Sunday, March 9, 2014

The White Flag Wins

There are times when we just want to yell, "Uncle!" Remember playing those games as a kid? If your opponent had you in a bind he'd shout, "Say Uncle!" I remember saying it when someone was tickling me and I couldn't escape their grip on me. Saying "Uncle" is tantamount to surrender and defeat. It means you lose. No one wants to be a "Loser" -- except in Yoga. No crying in baseball. No winners in yoga. Huh??

Now this is for real: in the philosophical and moral teachings of yoga, we read in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that the quickest and most direct route to Samadhi or Enlightenment is: drum roll, please: Surrender! That's right, Dorothy. No need to click your heels three times! Instead, just wave your white flag high in the air. Surrender will take you Home, little girl.

The Sanskrit key phrase for surrender is Isvara Pranidhana. Ishvara is translated as the Supreme or personal God, the all-encompassing and all-powerful Divine that resides within each of us and is thus personal to us--God as a person, and not just an impersonal and aloof Higher Power. Depending on how religious a person is, this word Ishvara can come to mean the God he or she worships, or simply the Higher Self. The word Pranidhana means, most simply, "surrender," though it also carries the notions of dedication and devotion. So then the key phrase, Ishvara Pranidhana, is translated as, pick your version, here: "Surrender to God," or more commonly "Self-Surrender."

In Book One of the Sutras, Patanjali lists several different ways the yoga practitioner can progress towards Samadhi, and as part of that list, Sutra 23 states, Isvara Pranidhanat va, "Or, by total surrender to God." Further along, in Book Two, Sutra 45 proclaims, Samadhi siddhir Isvarapranidhanat, "By total surrender to God, samadhi is attained." This particular notion of God is a real, concrete entity that is higher than our small selves and to which we can turn over the fruits of our efforts. In humanistic terms, it helps to think of surrendering to humanity as a whole and to the best of yourself.

Surrender is sweet. To surrender is to give up the struggle and let go. Some people like to say, "Let go and let God." This idea is captured well in the classic Beatles song, Let it Be. To surrender is to relinquish control, or the illusion of being in control. To surrender is to stop and lay down your burdens because you just can't or won't carry them anymore.

To reach the state of peace, bliss, and union that is Samadhi, Patanjali and Paul McCartney have told us to surrender, turn it over, let it go and let it be. Personally, I tend to hold onto and bear the weight of too many things that don't need to belong to me: temporary and seemingly permanent problems in my life, other people's problems and even other people's aches and pains! Dwelling and worrying and hanging on in our minds and bodies makes us sick and sad. I have been sad about my husband's upcoming shoulder surgery for the past few months, even feeling pain in my shoulder. He gets his surgery tomorrow, and when I told him I was anxious about it last night he said, "I'm the one who's getting this. It's happening to me." So we are helping each other to turn over that worry and pain and trust in the healing process that will come.

It feels good to surrender, whether we are being tickled to death or crushed to death by our worries. Each time we practice yoga, we are training in the art of surrender. It is a skill and an art. It's not easy to surrender. In many ways, surrendering goes against our genetic wiring and our survival instincts; but if we believe that we are more than "a sack of meat," (one of my husband's favorite terms for the human condition) then we see the value in transcending our animal nature that keeps us crouching and growling in the corner, hanging on for dear life.

Savasana, the resting pose we take at the end of practice, is the posture of surrender, eyes closed and belly and heart open to the world. We can bring that attitude of surrender into all of our yoga postures and into our lives. We can find surrender in our forward bends, bowing to the best in ourselves and others. We can find it backbending postures, opening up our heart to the unknown and turning over our struggle. We can find it in our lives through identifying what we hang onto when it's counterproductive.

What can you let go of today? What can you surrender to a higher purpose or power? What can you turn over and leave behind you today, so that you can feel lighter when you walk out of yoga practice and into the world? Keep that thing or those things in your mind and use your yoga practice as a conscious way to surrender. Wave your white flag to go home--now, today.

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