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.