Friday, March 3, 2017

Divine Surrender

On this the third day of Lent, a period in which we renew our devotional and contemplative practices with a heart towards repentance from harmful thoughts, words and actions, we are reminded to let go of all that does not serve the highest good. We are instructed to turn away from everything holding us back from our divine purpose. 

In the Lord's Prayer, we recite the phrase, "Thy will be done." We are taught to surrender our own egoistic desires. We are asked to surrender control to a higher will. 

In Yoga philosophy the term Ishvara Pranidhana describes this attitude of surrendering to divine will. Ishvara Pranidhana is one of the five niyama (ethical observances) of the eight limbs of Yoga. Ishvara Pranidhana is a surrendering of the self and all actions to God; the Sanskrit word Isvara translates in English to mean “Lord” or “Supreme Being.”  The word points to a recognition of a power that is greater than us in the scope of our individual existence, some greater force that encompasses us and includes our being within a larger whole.  If we are not religious, we may prefer to think of this niyama as self-surrender.  Even if our interest in religious faith is merely intellectual, it is interesting to draw the parallel between this niyama and all of the well-known faiths of the world: for example, the very word Islam means “surrender to God,” and in Judaism, the central prayer, the Shema, contains these words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” words which Christians also revere since Jesus declared them to be the greatest commandment.  So then Yoga, along with these Abrahamic faiths, tells us that surrender is the path to the highest spiritual development.  

The sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita emphasizes the importance of persistent effort without personal attachment to outcomes. Such an attitude of total surrender of ego is nearly impossible for most people and runs counter to our entire culture and society. Nonetheless, we can experience the peace, contentment and total lack of anxiety which result from simply letting go of control. We can learn, even if only for a few moments or days, to release the fruits of our actions, to let go of the reins and rest in a non-judgmental, non-controlling place in the mind-body. 

Practically speaking, we can intend to adopt an attitude of divine surrender day-to-day. A concrete practice we can undertake daily or as often as possible is meditation. Here is a meditation practice you can do to cultivate the attitude of divine surrender:

1. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, or as long as you have to meditate. 
2. Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
3. Bring your awareness to your breath.
4. Inhale fully, and as you exhale, letting go of all tension, silently repeat the phrase, "Thy will be done, not mine but Thine." 
5. Repeat step 4 continually until your timer signals you to stop. 
6. Notice how you feel, without judgment. 

May your mind and heart rest in God's peace, today and always. 

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