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What Most People Misunderstand about the Magic of Surrender

How an age old teaching can transform your perspective in uncertain times

Surrender does not equate to inaction. Surrender is a deeply active and engaged process. It’s thrown around as commonly as concepts like light and shadow, personal empowerment, and collective consciousness, with little context as to what it truly means. Though it’s become a sort of spiritual buzzword over the last few decades, it stems from roots thousands of years old in the ancient philosophy of yoga. There surrender is named Ishvara Pranidhana.  Ishvara Pranidhana, what does this ancient, seemingly archaic perlocution mean? And how is it even acutely applicable, or relevant today? One might say, in this context it means surrender to God, the divine, the universe, or spirit. Let’s trace it back a bit further.

Ishvara Pranidhana is one of the five Niyamas, or personal ethics, that comprise the eight limbs of yoga. These 8 limbs are often referred to as steps on the Raja Yoga path associated with Ashtanga yoga, meaning 8-limbed. This is not the yoga of core power studios and 98 degree sweat lodges, no, this is the yoga of life, a philosophy of values, ethics, and invitations into greater awareness and deeper skills of perception of one’s experience and ultimately, of reality. 

How does this serve us during a global crisis? With all the sources of input and information right now, our ability to perceive with clarity is of the utmost importance to our mental and spiritual well being. As we sit inside our homes, we are faced with a certain thundering uncertainty – and so, we must sit with ourselves. Our hidden thoughts, emotions, ideas, positive and negative, in totality. Our instinctual inclination is to numb, distract, tune out, and engage in something that eases or soothes discomfort. There is absolutely a time and place for this. But what of the fact that we are ALL being asked to consider ourselves? 

As we are needfully and necessarily shut in, many are wishing for things to return to ‘the way things were’ and are actively awaiting the emergence of life as we knew it. *Cue the entrance of the title line – Surrender*. The truth is, we cannot expect things to return to the way they were, and more than that, it is naive to believe so. Surrender invites us not only to accept that we can only emerge from the current global happenings as different – it asks us to recognize and assimilate the fact that we have a role in how we emerge, individually and collectively. Surrender is the energy of full acceptance of what is and release of the grasp of what so many fiercely cling to.

Surrender is not inaction – it is an active process of dissolution – dissolution of false perceptions, untruths, programs that are no longer serving or protecting us. Surrender is allowing emotions to surface and finding spiritually mature ways to process, release, and assimilate them and the information they carry. Surrender is allowing ourselves to let go of outdated beliefs that are no longer useful and no longer offer us the protection they once did.

Allow me to offer lived example. In surfing, one of the least productive things a surfer can do when being tossed around in the ocean under a wave is to resist, to tense, to hold on. It will tire him or her out, send the nervous system into a state of panic, and can have grave repercussions. The best thing a surfer can do is surrender to the flow of the ocean, actively release and relax, and trust that they will surface, as they are attached to a board. The instinctual response for many is to tense, tighten, resist. To trust in something greater and more powerful feels utterly insane, and yet, it’s the quickest way back up to the surface. To trust that this collective shut-in is an opportunity to re-examine our inner lives and landscapes is the path of least resistance and most empowerment. 

In short, we are not only being asked to practice letting go of what has been, but to actively and consciously disengage, so that we may re engage with the unlimited potentiality of what can be next. So we can call upon our imagination and our deep inner wisdom to pull us back up to the surface and emerge with gratitude and a kind of doe-eyed wonder about what comes next.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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