The three strategies or practices of Kriya Yoga that Patanjali offers as the way to remove obstructions and cultivate superconsciousness are self-discipline, self-inquiry, and self-surrender.
Self-discipline is practiced every day through intentionally joyful living, by staying focused on higher purpose and true fulfillment. It’s all the choices we make to live in harmony with the soul, to align our thoughts, speech, and action with the spiritual truth of our being.
Self-inquiry is investigation of higher realities and inquiry into the nature of consciousness, which includes contemplation and superconscious meditation.
Self-surrender is letting go of the illusional sense of a separate self, releasing the erroneous idea that we are separate from the Source of life and its ongoing support.
Here, let’s explore self-surrender.
Surrender is the key to willingness
With surrender, we realize that omnipresent, unlimited, Absolute Reality is all that is. It is the source, substance, and boundless supply of all creation. Its fundamental nature is expansive, infinite, and eternal — without beginning or end. Think of it this way: Absolute Reality, commonly called God, does not withhold. Its very nature is to give: It continually pours itself forth as goodness and blessing. Here’s what that means to us — never, at any time, is goodness ever withheld from us, any more than the ocean holds back from a wave.
The question for us becomes, if Absolute Reality does not withhold its creative power, how do we sign up to receive? How do we enter that prospering stream of divine grace and blessing? We're already in that stream. It’s a matter of flowing with it by cooperating with its power. As writer Anne Lamott notes, “The Gulf Stream will flow through a straw provided the straw is aligned to the Gulf Stream, and not at cross purposes with it.” Our alignment with that prospering power is willingness to thrive.
Self-Surrender: The Willingness Diagnostic
Imagine someone knocking on your door, and when you open it, they ask, “Would you like to thrive, to prosper, and be successful in all ways?” We ’d like to think we’d say, “Yes, of course!” But many of us are a little suspicious of that question. Our first thought is not, “Yes, I am ready to prosper!” The first thought is, “What will it cost me?” Our inner dialogue with the divine Self is not that different. Sure, we might consider that the divine prospering power is omnipresent and ready to infuse our life, but what will it cost? What will it require of us?
Let’s face it, becoming willing to fully thrive, to pull out all the limiting stops held in place by the small self, is a leap into the unknown.
Many questions arise when we arrive at the threshold of willingness. Those ever-branching quandaries arise from two main arteries of doubt or two big questions: (1) What if what God (or Spirit, or Higher Power) wants for my life is not what I want? And (2) what if I try and fail?
Question 1: What If What God Wants Is Not What I Want?
I remember this one. The very mention of spiritual surrender had me fearing my next destination would be the convent, my next outfit a full black habit complete with a pair of Birkenstocks. And I’m not even Catholic. This misunderstanding obviously had to be cleared up before I could progress on the divine path that was right for me. Whatever fears we have about where Spirit might send us if we become willing to follow divine direction are rooted in what yoga calls the primal error — avidya — ignorance, or wrong knowledge of the Self. We fear what God might ask of us if we surrender because we have not yet discovered that God is already our life.
This question is like the wave asking, “What if the ocean doesn’t want what I want?” The answer to our question lies in knowledge of the true Self, knowledge that reveals what surrender is.
The practice of self-surrender is introduced in the sutras as “surrender to Ishwara.” The phrase used is Ishwara pranidhana — which means surrender to God, the Lord, or Creator. Ishwara is an interesting term. It is translated as “God,” yet it does not refer to any particular form of deity that we might identify as someone’s idea of God. Instead, Ishwara is more of a generic term, referring to that divine intelligence and power that brings forth creation, permeates it, regulates and sustains it — the Creator or Lord. In other words, surrender to the One that is the Source of all that is. Surrender to your Higher Power, your Higher True Self.
Sutra 2:45 offers the promise of surrender this way: “From surrender to Ishwara, comes the perfection of samadhi.” Or, “Self-realization is perfected by surrender to the divine.” The crux of this practice is simply letting go of the false belief that we are separate, that we are egoic, autonomous individuals — on our own, without a basis of support, without a foundation for our existence.
Yes, we are individuals. Yes, we operate through an ego-identity. Yes, we are autonomous. And yet, all of that is only possible because we are individualized expressions of a higher Absolute Reality. Remember the wave and the ocean. We are always rooted in the divine Source. Surrender is coming to recognize that and count on it as our unfailing Source of support. With surrender comes the culmination of all practice; we are restored to our original, innate wholeness. No longer at odds with our Self, we can live from our center of wholeness. We can lead with the experience of fullness, rather than any perception of lack motivating our action.
Question 2: What If I Try and Fail?
This perennial question, too, represents a misunderstanding of who we are and what it means to prosper. It arises from the ego’s need to apparently control outcomes. We don’t mind signing up if we know what we’re signing up for. We'd like to see the outcome before we begin, even though life doesn’t work that way. This is confusing prosperity with a result, accomplishment, or destination.
Prospering is a process. Whatever we are inspired to do is our path of becoming, a way of allowing our divine powers and qualities to be developed and revealed. Even though we can, and do, discover many outer signs of prosperity along the way, the real journey is an inner one. By releasing our attachment to an outcome, we become free to prosper beyond expectation.
The Bhagavad Gita (2:40) offers this inspiration in response to our question about the possibility of failure on the spiritual path: “On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.”
Surrender, Surrender, Surrender
What will surrender cost? Everything. And nothing. The cost of surrender is relinquishing the false sense of a separate self. It requires giving up the wrong idea of who we think we are.
Over the years, many students have asked me: How do I surrender? It’s easier if we know that surrender is letting go into infinite support. The strategies of Kriya Yoga help us discern that. Meditation gives us the experience of being something more than mind, something beyond ego. Study of sacred texts gives us a map that explains the role of surrender, while contemplation born of inner inquiry facilitates insight into who we really are. We realize we are that Supreme Consciousness which illumines the mind. Surrender is then understood as letting go into our higher true Self.
A simple way of approaching surrender is to look for where we struggle and how we make life a burden. From the perspective of the divine Self, life is never a struggle or a burden. Letting that go is releasing the ego’s grip. It’s a backdoor approach into the house of plenty.
Surrender of the sense of separation does not mean extinction of the individual. It means that the activity of the divine can now flow freely through that individual without the inner conflict of will. Surrender is letting go of our resistance to take the step, speak the word, open our heart — do what we need to do to honor the inspiration of the soul that rises again and again. Surrender is a commitment we make to no longer dampen down our soul fire. It’s our commitment to thrive.
Surrender is the “yes” we say to our Self.
Excerpted from the book The Jewel of Abundance: Finding Prosperity through the Ancient Wisdom of Yoga. Copyright ©2018 by Ellen Grace O’Brian. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com
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