Spiritual paths, both traditional and alternative, in one way or another, always revolve around the call for surrender. Surrender means giving up, letting go, ceasing to resist. The moment of surrender is the moment of initiation. It is the beginning of the journey, not the end. It is a leap of faith that propels us into mystery and adventure.
The moment of surrender often involves a profound and sometimes dramatic healing from the deeply conditioned habit of mistrust and self-protection that most of us live inside of. A doorway opens when, deep in our hearts, we find access to spiritual wisdom that we deeply trust. That doorway invites us to a new life, but it does not stay open indefinitely. If we hesitate too long we miss the opportunity and must wait for it to open again.
Spiritual practices are designed to coax the door open. Stepping through the door is the surrender that begins the spiritual life. If we long to awaken and transform it is important that we are ready to let go when the door opens. We do not need to do anything to pass through the door. We will naturally pass the threshold once it opens as long as we do not resist.
The reason that surrender holds such a central place in spiritual work is because the essence of transformation is a shift in identity from a limited sense of self to an unbounded experience of being. We begin our spiritual search rooted in a culturally inherited identity that I like to call a ‘thinking-thing.’
We experience ourselves to be an isolated and separate individual entity living in a universe that is fundamentally separate and distinct from us. We appear to have access to a capacity for conscious awareness that originates inside of us. We use powers of perception and reason to take in information about the world and make decisions in response to it.
In short, we see ourselves as independent agents of activity – beings that make choices and take actions based on internal considerations. This leads to a deep assumption of autonomous control over our lives and the world around us. If you don’t think you have such an assumption look at your internal response when you encounter something or someone that is beyond your control. We feel that we should be masters of our own destiny and we resist outside authority over our lives.
Most spiritual paths are based in the direct recognition that this view is profoundly distorted by a false assumption of separation. In mystical revelation we recognize that we are not separate from each other, the world or anything else. All is One, and I am That, has been the declaration of great spiritual realizers of all ages.
When spiritual paths call for surrender they are asking us to give up our identification with an isolated and separate small ‘s’ self so that we can expand into the fullness of who we are.
I believe that surrender, whether it comes as the result of specific spiritual practices, spontaneous revelation, or as an unanticipated accident of circumstance, occurs in two stages.
The first stage of surrender is a deep passive acceptance of what is. In that state of abandon you make yourself available for awakening. This is when you allow yourself to pass through the open doorway.
This passage into a new being is not an activity. The limited self cannot will itself into a new self. The person that I am cannot force itself into something else. Any act of will that originates from the separate sense of self will only serve to reinforce that sense of self. You cannot become a new self by acting from the old one. The only way to invite spiritual transformation is to surrender our current sense of self.
The existential uncertainty that we experience when we let go of our current identity can be terrifying or thrilling depending upon how clear we are about what we want. If we are not certain that we want to transform we will be terrified when that shift begins to happen and we will not allow it to continue.
I have experienced this in meditation at moments when I suddenly recognize that I am slipping away. Many times at that instant of awakening I have reflexively stopped the process of surrender by grabbing hold of something solid. Usually we prevent the process of awakening by focusing our attention on fear or doubt. At other times we become captivated by the experience of joy or bliss and that holds us back. Either way, the ultimate result is that we ground ourselves in our preexisting sense of self by focusing on some experience that ‘it’ is having.
Once we feel ourselves to be the-one-who-is-experiencing we know who we are and the process of self-forgetting ceases. If we resist the temptation to focus on some familiar way of being we will lose all sense of who we are. We will be swept up in the freedom of existence, without any sense of being separate from it.
When we let go in this way we become vulnerable to subtle spiritual energies of awakening. As long as we are exclusively identified with the separate self and its sense of autonomous power, we are not aware of these energies. Once we relax our current sense of self a universe of subtle energies and vital forces appear.
These energies are known as Kundalini in the spiritual traditions of the East. As I understand it, Kundalini is the energy of awakening that, once activated, flows naturally along a path of optimal spiritual growth and awakening.
The second stage of surrender in our spiritual practice is to allow these subtle forces of awakening to guide us along our unique journey of spiritual growth.
In my own meditation practice I simply sit with the intention ‘to have no problem.’ No matter what arises in consciousness I simply allow it and embrace it exactly as it is. I rest in a prior assumption of perfect contentment. Often my mind is roaring and complaining as loudly as ever. I simply don’t make a problem out of it. I might see myself acting as if there were a problem – I don’t make a problem out of that either.
My practice is to sit and be perfectly content with my mind no matter how noisy it is. I am ready to sit in the company of my busy mind forever. I am free – free from the need for anything to be other than it is. I sit in complete recognition that the experience I am having – no matter what it is – is enough… completely, gloriously, fully, enough.
By resting in this deliberate state of perfect resolution I have done all that I can. The rest is not up to me. Sometimes an hour or more will go by and nothing will change. My mind keeps racing, but I am fine. I am ready for a miracle, but I am not forcing it or insisting on it. I am simply available for it. This is what meditation is to me.
Sometimes my mind will slow down into a deeply relaxed and satisfied space and my thoughts and feelings drift away. I find myself floating in empty space and the chatter of my mind is a distant whisper.
This peaceful state might continue for a long time and I am perfectly happy with this, but no happier than I am with my busy mind. My contentment does not depend on any particular state. I am happy with the way things are no matter how they are.
Sometimes in this restful place energy begins to stir. It might be a bodily sensation, or a burst of sound or light. At other times it is an insight, vision or intuition. These stirrings have a distinctive quality. They feel like they are coming from the depths of my being and the heart of the universe. They are gentle but unyielding.
I see these as the energy of Kundalini that has been awakened from slumber. When they arise I don’t do anything with them. I don’t try to encourage or discourage them. I don’t hold on or let go. I don’t try to remember them or ignore them. I simply remain present and available.
In a wonderful way the energy starts to move me. I have sometimes felt that it was reorganizing my cellular structure, or rewiring my nervous system. I have endured times of tremendous pain, heart opening bliss, and existential fear. Through it all I simply practice having no problem.
I meditated for the first time about thirty years ago. It has been a long and varied journey of awakening ever since and the energies of awakening have guided me throughout. First they supported me to leave a lucrative career as an engineer to give myself unconditionally to spiritual pursuit. Then they encouraged me to leave my new career as an educator and spend twenty years in an experimental spiritual community until I was supported with the courage to leave that behind as well. I have been guided into practices, retreats, insights, revelations and relationships. It has appeared to me in many forms. I have followed it imperfectly, but well enough to be brought into a life beyond my wildest dreams.
I simply want you to know that the subtle energy of awakening is real. It is a living spiritual intelligence and it is available to guide you forward if you have the courage to follow.