Surrender is at the heart of all spiritual practice; no path is more powerful or profound. But what does it mean to surrender? And what does it not mean?
Surrender is too often misunderstood, boiled down to a few affirmations about “letting go,” and then misused as a self-help instruction. But, in our misunderstanding, in our trying to do surrender with our minds, like we do everything else, we drain surrender of the true miracle that it is.
What surrender is NOT:
Failure or defeat.
A task that we can do/accomplish merely with our mind.
A state that we can will ourselves into.
What surrender IS…
Everyone of us, at some point in our lives, encounters a situation that rocks the foundation of who we are and what we think we can bear—is past our limits if you will, it takes us to our “wits end”. Sometimes it’s a situation we’ve been living with for a long time and sometimes it’s a sudden event that overwhelms us and for which our usual coping strategies are useless. While the content may differ, what these experiences share is the power to bring us to our knees, figuratively and often literally as well. And, the power to change us.
Our minds try to control everything they come in contact with, that’s just their nature, to try and make us “happy”, make our lives “better.” We have elaborate and seemingly endless strategies for trying to “make sure” that our lives contain the experiences we want and don’t contain the experiences we don’t want. Our minds will fight with, reject, ignore, push against and keep maneuvering to change those situations that we don’t want. And then there comes a time, a situation, when we can’t keep fighting, either because it’s too painful, or because we finally know at a body/heart level that it’s futile and some other as of yet unknown path is needed. Surrender begins here, where all other strategies end.
But, “surrender is not a strategy; it is the absence of strategies.“
Surrender happens when we know that we don’t know anything anymore and certainly not anything that can help us. It arrives when we know that we cannot think or see our own way through where we are. In true surrender, we don’t know if what’s to come will be better or worse, more comfortable or even less. All we know is that we can’t do it this way, the way we’ve been doing it, a moment longer. Surrender happens when it can’t not happen.
When we surrender, we give up, but not in the way we think giving up means. We don’t give up to the situation, but rather, we give up the notion that we should be able to or even can manage the situation, that we know anything that can help. We give up the belief that we can make reality different than what it is. As much as we are conditioned to never give up—in the case of surrender, giving up the mistaken belief that we are in charge offers a profound relief.
Surrender, when we are graced with it, is a true gift. When we finally acknowledge that we can’t do it, we then give ourselves the opportunity to feel the river carrying us, taking us where we need to go, even though we have no idea where that might be. Often when surrender happens, we don’t trust that anything will take care of us, carry us, or show us the way, and that’s what makes surrender so unthinkable. But we surrender because we have to. But when we do finally let go of the reins, acknowledge our absolute not knowing, the most remarkable opportunity appears—to directly experience being supported by a larger source of wisdom, the grace of God, which once experienced can never not be known.
While we need to be on our knees to reach true surrender, in truth, we can practice surrender on a smaller scale, in the okay moments, before we are on our knees. What I mean is practicing this in a proactive way. This implicates an ongoing connection or relationship with a source greater than one’s self. That would be God. We can choose to surrender moment by moment, relinquish control, and trust that as we surrender, God is then able to do in us and through us, what we cannot do on our own.
To practice, we simply surrender into what is, right now. We drop into our direct experience, what we are sensing, feeling, living in this moment. We agree to feel life, as it is, now, without our mind adding, taking away, manipulating, or doing anything whatsoever to it.
Surrender isn’t something that our minds alone can accomplish, but it is something that, with awareness, we can invite into our lives, by taking our thoughts about what is happening captive. And thankfully, when we have no other choice but to surrender the illusion of control, we can then experience the presence of something larger and more reliable than our shifting minds, emotions and feelings; we can experience ourselves being flowed down the river that is life, the river we are actually part of. Then, having lived surrender, we can find peace and trust that it’s safe to let go.
Then “the peace of God that passes all understanding, will guard your heart and mind.”
BH/ Source: Nancy Collier/ Adapted