The first day of school holds a lot of significance--- new friends, new experiences, new shoes (and new undies too!). Even if you don't have kids, you probably feel that brisk energy and resolve to get 'er done that comes back around each fall.
What you don't need stuffed into that new backpack or purse is a sense of helplessness.
That's what I felt when my oldest son told me about his first day as a high school junior. He was distraught because his classes were all rearranged at the last minute, and he didn't know anyone. Not only did he feel isolated and friendless, but one of his Advanced Placement classes required a staggering amount of homework. Added to that was his new job as a grocery store cashier; all of this made him certain that the upcoming year would be an overwhelming disaster.
We talked about whether to call his school counselor, whether to drop an AP class, or cut back hours at work. He had concerns about all the options, and I was just as uncertain about what to do. Should I call the school? Would that be overreacting? Was this simply a life-is-tough-suck-it-up-son moment?
His first day turned into a long sleepless night followed by a stomach ache the next morning. Something had to be done.
It wasn't until after I dropped him off the second morning that I got some clarity and realized that his situation was not any different than any of the challenges we all face.
When to go with the flow and when to speak up and try to exert control over my experience is something I struggle with myself. Though I'm committed to the spiritual practice of surrender, I worry about mistaking surrender with complacency. Too often I forget that there are certain steps necessary to reach a state of acceptance without taking a spiritual bypass.
Here is what I wish I'd told my son on his first day of school:
Ask for guidance.
I'm not talking about the school guidance counselor here. I'm constantly calling on my angels and guides for help, but I rarely tell others to do the same. Perhaps it feels too personal. Maybe I assume that others will think ordinary, everyday problems aren't worthy of divine intervention. Whatever the reason, if you're not asking for a higher perspective, you're shouldering too heavy a load.
Guidance often comes in the form of physical symptoms or strong feelings. In my son's situation, his distress was so great that "should we just let this go?" was a question that was already being answered in the form of a sick body.
Here's a warning about this step: make sure you're listening to the right voice. While it can help to turn to close friends or family, I don't believe that anyone ever truly takes advice from another person. I believe that we ask in order to hear how someone else's words cause either a resonance or a dissonance with our own inner voice.
Take right action.
This is where the spiritual practice of surrender starts to go off the tracks. It's tempting to "let go and let God" while we reach for the TV remote or order another drink. This action step was the one I nearly missed with my son. Thankfully, I heard myself saying, "Talk to your counselor. It never hurts to speak up for yourself."
Right action isn't always a flurry of activity or drastic decisions. It may be simply speaking up, voicing a concern, expressing discomfort, or giving yourself permission to talk about a problem without having a solution.
Release the outcome.
This final step doesn't happen without the first three. It's only when we feel an alignment between our soul and our will that surrender and acceptance are possible--and sometimes even easy.
The story of my son's first day of school ends with what may seem a dead end. He spoke to his counselor and was told that he couldn't change his schedule and couldn't drop a class. Nothing in his outer situation changed. And yet, he honored his feelings by doing what he could to create a better experience. He empowered himself by asking for what he wanted. Though the answer was no, strangely enough, he didn't seem to mind.
When you find yourself inexplicably in a place of peace, you know you've done something right.
Tammy Letherer is a writing coach who loves to help others find their voice, whether in a blog or in a book. She is the author of one novel, Hello Loved Ones, and a memoir, Real Time Wreck: A Crash Course in Betrayal and Divorce, for which she is seeking agent representation. Contact her if you have a story that deserves to be shared. Follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.