When I choose a dharma or theme for the term it is often a concept that I am struggling with myself, as I find it encourages me to delve deeper and become more inquisitive. Like every great yoga teacher who has ever taught me, I see myself as first and foremost a student. I never wish to preach or chuck out dogma but I am always willing to share, honestly, the things I’ve learnt along my own journey and that includes being open about some of the difficulties.
So I chose “surrender” as the theme to explore this term; a key Ashtanga concept (Isvara Pranidhana) but then so is determined self-study and austere self-discipline! Discipline comes naturally to me but when I took time out this summer to work on my own practise I found I was ill-equipped to understand, or even accept, the need to surrender.
Back then (and it is only two months ago) my totally prejudiced view was that surrender is about giving up and therefore completely contradictory to discipline, hard work and perseverance. This view has been built up over a lifetime and reinforced by the kind of “try harder, don’t give in” motivational messages that continually bombard all of us.
So how could I ever view surrender as something positive, something to aspire to?
Well it started with an innocuous explanation offered on retreat by Laruga (Glaser). She said, “inhale is effort and exhale surrender”. Simple enough, you might think, but a “game-changer” for me; there it was, not only are effort and surrender inextricably linked, but they must work together, in perfect balance, for sustainability and harmony.
Those of us who drive too hard down the effort route just crash and burn, frequently, and, oh yes, that is my tale! But then too über-chilled and nothing gets done, right? There was even that childhood nursery rhyme cautioning us that a “man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds”! But, like so many things in this life, the difficulty lies in walking the “slack-line” between those extremes.
The second slightly eureka moment came from reading Michael Singer’s book, “The Untethered Soul”. He frequently presents surrender as non-resistance. I have become totally captivated by the idea that if we neither push things away, nor try to pull things towards us we can become more present as we surrender our attempts to control what we cannot. Oh, and wait a minute doesn’t this sound like one of my favourite pieces of wisdom, the Serenity Prayer? Slowly I was starting to get the idea; this is about living life with more humility, more acceptance and with greater attention to the daily subtleties we find in shifting moods.
But the third leap in understanding came from a recent personal experience. Nik and I took a trip up to the North West of Scotland; a special place for both of us and I’d been really looking forward to going. But, whilst we were away I experienced an overwhelming sense of sadness. I tried to brush it away but instead I felt completely enveloped.
In the end, I consciously decided to become “the detached observer of my thoughts” just as we are always being told to do by wise people. And, by allowing a little chink in my emotional armour I was able to surrender to the feelings enough to explore them and figure out what was going on. Enough also to realise that surrender can be giving up thoughts, emotions or even beliefs that no longer serve us.
We are often told we shouldn’t think or feel in a certain way but when Nik urged me not to be sad I quickly realised he was right. Life is so short and so “letting go of what was and surrendering to what is” helps us to live in the present moment and have faith in whatever the future holds in store.
Through my recent experiences, something has shifted in me. I am now astonished that I could only see negative connotations of surrender before. Maybe there is some truth in the saying “transformation happens on the back of surrender” because even my experience on my yoga mat has changed. Now I leave some space between maximum effort and moving to the next pose and I realise this is my surrender space.