Thich Nhat Hahn suggested that, “even if we don’t know who we are praying to, we should humble ourselves and pray.”
The yoga Niyama of Ishvara pranidhana—surrendering (pranidhana) to a higher source (Ishvara) is a practice of surrendering to the Divine, to something bigger than ourselves. Pranidhana implies a state of humility in the presence of something higher. In this act of surrendering we give up the illusion of our control and unleash the potential for great peace. From this quiet, steady place, we arrive at an understanding that our inherent self-worth is not tied to any outcome, we are worthy and enough, just as we are.
We each have our own relationship with the Divine. We may identify God, Allah, Mother Nature, Universal Energy, The Flow, or another deity as our greater source. In surrendering to this great source for assistance we can release our ego and the collection of false beliefs that we carry, thus returning to our True Self. Surrendering shifts our narrow perspective from self obsession to pure love, freedom, and contentment.
Thich Nhat Hahn also said, “Letting go gives us freedom, the only condition for happiness. If in our hearts we cling to anything - anger, anxiety or possessions, we can not be free.”
To many modern Westerners the idea of surrendering as a virtue may seem weak. Many of us have only experienced surrendering to a higher source as a last resort, when we have confronted insurmountable obstacles or in some other way exceeded the limit of our individual abilities. But in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali transforms “surrender” from this sort of last-resort, emergency response into an essential ongoing practice in daily life. Perhaps by handing over this false sense of control to the divine in our daily activities we may live with more equanimity, freedom, and space.
How to practice surrender in our yoga practice: The yoga mat or meditation cushion are a wonderful “safe space” on which we can practice surrendering. Prostrating oneself on the floor in childs pose, lighting incense or a candle, setting a daily intention, chanting, and breathing are all formal ways of initiating Ishvara Pranidhana. To fully embody surrendering on our mat we must come to our practice with a heart full of devotion. We focus on whatever form the Divine takes for us, and surrender our will, to let ourselves be moved. We hand ourselves over. We can actually feel it.
How to practice surrendering in our daily life: At home, consider cultivating your own practice of offering your efforts and energies up to your Divine source. Maybe it happens before rising in the morning or before going to bed, when cooking a meal, or sitting down to eat, or even while going for a walk. Maybe it is before an important meeting or conversation. Shift from the “me, me, me” needing to be in control perspective to the higher perspective where the Divine helps us shift from our own smaller self to the larger universal and connected Self. It offers us a way of honoring the sacredness of the moment and trusting that all is and will be as it should be.
When we surrender, we can see through the eyes of love. We start to accept life in its crazy, beautiful entirety, and in doing so we free ourselves up to do what makes our hearts full. When we begin to let that divine spark inside us express itself, we can be who we were meant to be. Life becomes richer both for ourselves and for all of those whose lives we touch.
Joslyn Shehab MD, RYT-200