(Photo by Dana Wyss)
Ultimately there is nothing I can tell you
about surrender except
Having nothing and wanting nothing;
Not keeping score,
Not trying to be richer,
Not being afraid of losing;
Not being particularly interested
in our own personalities;
Choosing to be happy,
no matter what happens to us.
These are some of the clues.
The rest we learn with practice and grace.
- Swami Chetanananda
In any given moment, that which is beyond our control vastly exceeds that which is within our control. In every moment of our lives, this has been the case. And yet, here we are, not controlling almost everything and still pumping blood, breathing air, having ideas, feeling the breeze, loving and being loved. How much freedom lies in that thought! How much space!
Today in my yoga class at Dharma Yoga Austin, we explored the yogic ethical practice of Ishvara Pranidhana, surrender to and union with the divine (or cosmic consciousness). There are many names that may be ascribed to what the yogic sage Patanjali calls cosmic consciousness: Life, Pure Awareness, God, Presence, Higher Self, Art, Grace, Science or Love. (Whatever title creates the most openness for you is perfect.) The practice of Ishvara Pranidhana presupposes that there is a divine force at work in our lives, and that seeking to align ourselves with that force, rather than fighting it, brings peace and fulfillment to us. The practice is to live in a rhythm of surrender.
In a traditional yoga asana class, we finish in shavasana (corpse pose), where we "die" to the activity of all the poses that came before it, and simply do...nothing. Some days, this is relaxing - even blissful. At other times, its an exercise in noticing all of the thoughts and impulses the mind creates in attempts to control the moment. Even when we've nothing to do, our minds seek control. Lying on the floor, allowing the breath to breathe us, allowing the body to integrate what we've learned, allowing rejuvenation - for many people this is the most difficult pose in a yoga class. And so, we practice.
In the moment of every exhale, we release the treasure in our lungs, fully trusting that the next life-giving breath will be waiting for us when we need it. And there it is, again and again. In this small way, we are all experts in surrender! We do know how to let go and we do know how to receive. We've been doing both all of our lives. In any moment, with every breath, we can remind ourselves of this. As we begin to open to this reality, perhaps we can begin to take surrender further into our lives, by asking:
Where do I insist on having things "my way"? Can I start to get curious in those moments, rather than deciding that I know what's best? Can I open myself to different possibilities, different responses?
Where can I stand to trust Life like I trust my breath?
Can I allow this sense of ease and openness into my personal relationships, my creative offerings/work, my worldview?
What keeps me from doing so? And, once that answer is discovered: Can I make a practice of challenging that?
As we practice daily in simple ways like this, we begin to chip away at the barriers that keep us from living in flow with Life. Removing the blocks within us that we've created with fear and habit frees up an enormous amount of energy. This alone may be ample reason to practice! As we continue in this practice, we experience greater alignment and integration, our choices feel a little clearer, our decisions a little easier to make, our presence a little steadier and more peaceful. Does this mean that life suddenly gets easy? Well, not necessarily. Getting clear about what Life needs from us can at times mean that we need to take difficult action or exert a great deal of effort. Surrender is not passive, and it's not a lifelong vacation! But the clarity and steadiness we receive from our continuous practice supply us with the knowledge that we are up to the tasks in front of us, whatever they may be.
There is a beautiful quote by the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham that has inspired me over the years, and it inspires me particularly towards this practice. I would like to offer it to you as a seed for your practice:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open...”
- Martha Graham
Dana Wyss Healing Arts
Breathe deeply, practice often, be well.