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  • One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned was the "palms together" lesson, also known as the "Surrender Exercise". I still find occasion to apply this lesson, 22 years after I first learned it - like, tonight.

    We were in the second of a series of workshops we took that were - well, "life-transforming" doesn't really do justice to the impact they had - let's just say, everything changed after those workshops. The detente that existed in my relationship with Dad melted into a dear friendship. At work, I went from toiling in obscurity in a little office, unappreciated and not terribly motivated, to being involved in nationwide issues and having an impact on national policy. We went from living on, what my mother-in-law referred to as Tobacco Road, to living in a fine home in a beautiful neighborhood, in as diverse an area as one could possibly hope to raise a child.

    The exercise began with the group of 25 or 30 workshop participants sitting around in the large room, where we were instructed to put our palms together, then pull our palms apart. Palms together - palms apart. Continue. That was it. No other instructions were given. We put our palms together, and pulled our palms apart, for 10 minutes - 20 minutes - half an hour. And on...and on.

    They had told us it was a "surrender exercise". About 35 minutes in, I figured it out...I thought. It's about surrender. Just quit. Surrender. So I did. Everyone else kept going. I looked around, tried to get folks' attention, to see that all they had to do was give up - surrender. The exercise wouldn't be over until everyone got it. Nobody else was getting it. They just kept going. I couldn't believe these knuckleheads - don't they see, all they have to do is quit? I grew increasingly impatient with the whole shootin' match of them, then I started to get angry. Come on, people! We might sit here all night until you get this thing! Look at me - I figured it out. They just kept going - they actually seemed like they were really into putting those palms together, palms apart. I nearly went out of my mind. (O.K., in my defense, I had just quit smoking in the previous workshop, a couple months earlier, and now I was off all forms of caffeine for this workshop - but then, so was everyone else).

    After what seemed like an eternity, I finally gave up my giving up, and started putting my palms together and apart, and finally, at one point, John said "O.K., you can stop now."

    It turned out that the whole point of the exercise was, sometimes in life, shit happens that you have no control over, and you just have to surrender to whatever is going on, ride it out ("palms together, palms apart"), go to a place inside that actually allows you to get into whatever it is that's happening, or into your own trip to get through it, and you get through it.
    You don't quit on it (which I was trying to do) - you surrender into it, and do whatever has to be done.

    We had an 11 hour hospital experience this evening with mother-in-law - this was how long it took to get her admitted, and once the determination was made that she needed to stay, into a room. Most likely Pneumonia, with other possible complications. I was fighting off a nasty cold, myself. The first few hours were pretty rough, then, at some point, I found myself mentally putting my palms together, palms apart, and it went a lot better after that.
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