This is a word of negative connotations. Suggestions of failure. Of giving up. Of weakness.
But I have come to understand surrender as something entirely different, and I wish to shed light upon my discovers surrounding the liberation of surrender.
I am not the first to coin the use of this word in a positive setting. Yoga teachers the world over will often invite their students to ‘surrender to the practice’. It has a nice esoteric ring to it. I even found myself throwing this word around in classes to try to invite some sort of depth, grounding, and innocence to the modes through which we move during āsana sadhana. I suppose we all carry universalized assumptions about spiritual narratives, a linguistic stereotype if you like, using phrases and themes to intensify one’s experience. There are undoubtedly benefits of doing this. Psychologists have studied the brain and its patterns; the bodily responses we have to certain words; how the mind interacts with certain themes. These language devices can be employed by teachers, healers, spiritual workers, politicians etc. etc. to provoke some sort of reaction. Not only is this scientifically fascinating, but it broadens our scope for development, which is no small matter.
Where this becomes a problem for me, is in it’s manipulation. In a high-speed contemporary world where instant gratification isn’t fast enough, we find ourselves rushing through things that may require more care, subtlety, and digestion. Even within our spiritual practice it is easy to become goal oriented and analytical. The ego is still at work, judging our rate of progress – what ever form that may take. Sometimes the language we use to guide and progress, is actually feeding into these bad dharmic patterns. We use terms and phrases not in a manner of understanding, but as definitions to underpin what we do. To validate our sacred journeys. We come from a place of definition, dictation, and expectation, rather than an authentic position of feeling and recognition.
This greatly applies to our use of the term “surrender”.
I began a deep meditation upon surrender after this full moon lunar eclipse that has just passed. I, like many others I know, was greatly affected by the astral movements and energetic shifts of the last fortnight. I have spent a lot of time trying to restore balance after many an emotional upheaval – searching, again, for that harmonious lotus above the muddied depths. But I wasn’t finding relief where I wanted it to be. My daily practice wasn’t doing what I expected it to be doing. The powerful sadhana that had changed my life, saved me, and kept me strong for years, suddenly seemed to lack something intrinsic that I needed. Logic wasn’t prevailing and I was at a loss as to what to do next. “Surrender to the mat”, I told myself. “Surrender to the practice, to jappa, to prayer”. I suddenly asked myself, very seriously, what I really meant by that. Was I subconsciously trying to manipulate myself into some emotive state through which I could purge and cleanse? Or was I just saying the words for the sake of them? Because they were familiar, in sound if not in meaning?
After a long, estranged relationship with “surrender”, I decided it was time we actually got to know each other. And something profoundly shifted when I did.
First I should probably lay out my former understanding of what “surrender” meant, in a healing nurturing way. Surrender meant: to let go; to release; to find relief; to unlock tension; to create more space to breathe.
This had always seemed a positive enough understanding for me in the past. But on reflection, it was a little bit too refined a definition – too prescriptive – there was too much expectation attached to it. It began to seem an inauthentic pursuit.
After a week of exploration, I have come up with a different picture of surrender.
Surrender is not something academic. It is not an experience to be too wordy about, to be overly analytical or prescriptive with.
Surrender is a means of stopping. To silently look through and understand how you have made it this far. To understand survival. How it feels in the body. To write a love letter to yourself in which you expect nothing but accept everything. To be a witness to the highs and the lows. To accept defeat, success, failure, support, neglect, love, indifference, all with humility and honesty. To understand ourselves from a more primal and less philosophical position.
Surrender is not breathing through the pain, but breathing with it, in order to feel it and its complexities in their entirety. To allow the tears to fall without wiping them aside. To feel the depth of every emotion. To define your own truths. To unashamedly gaze upon the world wide-eyed and fearlessly. To sensitize to all the subtleties of the body, mind, and soul. To touch the sky and remain rooted. To live from intuition in a nonsensical universe. To accept the support of the earth, rather than trying to hold ourselves upright constantly. To befriend our limitations, for it is they who teach us to surpass ourselves.
Yoga is a practice of faith. It is a deeply spiritual pursuit of the Highest Truth. And in order to be prepared, to open ourselves up for the experience of Yoga, we must first have a solid foundation in surrender. To surrender is to accept That which is Great. To dedicate ourselves to the practices of humility, service, and Devotion.
In yoga as in surrender, ‘there is neither loss nor gain, neither excess nor deficiency’ (B.K.S. Iyengar). I have come to understand this pursuit of authenticity as a bodily experience. As the Kundalini sits coiled in the base of our spine, so we are rooted in ourselves. Mediation upon our lower, baser Chakras allows us a power – a seat within our True nature, to shine in our own glory – without which no amount of esoteric practice can liberate us. To rest the head on the earth. To feel the wind and taste the water. Become elementally engaged. As we learn to work with the body and our sensory agents in pursuit of liberation, we experience the true nectar of the āsana practice; and like petals opening on a flower, we begin to grasp that total surrender of oneself to the Supreme, and we work towards overcoming that illusion of separateness from Source.
I invite you to explore your own comfort in vulnerability. To truly open yourself up to yourself. To surrender to your authentic nature in a light of pure acceptance, without thinking, or naming, or justifying. Find what resonates with you and work with it to shed personal misidentifications. Be in a space of healing and support as you work to rebuild from the roots.
Be kind. Be humble. Be open. And, ultimately, just surrender.