The word ‘surrender’ has bad connotations in our culture. It’s equated with defeat, weakness and failure. So much so that we probably need a whole other word for ‘surrender’ as it’s meant in the context of spirituality. This form of surrender has nothing to do with defeat and failure and is actually more synonymous with strength than weakness. It takes a lot of strength and wisdom to know when and how to surrender to life.
Eckhart Tolle defined this form of surrender as simply “yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life.” The Tao te Ching is an extended meditation on the art of surrendering to the flow of life. It draws our attention to the inherent perfection of nature, which is driven by an inner force, an underlying principle of balance and harmony. The sun and the wind and rain just do their thing. Animals exist, just doing their thing. In spite of the seeming chaos and violence we might observe in the natural world when viewing its constituent parts and their interaction, when the whole is taken into consideration, we see it is all driven by balance and perfection. Whenever it resists and constricts, something usually happens to bring it back into balance again.
We are not separate from nature or from the natural world. Only the human ego would assume otherwise. And so our lives are really meant to flow in perpetual balance as much as anything in the natural world. This balance is lost the moment our egos interject the notion of ‘doership’. Doership revolves around a sense that “I” am living “my life” and “I” am the creative force behind everything that happens in it.
Now, we can shape our lives and destinies to an extent. But it is limited and in our overwhelmingly individualistic, ‘power to self’ kind of culture, it is greatly overemphasised. We lose touch with the underlying balance of life because when we think that we’re the one doing everything, that we have to control and direct every single part of lives. If things go the way we want them to go, we’re happy. If things don’t conform to our idea of what they should be, we’re unhappy.
From an early age we learn that if we manipulate situations in certain way we can get results that are favourable to us and there’s nothing wrong with that. Until, that is, it gets out of hand and before we know it we’re in a megalomaniacal relationship with life. We become the ultimate dictators. Instead of flowing with life, life has become something separate that we need to endlessly control and manipulate. As a result we’re perpetually at war with life.
I believe this is at the root of much of our suffering. We devote years of our lives and exhaustive effort to manipulating life into what we want it to be. Sometimes it works, but often it doesn’t…and when it doesn’t, we suffer. No matter how much we fret and struggle and strive, life is ultimately going to get its own way: we’re going to grow old and die. It’s a shattering realisation that when it comes down to the war between us and life, life is ultimately going to emerge victorious. So why fight?
Surrender is acknowledging that there’s a deeper flow, a deeper reality beneath the myriad forms of this world which have hitherto absorbed and imprisoned our attention. It’s only when we let go of our need to control everything and recognise that our reign as supreme dictator of our lives has caused more pain than gain, that we can begin to form a deeper connection with life.
Contrary to everything we may have been taught, accepting and yielding to the flow of life gives us infinitely more power than trying to control and manipulate every aspect of it. The latter wears us out, grinds us down, tending to make us bitter and disillusioned. The former makes us as fresh and innocent as a young child; we regain some of our wonder at the miraculous gift of life. We connect with a far deeper power and come to experience a profound joy at simply being alive and open to life as it unfolds.
It’s also possible that when we approach life from an attitude of surrender and acceptance that situations become more harmonious, because we’re no longer creating tension and constriction by trying to control everything. Letting go of our stranglehold on life frees up a whole lot of energy that was otherwise being wasted. Perhaps if we are a little friendlier and kinder to life, life will return the favour? Why not surrender to the flow of life and just see what happens…