• Jeanette Micallef

Surrender vs. Letting Go

This post is for Dylann, my extremely gifted and intuitive tarot student. Thank you for always helping me think outside the constructs of age and experience. I am grateful.


Not so long ago, in one of our lessons, my student Dylann casually mentioned that she was going through a process of surrendering in her current situation, and how very different it was from just letting go. A little surprised, I think I stopped her mid-sentence, "What is the distinction between surrender and letting go, in your mind?" I asked. I had mostly heard those two words used together, interchangeable, in almost every circumstance. As with all words, however, they both exist separately, and therefore have distinct meanings.

She explained that letting go, to her, is more a choice -- the willing release or relinquishing of something that no longer serves her -- something she has control over, whereas surrender is so much more.

This sent me down a weeks-long thought trail from which I have only just started to emerge.

I thought about things I had let go, and then asked myself, "Was it letting go, or was it surrender? Which one did it feel like?" The first memories that popped up were the most difficult ones, the painful ones. I looked back at the hardest times in my life, some of which were actually pretty recent, and I noticed some very definite patterns. There were times when things were so dark, and situations were so thick with stress, worry and frustration that I could no longer see which side was up. In those times it can be so unclear what is inside my control and what is not -- what things I can actually impact, and which ones I can't. It is more than just a little letting go that needs to happen to get the path clear. It is full on surrender.

Surrender is drowning in a tempestuous sea and choosing to throw your hands over your head letting the current take you wherever its going to rather than fighting it. It's intense. It's struggle. It's prying your clenched fists off the steering wheel and putting them in your pockets. It's saying to the Universe, "I have no control over this. It is out of my hands. I trust you to handle what I cannot."

My biggest moment of surrender happened a few years ago, when my sister was in Florida on an operating table, dying in childbirth, while I was in Michigan without the means, the money or the ability to get to her. Surrender was trusting that she was going to make it in a situation where, even if I were there, there would be nothing I could do to make a difference. Surrender looks like 48 hours of sobbing -- tearing your hair out -- inconsolable, trusting that something bigger, something more powerful than me was going to take care of her.

The surrender itself may or may not have altered the situation. There is no way to measure that. It did, however, alter me. There is an honesty and a vulnerability in facing that kind of loss and giving everything over to it. It reminds you of your place in the universe, your role in the process of things. It forces you to create a space for the miraculous to show up. And it did. The amazing doctors and nurses in that ER put 88 units of blood into my sister, figured out where she was bleeding from, and they fixed her. It was nothing short of miraculous, and I have her today -- here with me, safe and sound in Michigan.

This beautiful song by Alexa Sunshine Rose helps me to remember that surrender can be vulnerable, harmonious and beautiful. Listen here.


The intensity of surrender, by no means negates the process of letting go. It just differentiates it. Each has its unique feelings and processes and each has its own brand of pain and beauty.

I have formed a relationship with letting go. Over the last 7 years, we have become close friends. Whether it is writing things down and burning them in my backyard fire pit, or just a momentary breathy prayer, I have come to a place where letting go of things, big and small, is a daily occurrence. Not always an easy one, but always worth it once I get there.

Whether it is me choosing not to mess with the jerk on the road that just cut me off, or taking a deep breath and loving my aunt through another "I love Trump" conversation she insists on having with me, letting go is a practice -- a devotion.

Sometimes, it is easy and in the moment. Sometimes it is something I want to let go and an immediate sense of relief washes over me as soon as it's gone. Sometimes, it is years in the making and each step toward freedom is like pulling teeth. And sometimes it is letting go of something you don't want to, but know in your heart you must.

I think the difference between a difficult letting go, and surrendering is also about attachment. I am extremely attached to my sister. She is my best friend. She has been by my side for 46 years. It is so much easier and less emotional for me to let go of a job, a lover, a car, nearly anything rather than my sister.

In my recent studies in India, I learned much about my humanity and the trappings of attachment. It makes me wonder how I can love deeply without being attached. Can I? Can anyone? And if so, does that detachment turn surrender into a mere letting go? Is surrender critical for us to get the point? Is surrender the cocoon we must break through in order to be strong enough to fly when we emerge as the butterfly?

I do not know. What I do know, is that I am a better person for both the surrender and the letting go. So, I will move forward with both, regretting neither and embracing the opportunities each one provides.


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