How to surrender: lessons from nature

Jul 29 2021

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: the white tree on top of the hill

Hello dear reader, well, have I got some stories for you?! I'm fresh from a soothing and enlivening wild women woodland retreat on the lush green hilly Sharpham Estate in Devon. I've been meandering, river swimming, meditating, moving, singing, chatting, laughing, crying, eating and howling with a pack of incredible women with astonishing stories, under the gentle and powerful guidance of Nina Jankelson and Shoshana Moskowitz.

This blog tells the tale of my solo day and what it taught me about surrender. 

After three days of developing a toolkit of mindfulness techniques, sensory exploration, nature reflection and ritual, each of us were given a packed lunch (yay!) and invited to cross a flowery threshold onto the vibrant, undulating, beckoning land, solo, guided by our chosen intention.

There's been so much change in my life recently, which is all too raw to write about in this blog (12 weeks later I did write about it here), but lets say there's been stuff happening that I have no control over and my only option has been to surrender. As someone who's preferred strategies are action and effort, I have been feeling some deep resistance to the whole 'letting go' plan. Why let go when you can try harder?

So for my solo day, over the course of 7 hours, I decided to employ the services of my head, heart and gut to guide me towards an understanding of the power of surrender.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Ahhhh, Sharpham!

How To Surrender: Lessons From Nature

Straight away, my Head made a plan; “Let's think about lunch, decide where to eat and work back from there.”

My Heart said “There there,” to my poor, grasping Head and called to my Gut, “What do you feel, my dear?”.

My Gut said “Listen, the river is calling!” So that's where we went, Head, Heart, Gut and I.

The wide river Dart is salty and tidal, with muscular currents that swirl down deep. I said, “River, River, tell me about surrender.” And this is what it said:

“The tide comes in
and the tide goes out,
If you don't go with it,
You'll tire yourself out.”

Above the river a seagull hovered, flapping it's wings against the wind, furiously efforting to stay in one place. I said “Seagull, Seagull, please teach me what you know about surrender.”

With a wink of his eye,
He spread his wings wide and turned
and soared on the curve of a thermal,
Cackling with glee,
Shouting “Juuuuuuust leeeeeeettttttt gooooooooo!”

Heart led me down to the cool dark woods, where leaves fell off trees with a sarcastic glint, “fuck it” they said, as they pragmatically and unceremoniously flung themselves to the forest floor. Surrender is no big deal if you're a leaf.

A squirrel leapt deftly from tree to tree, “Hey Squirrel, would you talk about surrender to me?” She said:

“You've just got to jump,
jump and trust.
A branch will catch you,
Or maybe it won't,
You'll land with a bump,
and you'll be a bit bruised,
But you'll be alright
Maybe even amused!”

Gut suggested I climb over a fence and walk down the narrow path, flanked by reed beds. As the reeds rippled and spiralled in the breeze, I asked “Reeds, Reeds, talk about surrender, please?” They replied:

Is not a choice to make,
If you don't bend,
You're gonna break.”

The wind was picking up, making its presence felt, I said, “Talk about surrender?” and here's what it yelled:

“It's in my nature
to bluster and blow,
I can't help it.
It's just how I flow.
Sometimes I make chaos,
and that makes me sad,
But chaos leads to new things,
So it's not always bad.”

Gut said “I'm hungry” and Head found a den. On soft powdery earth, safe and sheltered by branches, I drank tea from a flask and ate rustic cheese sandwiches.

The wind died down and Heart led us up to a big field of brown cows. You know what I said? I said: “Cows, cows, do you have any surrender nowse?” Without looking up, they sighed and they said:

We've got
a lot
of grass
to eat.
We haven't got time
For your existential

I tilted my cap and Head rushed us up to the footpath above, where a barbed wire fence cut into the trunk of an old oak tree. The tree bulged out, engulfing the fence, I said; “Poor tree, that looks pretty intense."

“Oh no, it's fine, really, don't fret.
The fence is doing what fences do best.
It was never ever going to move,
And I've got A LOT
Besides, I like my new shape,
Don't you?”

I spied a lonesome white tree on the top of a hill, Gut told me “go there!” so I said “I will.” I vaulted over a rickety gate and waded through thistles and nettles and brambles.

On my way, flitting and fluttering amongst the long grass, a pale purple butterfly caught my eye. I asked; “Butterfly, Butterfly, what do you know about surrender?” And she replied:

“I used to be a caterpillar!”

The white tree stood tall and naked on top of the flowery hill. Its bleached, barkless branches pierced the blue sky. I asked “Tree, Tree, do you know anything about surrender that you can tell me?” And it said:

“I am dead.
Yet still here.
You see my beauty,
So I live on in you.
Everything dies,
and falls back to the earth.
Where it nourishes new life.
Is an act
Of exquisite

Heart said: “Sit down here and eat that piece of ginger cake that Head has been saving since lunch.” So I did and we all agreed it was delicious. Then Gut told me to pull out my notebook and I wrote the first draft of this.

Back with the wild women, we sang and we danced and we shared our stories around the crackling fire. Day turned to night and a storm came in. Still telling our tales, we huddled under shelter, as dark clouds surrendered their raindrops and distant lightning flashed.

I slept like the dead and when I awoke, Head, Heart and Gut said “It's time to get up!” For the first time in ages, I danced for the trees, the bushes, the flowers, the bugs and the bees. I felt so much lighter, released and not scared, whatever comes next, I'm feeling prepared!

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: I made a mandala after my epic day

What would you ask nature to teach you about?

If you'd like to know more about the Woodland Retreat I went on, check out the Sharpham House website.

This blog is part of a series, documenting my DYCP project, focussing on my writing practice. For more blogs in this series:

  • Click here to read about how I overcame my first bout of writer's block
  • Click here to find out what I learned about curating the conditions for creativity.
  • Click here for reflections and poems from February's Mindful Play lab.
  • Click here to find out what I learned about surrender as a gateway to creativity, grief and beauty.
  • Click here for a round up of the whole project.

If you'd like to read about the life events that led to me writing this blog, click here.

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