Yogi Assignment: Surrender, Pranidhana
Surrender is not often an easy, casual or comfortable experience. In fact while surrender sounds easy it is downright hard. Most of us fight tooth and nail to hold on to trying to control things, people and situations that were never under our control in the first place. Surrender is not a one and done experience. It is a process that must be done over and over again, with subtlety and nuance every day of your life.
Surrender requires faith and is itself an act of faith. If you do not believe in a power greater and grander than yourself you might think that you have to bear the weight of the world on your shoulders. You might carry blame and shame around like chains around your heart. It is so easy to judge every experience as a pass or fail test. When you succeed you feel like a hero, but when you fail you feel like a victim. But faith allows you to see from a totally different perspective, from a Divine perspective.
Each situation in life has the potential to teach us something. If you get stuck trying to be right or defend yourself you stop learning. I don’t always succeed at doing the learning and taking the higher road of wisdom. I often get tunnel vision towards a goal and am blinded by my own ambition (or rage). This happens even more so when I am passionate about something that pushes my moral buttons. But without faith and surrender, the paradigm is not rooted in love or grace. Without surrender the world is a big battlefield and life is either for you or against you. With surrender, life moves through you and co-creates each moment with you. It’s totally different. Surrender comes with grace and ease. Keeping the control comes with struggle and hardship, and possibly also hubris, ego and pride.
I can’t tell you how may times I’ve slipped out of a state of surrender into blind fits of forward momentum or unchecked ambition. I look back and wonder what I was running from, running towards or whether what I was after was the mere act of running itself. The feeling of adrenaline coursing through my veins felt like fire. Passion left unchecked turned to rage and even hate. But then it’s always my practice that brings me back home.
In the space between inhalation and exhalation, in the pause between heartbeats, there a silence that invites me to dig deeper, a light that starts to shine through the cracks. When I’m running at full force my body begs me to stop and it’s my practice that teaches me how to listen. I feel it now, a returning to my center.
A deep and personal faith in God has been my rock in times of chaos and distress. I wasn’t raised with any religion. My experience of God has been direct and revelatory. I never knew what it meant to surrender until I felt the Eternal Divine wash over me like a lightning bolt and love, vast unconditional love poured into my heart. There, in the temple of my heart, at the altar of soul, I got down on my knees and turned over all control. Practice is prayer for me, my time of quiet devotion where I lay down my arms and defenses and surrender my life, over and over again.
This week’s Yogi Assignment is Surrender, Pranidhana. Most often in yoga this is presented as Isvara Pranidhana, surrender to God. If you have a personal relationship with God, it’s easier to practice surrender. you don’t have a personal relationship with God, ask yourself whether you believe in a benevolent force that is greater and grander than yourself. You could call this force life, or maybe even love. Without faith in the goodness of life it’s hard to surrender. If you feel like the moral balance of the universe hangs on your actions you won’t give up any ground. But if you accept your own fallibility and see your place in the monumental expanse of the universe, then you might be willing to admit that you play a part in life but aren’t the driver or decider of how things are. Here are a few tips that help me practice surrender.
1. Let go and let God—If you’re feeling utterly stuck and you’ve given everything you had and did your best, there is nothing left to do but let it go. Stop fighting and turn it over with the full faith that what is meant to be will be. You might say to yourself, “I have done all I can do, I now release all control and surrender to God.” You could spend a few moments after practice when your heart is open and your mind is calm to gently offer these words up as prayer.
2. Recognize Control—Notice your own controlling behaviors. Observe whether you attempt to manipulate situations or people or strictly control your environment. A good indicator of the need to control is the appearance of intense emotions such as anger or anxiety when things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes deep and profound insights come up during practice. Life patterns are sometimes mirror in how we approach the poses.
3. Take responsibility but don’t wallow in blame or shame—By recognizing that you are a conscious actor in a life aimed at learning and growth, you set yourself free from blame and shame and empower yourself to be truly responsible. Many people, myself included, often fall into the traps or blame and shame. But those only exist if we assume that everything rested on our shoulders in the first place. If we drop the blame and shame game, we can then approach each failure or misstep as an opportunity to learn and grow. You’ll know whether you’re in blame and shame or responsibility by how you feel. There’s a dark emotional residue that comes with blame and shame, whereas responsibility is wise and compassionate.