Surrendering—the Dummy’s Guide to Enlightenment.

Via on Feb 9, 2011
Photo: Andreas Ivarsson

The first time I noticed it was while I was studying the Yoga Sutras last year. Then I started noticing it everywhere. Again and again, I kept coming across the same thing: a simple set of instructions for attaining Eckhart Tolle—worthy enlightenment. It went a little something like this:

1. If you want to reach enlightenment, you must first (fill in the blank).

2. And then (fill in the blank).

3. And you must (fill in the blank) every day.

OR (here it comes, people)

4. If none of that works—then just surrender.

(Surrender! Really? That’s it? Either, I have to meditate and practice every day, or I can just throw my hands up in the air and call it quits?  Um… I’m going to choose door two, pleeeeease.)

Now, you yoga scholars out there might disagree with me—you might point out that surrender comes at the end of all the other “how-to’s” for god-realization because surrender is the final step, and not even possible without the steps that come before. I’m not so sure. (And, um, please don’t take this away from me, because sometimes surrender is the only thing that gets me through the day.)

The yoga tradition tells us that our natural state, without adornment or modification, is one of goodness. It tells us that our natural state is one of sanity and clarity and maybe even mega-ecstasy-bliss-ness. It tells us that the only thing standing in the way of our living, with a kind of moment-to-moment goodness, is our own confused mind, closed heart, or some combination of both. If that hypothesis holds true (which it does, people, it must), then of course surrender is the way to freedom. Because, if our holding on is what is keeping us stuck, then what else is there but to…let go?

It is, of course, not as simple as all that.

I imagine sometimes, in my own personal struggle for surrender, that I’m sitting in a row-boat, hanging on for dear life to some protruding branch or clump of grasses growing close to shore, wondering why I can’t get out to sea, and yet petrified of loosening my grip.

If I let go, won’t I just be pulled into the ocean and drown? How will I know where I am?

And so there I sit, stuck, longing to be free, but unable to release my tight little, grass-filled fists.

And so the question arises—how do I do this? How does a western-minded, try-try-and-try-again yogi, or meditator, or average Jane—one whose hands are often lashed from gripping down too tightly on those pesky grasses—even begin to attempt this thing called surrender?  How do any of us, who are not just blessed with the involuntary “I give up” that comes once we’ve hit the bottom of some very large barrel, trust that our little boat can even survive those waters?

I don’t know the answer to this.

All I can figure is that maybe the reason surrender appears not as the only option for reaching enlightenment, but as the final option, is because it’s just too much to fathom (for most of us) to just let go. It requires baby-steps—first this, and then that, and also some of this—until you can begin to creep your boat, inch-by-inch, further from shore. Maybe then you’ll spend hours or days carried out to sea before you notice you’re afraid, and scramble back to safety. And you’ll do that, little by little. Just that. Until the day comes when you realize that you’ve tried everything else, and you’re still not where you want to be. And so you do the only thing you can do. You take a breath, and open your hand.

And surrender.

About Lia Aprile

Lia Aprile is a writer, actress and yoga teacher currently living in Los Angeles, CA. When she’s not peddling her headshots or perfecting her handstand, Lia can be found tending to her yoga blog, Shanti Town, which is definitely about yoga, but mostly about life (the messy kind). And, because the nerdiness just keeps on coming, she has also recently begun interviewing teachers and yoga luminaries for the Shanti Town Podcast, which you can now find on ITunes.

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23 Responses to “Surrendering—the Dummy’s Guide to Enlightenment.”

  1. It's both. You have to "do" the seeking first before you can realize that seeking was not the way. Then you give it up.

  2. Lia A. says:

    Donovan – thanks for your comment…I think that's really right on, and I think that the seeking is what clarifies for a person what it feels like to push vs. what it feels like to surrender.

    Michael – thank YOU for the kind words…I need all the reminders I can get, too.

  3. Ana K. says:

    What a brilliant article. You took the words right out of my mouth. Except you made the words more eloquent and charming. I feel stranded on that boat almost every day and so this really rang true. So nice to know I'm not alone out there. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. Hi, Lia.

    I was personally deeply troubled by this apparent contradiction in Yoga philosophy until I studied one of the most ancient text of Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita, (see Gita in a Nutshell), where it's made crystal clear that the path to a happy life is not to surrender effort, but only to the results.

    In short, Try like hell, then accept whatever comes. This is completely different than the often expressed idea, as in your blog, of surrendering before even trying for what you want.

    Take a look at Gita in a Nutshell for more. This was the text that broke me free from the very real dilemma you describe, which haunted me for years.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    (Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook)

  5. ARCreated says:

    beautiful article…I love the imagery…I think I am using a long rope at this point…but still holding on :) thank you

  6. Kiki says:

    How timely. Only this morning I had the realization that I'm just TIRED of always doing, searching, other-verbing to get to the elusive enlightenment, and I just surrendered. Because really, what else can you do? How easy, and so very difficult.

    Thank you for putting it into such beautiful words.

    • Lia A. says:

      Thank you, Kiki…!

      I took a class once where the teacher encouraged us to experiment with "not grasping", not reaching–even in subtle ways, and I had this all of the sudden realization that I was literally, physically, even on a cellular level, involved in a whole hell of a lot of reaching. I could feel that sometimes even my SKIN was trying to get somewhere. I got just a taste in that class of what it could be like to just…stop doing that. (But just a taste.)

  7. neil galland says:

    E.T., those are his initials, was joking. In step 4, replace “If”, with “When”. After putting forth all of your effort, surrendering is the final frontier to reaching a goal you are no longer concerned with.

  8. Steve says:

    Hmmm, I am thinking that surrender precedes true seeking. For me, it is not until I let go that I can then join the flow. The flow I see is everything, everyone, all we can know, be, sense. Once a part of the flow I can be curious, with an open heart and no preconceptions. Sure, I wash up on the shore frequently. Bounce off a few rocks. No one said it would be smooth sailing. Not in this radiant universe. Still, I must surrender to participate.

    • Lia A. says:

      Steve, I love that…you sound like you might have a more natural sense of what it is to let go…for me, it's the central question in my life. But I know what you're talking about…that there is effortless just on the other side of the surrender.

  9. Ben Ralston says:

    Beautiful Lia, thank you.
    I think that you’re right – all the other ‘stuff’ (meditation, asanas, worship, study, etc etc) is a preparation for the big launch!
    The thing we cling to is our ego.
    We cling out of fear.
    To let go, we have to be relatively fearless, and feel strong enough in ourselves to have the courage to dive into the unknown. You’re right – it is terrifying!

    I wrote a similar article on EJ last year – I think you’ll like it:
    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/life-is-a-wave-surf-it-elegantly-or-cling-to-flotsam/

    withlove
    Ben

  10. TamingAuthor says:

    One danger is equating surrender with apathy. Not the same thing. Apathy will bring adverse results. Surrender, in the metaphysical or mystical sense, has more to do with letting go AFTER one has arrived. If one is off the reservation in some dark land one can surrender all one wants and it will only amount to apathy. Somehow one must get to "the sweet spot" before surrendering.

    • Lia A. says:

      I am in 100% agreement, TamingAuthor. That realization that surrender didn't mean apathy, was the first thing that really led me closer to it…. Realizing that surrender meant actually MORE moment-to-moment present and action has been such a key for me.

  11. Nina Daniels says:

    Lovely Article and a necessary post. Wonderful work! Thanks for posting this!

  12. Lia A. says:

    Thank you, Nina!

  13. Ok, sounds like a great new mantra: "oooom mega-ecstasy-bliss-ness".

    Or an impossible tongue-twister. (Try saying "mega-ecstasy-bliss-ness" ten times fast.)

  14. Lia A. says:

    I have some teachers who could put that to awesome harmonium music and make it ROCK. I have a teacher who loves to insert the occasional "right on" and "oh god" into her chants…I don't see why I couldn't slip in a little om-mega-ecstasy-blisses.

  15. Lia A. says:

    Christianne…I think this is totally the big secret of surrender…that there's no part of it that is about apathy or seperateness, that in fact surrender actually requires diving DEEPER into your life. It requires total engagement. "Actively moving towards what you want without force, like breathing"…that is perfectly said.

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