Essential Practices—Aspiration and Surrender

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Aspiration and surrender are two important aspects of yoga and spiritual practice. They support and balance one another, are different and complimentary. Aspiration is something that can be “done” whereas surrender cannot be done. Aspiration is action and driven by individual awareness. Surrender is a different process altogether.

As we grow and develop in our yoga practice our desire for a deeper and more inclusive awareness continues to develop and refine. The more we practice the clearer it becomes that our own discrete individual sphere of awareness is only a very small part of a larger whole. Healthy practice spontaneously opens our consciousness to the bigger picture – the picture that puts our individuality into the perspective of the vastness of universal awareness. As we begin to recognize our personal lives to be like the swirling eddies at the edges of a giant river that is flowing, we cannot help but become interested in understanding and experiencing the power of the river – the source and support of all that we are as individual beings. We aspire to see more clearly.

Aspiration breeds action. It gets us moving. We “do” things. It is about obtaining something or getting somewhere. We want to be better in some way. We aspire to widen our vision. Fulfilling aspiration requires dedication and effort. We practice yoga regularly, and we follow the yamas and the niyamas. We become disciplined. We practice pranayama and meditation and choose to work and act in ways that are mostly beneficial to others, ourselves, and are in accordance with our beliefs.

However, there is a limit to the effectiveness of aspiration. Aspiration – passionately desiring to recognize life as it actually is – is the foundation of practice. Without aspiration many of us would do nothing. We might live out our lives without ever seriously questioning who and what we really are.

At a certain point something must happen – a realization that the mind of doing-ness has lost its usefulness, and in fact may be creating more difficulties than benefits. To my great amazement and gratitude, this has happened to me. I cannot do it anymore. A good deal of work has already been done. I have reached the limit of my doing-ness.

This definitely doesn’t mean that acting in the world and being productive and useful, is over…not at all. What it does mean, and I see this very clearly and suddenly, is that my personal-ego-self-mind has reached its limit of helpfulness when it comes to what appears to be the next step in my personal spiritual growth. In other words, I can’t do this. Not the individual me. There is a new level or layer, an aspect of consciousness that appears to be required here. It is a giving up – something that those of us who have been very motivated in all areas of life can be reluctant to do. Give up? Seriously? How can that be right?

But here’s the thing, even the most serious of aspiring practitioners knows that there will be an end to aspiration. There has to be. Aspiration plays no part in recognition of the essence of life. Okay, maybe it can help you to clear patterns and ineffectual methods of being in the world, absolutely…and importantly. But when the time comes, unless you are very clear in your inquiry, you may miss the opportunity to let that aspiration go. That is this thing that we have all read and heard about – surrender.

There are things that cannot be done. One of them is surrender. Ego doesn’t do that. Ego can’t and won’t do it. Surrender isn’t a thing, and ego is attached to maneuvering with things. Surrender comes from somewhere else. It is a swelling up of comfort, love, and acceptance — the divine. It is grace. We recognize grace because we didn’t do it and it feels amazing. Grace is clearly something that is beyond all we can “do” in the field of form. We can set up the conditions for grace – but we most certainly cannot create it. Our aspiration puts so many of us on the path to setting up the conditions for grace to appear.

Most of the philosophical systems that include surrendering as an important aspect of practice use God as the focus. Even the Yoga Sutra, which is a mostly practical text, says that those who are lucky enough to be able to legitimately surrender to a deity will find their path to be the most direct. I would always skim over that part, a little sad that I wouldn’t qualify, but also fully fine with the fact that I could use my discipline to ensure and support my practice. I’ve always thought pretty highly of my discipline and dedication…ego satisfaction.

So, what is it? How do we really surrender? What are we surrendering to? What might it feel like? Who feels it anyway? Does ego-mind surrender? – Can it even do that? Surrendering could so easily be usurped by the ego’s excitement at being cool and spiritual enough to surrender… definitely not the point of this.

Aspiration is a beautiful movement of life in action. We humans aspire to so much with our hearts, minds, and souls. As much as some of us struggle and even suffer in the field of form there is actually so much to be in love with about this whole process. Our lives are rich and varied. Each of us is given opportunities and the awe-inspiring responsibility for creating and co-creating the fabric of our own lives. Our place in the creation of our own lives is critical to having a rewarding experience here. But the doing of it is only the half of it. The balance of aspiration and doing, with surrender and allowing, is fundamental to our comfort and clarity as human beings. We can’t do it all, but if we are very wise we can release into the flow and enjoy the ride.

19 thoughts on “Essential Practices—Aspiration and Surrender

  1. I read your blog yesterday, Patty, and I thought “oh, man, what the heck can i say to this?” and i thought i had no words beyond a big sigh, yes. And then i went to bed and sleep was elusive and i thought about surrender, and knew that (just like we always ‘know) until i surrendered, sleep would not come. i couldn’t make it happen, i had to surrender to it. there is so much in life that we have the opportunity to surrender to…sleep, laughter, grief, love…the lessons are here all the time, and for me, the practice is all the time. how great to notice!
    is it in surrender that radical acceptance comes? is that a chicken/egg question? uh oh…. love, michelle


    • Hi Michelle, I had a similar response to the subject of surrender and aspiration. Finding the balance that is right for each moment and each phase of life. Since change is constant, so is the shifting of the balance. And in the same ways that the cycles of life change, so does our relationship to the movement and there does seem to be a deepening of the need to explore surrender as we get older. Thank you for sharing with us.


  2. Reblogged this on thispixielife and commented:
    This is incredibly delicious to ingest and integrate. I find my own life is a flow these days between aspiration and surrender, and when I can NOT anticipate what’s next…just really enjoy the present moment, life is vivid and incredibly rich. Namaste’


  3. I have been in this same place for quite a while now – at first uncomfortable and then so liberating and not always easy to maintain or rather to not forget and simply trust.


    • I love how you say, “not always easy to maintain or rather to not forget and simply trust”. That is just the way that healthy aspiration can get in the way of healthy surrender – by our thinking that it is something that we have to do, in this case “maintain”. Not forgetting is a nice way to put it. Thank you for contributing!


  4. Patty,
    In class Saturday am you said something like, ‘when you don’t work hard to get ‘there,’ something else comes, without effort, (thereby finding pleasure in the search). In my mind that translated to the word, ‘imagination.’ There is so much pleasure in the ‘not trying,’ but in feeling what that pose could be, how it is unlike why it was yesterday, because it is something else today. Yoga has become more of a creative process for me in this very way, rather than trying to perfect each pose, (which, of course, I still can’t help but want)! Yoga has, for me, became less rigid and more playful, , (just like in my painting), if that is OK to say! I already know the skill, so it is now about what I am saying with what I know on a much more personal level.
    Love, Lorna


  5. Love for the new old way of doing your being. And this was the best reply I could think of
    👀👄💋 :-). :

    “Poetry is being, not doing.
    If you wish to follow,
    even at a distance,
    the poet’s callling,
    You’ve got to come out of the
    meaurable doing universe into
    the immeasuable house of being.

    Nobdy else can be alive for you –
    Nor can you be alive for anyone else.

    If you can take it – take it and be.

    If you can’t – cheer up and go about
    other people’s business and do or undo
    til you drop.”

    e.e. cummings


  6. We do without doing and everything gets done. (from the Book of Runes)

    Hi Patty,

    I found this post apropos of what the universe so strongly is relaying to me these days. Thank you for opening the discussion. Ann


  7. I am posting this on behalf of Nancy who sent it to me via email:
    “…I read your post and will reread again and again. On the few occasions I have felt real peace (and grace I suppose) it is absolutely the best feeling I’ve ever experienced, and I recognize that it happens through surrender and acceptance. It seems to me surrender is the result/reward of acceptance. I’m aspiring to it now…😚”


  8. Hi Patty. I read your post and have been thinking about surrender,
    and its relationship to trust and receptivity…

    Are they one in the same?

    If I surrender to what you are saying, 
    if I take a listening role while you are talking, 
    I take in what you saying. 
    I receive. 
    There is such energy and receiving. 
    —– coming home to myself,  Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick.  

    Only when we experience trust in the mothers love – 
    through dreams or waking life- 
    can our body surrender it’s defenses. 
    —–  Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick.  

    To receive is to let life happen, 
    to open to grief and loss, 
    to open to love and delight. 
    —–Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick.  

    Is this surrender? 
    Is opening to receive surrender? 
    What does surrender really look like? We all must do it sometime.

    Would love to hear more about your particular forms and experiences of surrender…

    – donna


    • Hi Dona, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I enjoy the questions you are asking. Those are some of the same questions I ask when I am continuing to inquire into life and love. “To receive is to let life happen…”. Part of my question is what arises from “coming home to myself”. What arises when I have taken and continue to take the large and small steps of aspiration: using my skills to hone and refine, open and clear away the obstacles to clear perception. We prepare the way to really see, surrender the defenses that are no longer useful, open to love, joy, grief, and loss. We learn to try not to try so hard. We allow ourselves to be foolish. Then, the thing that grows is – as you say – trust…trust in releasing into the flow? Is that it? Does real surrender need an object to surrender to? Is there an action in it? Trust and receptivity are surely related to surrender. But I don’t feel they are the same.

      My inquiry is in part what else needs to be “done” and what cannot be done. I am on my way to the Adirondacks for a couple of days now Dona, so I won’t be able to comment for a few days. I am going to think more about your comments and questions. Thank you so much!!


  9. Pingback: WHAT IS MULABANDHA—and Why do You Care? | Embodyoga®

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