Q: On the spiritual path, what is the role of effort and intention as opposed to trust, surrender, and acceptance?
A: Ideally, effort and surrender are one and the same. But in the way that I approach the spiritual path, in an evolutionary context, I tend to put more emphasis on the role of effort and intention, because I have observed that in general, we postmodern narcissists don’t like to struggle. Too often, in spiritual circles, the words “surrender” and “acceptance” are used as excuses to not have to make any effort to evolve. So I prefer to interpret surrenderas referring to the unconditional nature of the individual’s commitment. And what that means, in practical terms, is a willingness to make whatever effort is necessary to take absolute responsibility for one’s own intention.
Taking responsibility for the intention to evolve demands tremendous effort and profound surrender, simultaneously. When the evolutionary impulse awakens in the human heart and mind, it inevitably begins to conflict with every part of the self that resists change. Only an individual who has a rare degree of intention and surrender is going to be able and willing to make the necessary effort to resist the conditioned tendencies that he or she has been identified with for a lifetime. Emotionally and psychologically, it is an enormous challenge to consciously override that which feels most familiar in favor of a mysterious impulse to reach for something that cannot be seen or known. So the trust or surrender would be expressed as the willingness to use effort to override or transcend the ego’s irrational refusal to change.
Of course, there is a spontaneous dimension to spiritual awakening that can often appear to require only greater and greater trust and surrender. When awakened, the energy of consciousness itself is like a powerful wind that seems to carry you across the sea of life. But no matter how powerful that wind is, you as an individual will always have a part to play and a choice to make. How much of that spiritual power can your sails harness? That depends upon the nature of your intention. The person with the strongest sails is going to be the one who has made an unconditional or absolute commitment to evolve. There will be an enormous amount of spontaneous energy available to such an individual. But without that degree of commitment, your sails won’t pick up much wind. They will be weak and full of holes. The indomitable transformative power of consciousness itself is only consistently accessible through the unshakable commitment to consciously evolve.
So the way I interpret surrender is as a commitment that is not relative, an intention that is unconditional. And within that surrender there will always be a profound engagement with life that requires awakened inspiration, courageous effort, conscious choice, and very clear intention. As long as you are breathing, you never stop choosing, and indeed, your capacity to make choices and to volitionally change and transform yourself and the world around you becomes empowered by the nonrelative position you have taken. That is when effort and surrender become one and the same.
Andrew Cohen is a spiritual teacher and founder of the award-winning EnlightenNext magazine. Click to learn more about his new book Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening.