet for the Air Force, and I don’t mean to flip that out there as lightly as it may sound, nor as heavy as it will land to those who will nod so solemnly when hearing. But that’s what he does and I am simply witness to this journey he has chosen. A group of Airmen on the ground in Iraq gave him a sword for saving their lives one day. That sword is heavy as if it came from a proud and mighty, sweaty and worn knight himself in his nicked and stained chain mail and it is mounted even more proudly on heavy sanded, shaped, and oiled wood. I imagine my husband’s steady breathing, intense eyes, his easy but direct and powerful demeanor in the moments it all happened. Then I immediately imagine him standing and smiling almost humbly, clapping the back of one of those guys in a moment of passing in an airport on a rainy warm day years later. I recognized that smile. It is the smile I would give that nurse who fought for me if I ran across her while choosing apples in the grocery store. That humility, that humble laugh is what my husband does – those guys on the ground had to be warriors. My husband had to be the one who made it safe enough for them to be everything they were in that moment.
My husband nodded when I told him it was time to fight for our baby. He let me curl up on him and cry. His heart was steady, his breath even, his eyes direct at me, and he said, “Yes, we must fight. It is time.”
In the ancient text and yogi scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna stands in the middle of a battlefield, horses panting, men growling and posturing, the air heavy with energy and anger. He’s surrounded by uncles, nephews, cousins, friends, friends of friends, friends of fathers of friends. Arjuna is expected to not just fight, but wage war, to be responsible for death, brutality, blood-soaked grounds, winds carrying screams and roars and battle din. And he wants to give up, he wants to surrender. And in a way, so does Krishna.
Krishna stands by Arjuna, his friend, his disciple, and explains exactly why he must fight. And in the end, Krishna reveals that to fight really is to surrender. It is to surrender to Krishna himself. To surrender to the greater, to be at one with body and wisdom, with life and death. Arjuna is a warrior and is meant to be on that battlefield. To accept who he is in that moment it to surrender to hope and to fear together as they weave in and out of each other like water and ancient stone, roots and rocks.
Surrendering attachment, the sage
performs all actions–with his body,
his mind, and his understanding–
only to make himself pure.
The resolute in yoga surrender
results, and gain perfect peace;
the irresolute, attached to results,
are bound by everything they do.Gita,5.11-5.12
I thought I had walked into that NICU that morning to be my son’s warrior. Don’t get me wrong, my voice mattered that day. My mother voice mattered and it grew deep and strong and tapped into ancient roots that I remember now hearing in my own mother’s voice when her own son was hurt, when a coach mistreated a daughter, when I pushed too hard after a surgery. But the warrior wasn’t me this time. The warrior was the woman in the corner, quietly observant and fiercely diligent for her patients.
In yoga we learn to let go of our attachment to outcomes. Yoga teachers say over and over, “Maybe today is not your day for this pose; Listen to your body.” And after the pose, we vinyasa or bend into child’s pose to breathe and release, erase what has come before like a fuzzy eraser blurring the chalked outlines of our asana, in order to move forward. Once we complete one set of actions, it is over, it is gone. Once our actions are memories, selfless action can begin. Once the practices, the training is over, the action that is not of the self can begin – the true moment of body and mind bridged together in that flash moment of perfection can occur. And if you see that moment or have a moment like that, it is a moment of freedom. It is self-less to pursue one’s destiny – in that the ego must be hushed, the heart must be heeded, and we must do what is in us to do.
Sometimes I imagine my husband’s face as he geared up and took off for the mission to save the warriors on the dusty ground of Iraq. I wonder if even I would have sensed any fear in his eyes or if he had already stepped into the moment, surrendering to purpose. Sometimes I imagine my husband dancing with a hair net on his head moments before the C-Section that would make us parents. Our warriors must have been lying quiet someplace behind our shadows on that day.
In all the buildup around the Olympics, in all the Hallmark moments of sticky sweet emotionality, we know a lot about the athletes, their flaws, and the stumbling blocks and boundaries they’ve overcome. They have struggled, they’ve been broken and discouraged. And yet, we get to watch them choose to compete – to face their greatest fear, which is also their greatest dream. We somehow feel connected, even through the screen, to the athlete who seems separated from the score or time, who seems present in the moment of athletic competition simply as an athlete, simply as the mind and body connection needed to compete at such an intense level.
There must have been a moment, though, someplace in their training when they thought, I can’t fight anymore, I can’t give anymore, and I want to go back to when this was easier. I’ve felt this same roiled emotion of fear, remorse, intimidation, and tingly barfy heart-pounding stress many times – as a mother, as an Air Force spouse starting over in a new town again and again, and most recently on my way to the yoga studio. There are times I want desperately to go back to not knowing where the toilet paper is kept in the studio, not knowing how to use the stereo, not knowing the light in the studio at different times of day or even the sound of my own feet tiptoeing lightly around mats as my voice courses forward, guiding our journey through asana. I want to go back to my simpler experience of poses and yoga, of entering the studio with my shutdown, unthought-out reasons, and leaving the same way.
One of my favorite memories of our new parent days is walking into the living room to find my husband lying sound asleep, shirtless on the couch with both babies curled up snuggly and snoring on his chest. After gazing at the wonder of it all in my sleep-deprived, stretched out to fluffy body, I had a moment of overwhelming fear: What if I can’t do this? Look at these precious lives – all three of them – what if I can’t be a wife and a mother, what if I can’t do it? I stared so intently I thought maybe my eyes would hurt one of them or my eyes would wake them or start a sudden and weird fire. I blinked a few times and sat in the plush and soft Lazy Boy beside the couch, the rocker my husband bought me to keep me comfortable and soothed while holding babies. Finally, he opened his eyes, somewhat nonchalantly and completely unaware of the flames my eyes may have started. He looked around, patted each baby’s back, adjusted a diaper, and found my eyes.
This was no battlefield, no moment of surreal interaction with a thousand-armed god, no heart-pounding moment of training and chance coming together for now or never, no moment of life altering intensity. I looked in his eyes because they are safe and warm. I heard a car drive by, birds chirping a couple times, maybe a stray bark of a dog wafting in the air outside. This was my husband waking from a nap with our babies sleeping on his chest in the middle of a Saturday afternoon in our suburban two-story rental with a pool. He looked at me and smiled. He looked at the babies and smiled. He closed his eyes again. I exhaled and found myself in the moment. I was a wife and mother. My husband and I brought both our babies home. And then. One of them stirred, my husband began moving for them, and the whir of life started reeling forward in fast forward clips with bottles, burping, birthdays, movement, pictures, albums. We catch each other’s eyes, my husband, that warrior partner of mine and me, fully open most times to surrendering to who we are, and we dance softly ever forward.