The Many Faces of Surrender

Surrender is a key practice in virtually every spiritual tradition. The very term spirituality itself may be equated with an intention to surrender one’s life and being to a Higher Power or Wisdom that transcends our human understanding. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam the practice of surrender is primary-- although the actual meaning of this term can vary within and among these traditions. In one sense surrender may mean obeying God’s laws, adopting certain beliefs or practicing a particular ritual. At a deeper level the practice of surrender means bringing each life experience and every aspect of our being into the continuous awareness of God’s presence.

In Eastern traditions such as Taoism or Buddhism surrender is also a central spiritual practice; although it is generally not perceived as surrendering to a personal God but rather attuning one’s consciousness to the flow of the Tao or the Dharma. The practice of meditation facilitates this attunement at ever-deepening levels.When we actually employ this practice in our life we discover a great paradox: the practice of surrender consists largely of seeing all of the ways in which we are not surrendered-- and then being willing to let them go. Most of these obstacles are unconscious; we don’t even know that they are there until we intentionally engage the practice of surrender.

We bring attention to hidden resistance simply by setting the intention to practice complete surrender. As we engage our practice we will begin to see the myriad and (sometimes) subtle ways in which we avoid being fully open to the activity of Spirit (by whatever name we may call it). Noticing this, we simply return to the intention of surrender, being willing to let go of the resistance as best we can.

For example, if we sit with the intention of simply being present to each moment and allow life to unfold naturally we may notice that some obsessive thinking arises. We may get lost in planning some future activity or rehashing some past event. Noticing this, we simply return to the intention of just being; we let go of our involvement in thinking and return to simply sitting and breathing. We try to do this without struggle or judgment; we just notice that obsessive thinking is obscuring our intent to be fully present in the moment. This in itself will begin to return us to the present moment.

As we examine our resistance to surrender we notice that it tends to appear in one of two general forms. One form is that of resisting experiences that are currently present; resisting an experience because it is painful or difficult, or judging it as bad or wrong. We are attempting to push away our present moment experience; this is called aversion or resistance.

Another obstacle to surrender is attachment to wanting something that is perceived to be absent; wanting some particular experience, condition, person or object that is not present in this moment. This is referred to as craving. A similar obstacle is possessively holding on to some existing experience, condition, relationship or object, refusing to allow it to change or to end. This is referred to as clinging or attachment.

Wanting that which is not present and resisting that which is present are two primary obstacles to living a surrendered life. These very same forces are the primary causes of unhappiness and suffering. The practice of surrender is not necessarily based on the desire to be holy or pure, but simply to be happy, which is the deepest desire of every human being. True surrender brings true happiness!