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On Surrender & Agency

a reading constellation and list(poem) on surrender & agency from the week of April 2nd, 2021

I keep coming back again and again to explore this concept of [centered accountability] from generative somatics.

“The ultimate purpose of healing shame is not just to have more access to more of myself, but also to be better able to be in relationships of what generative somatics calls ‘centered accountability.’ Centered accountability means not taking too much responsibility, and not taking too little. We tend to err in both directions. Some of us tend more towards over-accountability– ‘After you. No, after you! No, I insist, after you!’  Others tend towards under-accountability: ‘Not my problem!’  And many of us do both – either swinging back & forth between the two ends of this continuum, or being over-accountable in some relationships (e.g. towards people with power over us) and under-accountable in others (e.g. towards people we have power over).”

Centered accountability as a practice for the verbs of responsibility, of agency, of trust, of right relationship.

We were in the middle of our meals coop cycle, and I was worried — about the tupperware containers getting to the right places, about people not remembering their assigned tasks, about the inevitable mix-up’s and last-minute disasters. I wasn’t sure the person who had taken on the role of admin knew everything that I knew in my head about the admin work needed, but I didn’t want to micro-manage them, so I consigned myself to not saying anything on the group chat. Swinging back and forth from finger-biting over-accountability to hands-up under-accountability in my mind, while feeling more and more distant from what was actually happening on the ground.

In therapy, we talked about the idea of micromanaging as a trying to control — a trying to effort and force and fix — especially that which we don’t actually have control over. This tendency is tied to the myth of the individual: that I can, should, and need to do all the things on my own.

Micro-managing is a form of over-accountability.

Can I also remember that I am in a flow of life, that I am merely one strand of energy working/being/doing amongst many? Can I also trust that things will be tended to by the universe of beings — that some things will work themselves out even if I don’t have an active hand in it?

Can I trust enough to surrender, to let go?

Can I trust that we could — all of us — collaborate in the group chat to do the things we were setting out to do?

During a talk at Short Run, Kelly Sue DeConnick describes teaching her middle-school-aged daughter this practice of drawing a circle. Inside that circle: everything under your control. Outside that circle: everything outside of your control. Is what you are upset about within your control or outside of your control?


“I did not know that I could only get the most out of life by giving myself up to it.”

“I had been continually exhorted to define my purpose in life, but I was now beginning to doubt whether life might not be too complex a thing to be kept within the bounds of a single formulated purpose, whether it would not burst its way out, or if the purpose were too strong, perhaps grow distorted like an oak whose trunk has been encircled with an iron band. I began to guess that my self’s need was for an equilibrium, for sun, but not too much, for rain, but not always… So I began to have an idea of my life, not as the slow shaping of achievement to fit my preconceived purposes, but as the gradual discovery and growth of a purpose which I did not know.”

“It struck me as odd that it had taken me so long to reach a feeling of sureness that there was something in me that would get on with the job of living without my continual tampering. I suppose I did not really reach it until I had discovered how to sink down beneath the level of chattering thoughts and simply feel what it meant to be alive.”

Quotes from Joanna Field’s A Life of One’s Own, as curated by Maria Popova of Brainpickings (


“the paradox I really want to uplift that I think is really important to our movements is this paradox between agency and surrender. Because for me, so often when we’re in the street, everything is about our agency, right? We can shut this down, we can change the world, we can be more powerful than the thing that we’re afraid of, which is kind of a trauma response for a lot of us. But what my spirituality provides for me is a place for surrender, is a place to be soft and a place to be tender and we need to have those parallel tracks in our lives…”

“Where we can experience agency and we can experience surrender, but I would step out on a limb to say a lot of the trauma that I’ve seen in our movement spaces is these people that we really, really respect in public places who show up with so much agency that we really admire and we want to cultivate in our lives, but the problem is sometimes they come back into community with that same level of agency and power and not much surrender. Right? and so we need to be able to cultivate in our spirits, how we’re able to do both. There was a meme going around maybe four or five years ago that said, “Turn up on the state so we can turn down on each other.” And that to me is absolutely the paradox of agency and surrender: How do we hold, turning up on the state and turn it down on each other?”

Xan West via this recorded convo on the CtznWell podcast


“What does a future look like in which white, human, and patriarchal supremacy surrender their power in an act of pleasure?”

brontë velez on For the Wild podcast

I remember feeling shell-shocked after reading this one longread article about the invisibility of whiteness in therapy (probably because it was during a frantic research phase of mine — trying to figure out whether I was experiencing gaslighting; trying to build vocabulary; trying to understand the racial dynamics that challenge a body-mind-spirit-soul in predominately-white spaces — all of which was feeding my own frustrations and breakdowns and fragilities).

“The ultimate goal is Autonomy, in which the white person finally allows themselves to surrender to the emotional weight of America’s racial history. The paralysis of guilt and resistance is overcome by an acceptance of one’s, and one’s people’s, place in the racial landscape. What emerges, phoenix-like, [Janet] Helms predicted, is an emotionally-charged commitment against racial prejudice, both within oneself and society.”

The above quote refers to a process of resolving the psychological conflict of white identity theorized by “…esteemed black psychologist and researcher Janet Helms [who] faced a firestorm in the ’90s when she suggested that white psychologists ‘include themselves (that is, their own racial group) in the study of cross-cultural perceptions.’”

Yahdon Israel recently became a senior editor at Simon & Schuster (H/t Roxane Gay’s Audacity roundup). An example of what he is looking to acquire (among other fire) is: “white writers speaking to white people about what it means to be white.”

Not about race, about whiteness.

Right now: a lot of Black and brown people writing to white people about their whiteness which means, “I’m doing emotional labor that’s not mine.”

Yahdon took to Instagram Live to explain what he’s looking for from submissions, but it’s actually an hour-long masterclass on the writing and publishing industries. More than that, it’s a masterclass in visioning a legacy and finding your role in bringing that world about — in collaboration, with rigor, and with unabashed passion.

I admire his clarity about how he wants to contribute to the existing literary canon. I admire his analysis of the landscape, his strategic business acumen, his embodied justice orientation at the core of who he is and how he operates.

He understands the rules of the industry he’s playing within AND he has an eye on how he wants to expand that field, change what’s perceived as possible, and bring his people along. He has high standards about the responsibilities that writers have to not only write their work, but to also make sure their work ends up getting to the people who need it. He has high standards about writers knowing who they’re writing to and for., and he expects that those writers also feel+act responsible to those communities beyond their writing.

Know your role. Do your work. Play your position.

(Centered accountability.)

In this recording of a guided generative somatics practice, adrienne maree brown reminds us that “We don’t center to feel comfortable; We center to feel more.”

Published inconstellation