In the high country, it can get cold. Fast. The weather changes without much notice and it is the constant subject of passing hikers on the John Muir Trail. On day 10 of our hike, we summitted Muir Pass, the namesake of this famous route. As we got close to the nearly 12,000-foot peak, we saw a band of dark clouds moving toward us. By the time we found the top and entered a rock-domed shelter called Muir Hut, half the sky was dark. We decided not to wait out the storm, but to hike through it. We left the shelter and headed straight for the storm. Pellets — neither hail nor snow — fell from the sky for the next two hours, blanketing the ground.
After 17 miles and many hours of climbing and descending, our bodies couldn’t go any further than Evolution Lake – a place that sits exposed and wind-swept with high passes on all sides. That night as the storm blew over the temperature dropped. We pitched our tent between two lonely trees on an otherwise rocky hillside desperate for relief from the cold. It didn’t help. My hiking buddy and I put on all of our clothes, including down coats and thick hats, and climbed into our sleeping bags. By 2:00 a.m., I was shivering. I curled into a fetal position, sat on my hands, covered my entire head with the top of the bag. Nothing worked. Hypothermia didn’t cross my mind, but it wasn’t out of the question under these conditions. Glancing over at my friend, he looked peaceful in his sleeping bag. So I waited for dawn: freezing cold. My eyes teared and my jaw clenched. I hit the wall, totally naked with desperation. Then something unexpected happened: I surrendered. My breathing slowed and my belly softened. All of my attention narrowed and I gave up on the flood of thoughts about being cold. In the hours that followed, I slept soundly until clear daylight entered the thickly frosted tent.
Relevance: Collaborative Destruction
Surrendering means accepting what IS. As the adage goes, the truth of any situation can “set you free.” Working in groups, it’s natural to come with a plan and an agenda. You want things to go in a particular direction. Often, however, they don’t. Surrendering allows you to give up or change significantly what you are currently doing. Surrendering looks like starting clean. Unlike improvisation, which is more playful and fun, surrendering burns down the understory. It’s a form of destruction.
When difficulty shows up, try resetting by surrendering. Slow down. Breathe from your belly. Bring your attention from the thoughts in your head to the middle of your body. Try to completely and fully lean into what is happening. Embrace without pre-judging, blocking, or resisting. Look at the situation as you would through the eyes of a child. Let the initial waves of anger, fear, self-pity, and assumptions pass by. Now look again…and then again. Keep resetting, surrendering, to allow for a clearing away of the debris. Surrendering in this way leads to fresh possibilities…and the chance for opening.