from The Marginalian:
“Letting art is the paradox of active surrender,” Jeanette Winterson wrote in her superb meditation on how art transforms us. “I have to work for art if I want art to work on me.” But letting life is also a paradox of active surrender — we have to work for life too if we want life to work for us. (That is what Maya Angelou meant when she observed that “life loves the liver of it.”)
The paradox is that much of what we think is work at life — all the ways in which we try to bend reality to our will, all the ways in which we clutch at control (which only ever means the illusion of control) as an organizing principle — is in fact an escape from the true work, which is the work of letting go: letting go of the illusion, of the systems of belief and magical thinking by which we fancy ourselves in control.
The subtlety — sometimes devastating, sometimes deeply rewarding — lies in learning the difference between the false work and the true work of life: that elusive art of active surrender.
This is what Henry Miller (December 26, 1891–June 7, 1980) explores with uncommon self-awareness and sensitivity in one of the many miniature masterpieces of insight into human nature collected in A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller (public library) — the record of the layered and durable relationship between these longtime lovers turned lifelong friends, comrades in the republic of literature, kindred rebels against the tide of convention and the tyranny of circumstance, forever bonded by their shared devotion to shaping themselves and reshaping their world through writing.
From his home in Big Sur, he writes to her in the spring of 1946:
When you surrender, the problem ceases to exist. Try to solve it, or conquer it, and you only set up more resistance. I am very certain now that… if I truly become what I wish to be, the burden will fall away. The most difficult thing to admit, and to realize with one’s whole being, is that you alone control nothing. To be able to put yourself in tune or rhythm with the forces beyond, which are the truly operative ones, that is the task — and the solution, if we can speak of “solutions.”
He observes that when we don’t fully surrender to those currents of life larger than us, some part of, however suppressed, knows it. Out of that quiet, gnawing knowledge arise the feelings of guilt that often haunts our days without an easily identifiable source — for the source lurks in those secret strata of being, half-opaque even to us. It is a wholly interior knowledge and a wholly interior guilt, impervious to outside judgment, independent of the external world. And yet, in our desperation to locate a source, we often project it outward and place it in others.
With his characteristic faith in human nature, Miller writes:
One thing I don’t worry about… is what people think, how they misinterpret things. There’s nothing you can do about that… What amazes me more and more is how much people do understand when you give them the full dose, when you hold back nothing.