On a recent phone call with my dad, he said he had gotten my message that I was “dropping out” of life because of my despair with how the world is right now and he felt concern for me. For reference, this is what I wrote:
“Given everything that is going on in the world right now, I feel compelled to make an even deeper commitment to my own spiritual practice and teaching. As a result, I am giving up other forms of income that I have been receiving for doing marketing work and focusing exclusively on yoga teaching for at least the next 6 months. When I told a friend this, she said, "can you support yourself financially?" and my first response was, "it is inconsequential at this time." Yoga teaching for me includes a holistic focus on nutrition, mindfulness and self-care. This is my public vow to use my self as a means for affecting world peace. I appreciate your support in committing to this path. I am doing it with a sincere wish that my own self-transformation will have an effect on the world stage. The situation now is dire and must be met with fearlessness imbued with compassion.”
But, as Prashant Iyengar has wisely said, “What is being taught is not what is being learned.” We all translate what we see, hear, smell etc. through our own lens. Spiritual practice of any kind, is an attempt to clear that lens, to see the truth AND to be ok or “equanimous” with whatever we see, feel and experience.
The backbone or two wings of yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are “abhyasa” or practice and vairagya or surrender. In our overachieving culture, the practice part in many ways comes much more easily. We are willing to relentlessly practice, to do. We are much less comfortable with letting go.
In this technological age where we seem to be controlling nature and our environment more and more, we live with an illusion that we defy suffering, aging and death. Your knee blows out, no problem, we have a bionic knee for you! You're depressed, no problem, take this pill and you won't be anymore. You feel old and ugly, no problem, we'll give you a “facelift”.
Please, don't mistake what I am saying as a disdane for the benefits of knee replacements and medications wisely used. That is not my point. The point is that we live in an illusion that we can change things by DOING something.
Surrender is not a word that American's take to well. Our country is built on doing just the opposite. Defying the king (our daddies!) and striking out on our own heroic journey. When we reached the ocean on the other side, we began the process of empire making.
And, I for one can tell you that I have been quite successful in the doing department from a conventional standpoint. I could be a highly paid, powerful corporate executive right now if I had wanted to. But it gave me no joy, in fact it felt like it was taking something honest from me.
I have continued doing marketing work though over the past 8 years as I have developed my skills in teaching yoga. In the past 6 months though it became almost unbearable to do this kind of work anymore. This morning I realized why. I realized that the marketing work feeds my ego, my desire to be seen as smart and creative. And, that feeling is no longer sustainable for me. Because that is exactly the attitude that has us in the dire situation that we find ourselves now in the world. When we feed our need to be seen as smart, beautiful, better than, etc. that leads to competition, aggression, pride, envy, etc.
There is nothing wrong with the heroic journey, but at some point, we need to stop running, stop seeking, and find our home. The only truly safe, secure and lasting home we have is found within. And, when I find that sense of home, when I am comfortable with myself, in my own body, when I deeply care for myself and my own well-being, I naturally want the same for others.
So, this is my experiment. What if I give up everything that I am doing that helps support my false sense of self and instead invest in allowing space for things to unfold instead? What if I allow myself to be in a state of not knowing, with curiousity vs. anxiety? What if I focus all my efforts on deeply loving and caring for myself with the same care that I give others?
My dad told me that he was concerned that that this dropping out would lead to depression, something that I have struggled with in past. Depression is a state in which we feel stuck, immoveable, depressed. Contrarily, depression also includes an element of stillness. Stillness makes room for space and possibility. We can choose to engage or not. We can wait with patience and tolerance for the right conditions to arise. We can go with the flow of the river vs. struggling. Unlike the depressed state, we don't stubbornly hang on to that which his no longer serving us. We create a pregnant pause in which anything can arise!
I am not sure that my dad actually understood what I was talking about, but that is ok. I don't need to be understood. And, I was able to feel the genuine care and concern that he had for me as his daughter. He cares for me in the way that he can which isn't always what I want or need but again that's ok, that is my story not his. And, we can disagree or not understand each other but still have love between us.
Surrender, letting go, no longer feels like giving up, it feels like giving IN. After trying and doing many types of spiritual practice, the Buddha (Shakyamuni) finally sat down under a tree with the realization that the only way out was in. The only true “control” we have is over our own mind and responses. When we no longer react to the world, but respond to the world then we can experience a state which is described as equanimity or contentment. Where all experiences have “one taste”.
True surrender is not just throwing up our arms in despair. Nor is it retreating into depression. It is letting go of trying to manipulate the world for our own gains and instead attempting to watch and engage with the world from a sense of wonder and curiousity, from a sense of love for ourselves and as a result for everything and everyone else. Surrender is to realize that the dualistic world of me and you is not real.