Life-changing lessons from India – Surrender

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‘In India, sometimes you have to surrender before you win’ ~ Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

It’s almost 6 months since I returned from India and I’ve finally been able to make sense of some of my experiences. I chose India for my Social work placement because it’s a country I’ve always felt drawn to explore and it was an opportunity to practice Social work in a completely different context to what I had experienced whilst living and working in Australia.

During my placement I wrote about my struggle to feel as though I was seeing the ‘real India’ and I acknowledged that I needed to surrender, and to immerse myself in the experience to understand what was happening. Reading that piece now it seems quite insightful, because I know that although that was my genuine intention I just couldn’t let go of the need to feel in control (yes, I am a little bit of a control-freak).

Only a few months earlier, I had been in Sydney for the Aim for the Stars gala weekend and had a surfing lesson with Layne Beachley! As I’d tried to be cool about awkwardly dragging my ridiculously heavy surfboard out in to waist deep waves, and not feeling self-conscious in my body-hugging wetsuit, I suddenly found myself lying on the board with Layne bobbing in the water next to me.

I felt completely out of my depth in every sense of the word. This was the deepest point I’d ever been in the ocean (much to Layne’s amusement), I was in the water with the world’s greatest surfer, and I could barely swim let alone surf.

The feeling of being completely out of control in the middle of the ocean was totally overwhelming and led to a mini-break down on my board as I could feel the tears welling, my heart pounding through my chest. Luckily Layne is too cool to be caught up in my craziness, and after explaining how great the ocean is in teaching control-freaks to let go, she firmly but calmly said ‘don’t let your fear sabotage this experience for you’. And just like that, her words snapped me out of it and after a few hilarious attempts I finally stood on my board to catch my first wave (a tiny little wave).

But only a few months later, I was in India and again feeling out of control as I struggled with a lack of structure or support around my placement, and the most intense loneliness and isolation I’ve ever felt. And no matter how much positivity or self-talk I tried, I could not fully bring myself to the point of just letting go and surrendering to the experience.

When I returned to Australia things spun further out of control, as I was suddenly trying to process my 3 month Social work experience, the end of my 5 year relationship and where I was going to live and work in the next phase of my life. But this time I finally had the space to stop, to clear my mind from distractions and focus on my thoughts and feelings because India had shown me that I couldn’t avoid doing this.

It’s fair to say that India transformed my life. Not as the gentle spiritual-awakening I’d hoped for, but as a big ol’ punch to the face. Buddhists believe that we repeat similar life experiences over and over until we learn what we need to move on. I feel like my 3 months in India placed me in that lesson (for what felt like an eternity at times) to develop my awareness of what the lesson was – letting go – and to give me the space to be honest with myself about taking responsibility for my role in it.

Surrendering is definitely not a lesson that I have mastered yet but I am grateful for my time in India for challenging me to question who I am and to experiment with other ways of being.

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My social work placement in India was possible thanks to the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

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