Surrendering is not giving up


With accelerating climate change, the end of economic growth and the rapid depletion of our natural resources, we can certainly get overwhelmed as we try to figure out what it all means for us. Our sense of panic at peak oil and fracking, along with the melting Arctic ice and the destruction of entire ecosystems, is totally understandable. We know there are enormous emotional and spiritual challenges ahead as we prepare for what appears to be our society’s demise: the end of the patriarchal, soul-murdering, planet-annihilating paradigm of industrial civilization. 

We feel betrayed, outraged and hopeless. We feel tectonic-sized shifts, and we wonder if life will ever be enjoyable again. What we need is not another permaculture course or another cause to take to the streets. We need our hearts and eyes to be broken open. We might use our tears to water the earth and wash away the cultural myths that pollute and paralyze our souls. This is not giving up, but choosing to rise to the challenge of healing and transformation. 

There is a difference between resignation and surrender. When faced with chemical warfare and mass extinction, how do we respond? Why would I give a “Fukushima,” instead of just giving up? We can choose to muddle our way into oblivion, as countless people choose to do; giving up is easy. But surrender takes both courage and self-regard, an abiding conviction that one’s human dignity is worth it. It acknowledges that the human species is marching in its own funeral procession and that perhaps one can choose instead to march consciously, all the while asking questions that matter. 

Saying that global collapse is nothing, telling ourselves that we’ll not experience the worst of it in our own lifetimes—that is resignation. Resignation is giving up. Indulging in that form of denial is cowardly; it restricts our purpose to little more than breathing air, ingesting food and water, and accumulating wealth. Resignation in Latin implies submission, acquiescence and compliance. 

Hopefully most of us are not willing to go gently, quietly or complacently into the abyss we have created. Yet we can surrender our roles as purveyors of a civilization engaged in rendering this planet uninhabitable. Surrender is not a passive act, but a choice. Although we are “dead men walking,” we may yet be able to choose how we think and how we meet our fate.

Many of us in West Marin are trying to figure out how this rapidly changing world will impact our lives in concrete ways—how it will change our homes, how we get around, what we eat, wear, buy, read and much more. Some of us are searching for a way to engage the invisible stages of change that are upon us. How can our local participation with the Transition Movement support these invisible, profound, sometimes very personal stages of deliberation? Some like to go through these processes on their own, but many are helped by talking with others, by airing what’s happening in their heads, their hearts and their daily lives. 

This process is the inner component of the Transition Movement. We ask, “What is left for me to do here? How do I most wisely use my remaining years? What gifts do I have that I must give? What brings meaning to the lives of people around me? What brings meaning to me?” Our world is finite and we are taking much from future generations. Can we truly live sustainably, in harmony with nature? Reflecting on inner changes is a critical step in any transition; it can help to have a group of friends with whom we acknowledge the huge amount of stress that exists under the surface as we come to terms with a shifting reality. 

We could all use a place and time for such reflections and the sharing of our feelings as we adjust to new insights that are frightening and disturbing. Given a safe space to talk, share and acknowledge the value of our emotions can bring some grounding, empowerment and rejuvenation. Sharing our inner journey also can create a deeper connection and shared purpose, increasing the trust and resilience of a group. 

When we connect on a person-to-person level, we understand that all people laugh, cry and basically want the same things. If we surrender to our grief, joy will surely emerge from our depths. On Thursday, September 19 at 7 p.m., we will begin forming an Inner Transition Group at Bing Gong’s home to engage in such reflections and support. We invite our fellow West Marin residents to join Transition West Marin in a monthly gathering focused on inner transitions. For more information contact Bing Gong at (415) 663.1380 or


Bernie Stephan is an Inverness resident and the Broker of Eco Realty. He co-hosts KWMR’s Post Carbon Radio show with Bing Gong and writes Bernie’s Blog at