Learn the Power of Spiritual Surrender

By Sally Kempton | Originally posted here in Yoga Journal

Practice Makes Possible

The great paradox about surrender—as with other qualities of awakened consciousness, such as love, compassion, and detachment—is that though we can practice it, invoke it, or open up to it, we can’t actually make it happen. In other words, just as the practice of being loving is different from being in love, so the practice of surrendering is not the same as the state of being surrendered.

girl meditating and doing yoga at sunset

As a practice, surrender is a way of unclenching your psychic and physical muscles. It is an antidote to the frustration that shows up whenever you try to control the uncontrollable. There are any number of ways to practice surrender—from softening your belly, to consciously opening yourself to grace, turning over a situation to the universe or to God, or deliberately letting go of your attachment to an outcome. (I often do this by imagining a fire and imagining myself dropping the issue or thing I’m holding on to into that fire.)

When the attachment or the sense of being stuck is really strong, it often helps to pray for surrender. It doesn’t matter who or what you pray to, it matters only that you are willing to ask. At the very least, the intention to surrender will allow you to release some of the invisible tension caused by fear and desire.

However, the state of surrender is always a spontaneous arising, which you can allow to occur but never force. Someone I know describes his experiences of the state of surrender like this: “I feel as if a bigger presence, or energy, pushes aside my limited agendas. When I feel it coming, I have a choice to allow it or resist it, but it definitely comes from a place beyond what I think of as me, and it always brings a huge sense of relief.”

This is not something you can make happen, because the small self, the individual “me,” is literally not capable of dropping its own sense of ego boundary.

Early in my practice, I had a dream in which I was dropped into an ocean of light. I was “told” that I should dissolve my boundaries and merge into it, that if I could, I would be free. In the dream, I struggled and struggled to dissolve the boundaries. I couldn’t. Not because I was afraid, but because the “me” who was trying to dissolve itself was like a person trying to jump over her own shadow. Just as the ego can’t dissolve itself, so too the inner control freak can’t make itself disappear. It can only, as it were, give the deeper will permission to emerge in the forefront of consciousness.

Many of us first experience spontaneous surrender during an encounter with some great natural force—the ocean, the process of childbirth, or one of those incomprehensible and irresistible waves of change that sweep through our lives and carry away a relationship we’ve counted on, a career, or our normal good health. For me, opening into the surrendered state typically comes when I’m pushed beyond my personal capacities. In fact, I’ve noticed that one of the most powerful invitations to the state of surrender happens in a state of impasse.

Here’s what I mean by impasse: You are trying as best you can to make something happen, and you’re failing. You realize that you simply cannot do whatever it is you want to do, cannot win the battle you’re in, cannot complete the task, cannot change the dynamics of the situation. At the same time, you recognize that the task must be completed, the situation must change. In that moment of impasse, something gives in you, and you enter either a state of despair or a state of trust. Or sometimes both: One of the great roads to the recognition of grace leads through the heart of despair itself.

Trust the Force Within

But—and here is the great benefit of spiritual training, of having devoted yourself to practice—it’s also possible, like Luke Skywalker confronting the Empire in Star Wars, to move straight from the realization of your helplessness into a state of trusting the Force. In either case, what you’ve done is opened to grace.

Most transformational moments—spiritual, creative, or personal—involve this sequence of intense effort, frustration, and then letting go. The effort, the slamming against walls, the intensity and the exhaustion, the fear of failure balanced against the recognition that it is not OK to fail—all these are part of the process by which a human being breaks out of the cocoon of human limitation and becomes willing on the deepest level to open to the infinite power that we all have in our core. It’s the same process whether we’re mystics, artists, or people trying to solve a difficult life problem. You’ve probably heard the story of how Einstein, after years of doing the math, had the special theory of relativity downloaded into his consciousness in a moment of stillness. Or of Zen students, who struggle with a koan, give up, and then find themselves insatori.

And then there’s you and me, who, when faced with an insoluble problem, bang against the walls, go for a walk, and have a brilliant insight—the book’s structure, the company’s organizing principles, the way out of the emotional tangle. These epiphanies arise seemingly out of nowhere, as if your mind were a slow computer and you had been entering your data and waiting for it to self-organize.

When the great will opens inside you, it’s like going through the door that leads beyond limitation. The power you discover in such moments has an easeful inevitability about it, and your moves and words are natural and right. You wonder why you didn’t just let go in the first place. Then, like a surfer on a wave, you let the energy take you where it knows you’re meant to go.


Complete article here in Yoga Journal

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