February 10, 2011

Surrendering—the Dummy’s Guide to Enlightenment.

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.

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