Updated: Mar 26, 2021
These days, any difficult blow can seem like a huge pile-on to an already built-up pile of pre-existing conditions. I don't have to list the pre-existing conditions of our society these days to bring you up to speed with what I'm talking about. We also have our own life situations that could also be categorized this way. Maybe you or a loved one has a physical or mental health challenge. Maybe it's financial pressure or job (or lack of a job) stress. With all this going on, any loss, disappointment, setback or obstacle can prompt a response of "Not one more thing! I can't take one more thing!"
In yoga, the concept of ishvara pranidhana, means surrender to the Divine. It is one of the five niyama, or ethical observances of yoga's eight limbs. The West has adopted a generally negative view of the word surrender, but the term ishvara pranidhana and its meaning can help us adopt a more useful, practical meaning of surrender that can support us when times are hard and can also give us a more balanced approach to our lives.
While the term ishvara pranidhana is often translated as surrender, it also means consideration of one's own concept of spiritual forces greater than oneself. We can bypass the question of the nature of the divine, and get right to whatever that is for you. Ultimately, this reminds us that there are forces at play greater than ourselves. It gives us some sense of scale of ourselves in relation to time, space, the laws of nature and even the slow evolution of humans as a species.
When we can remember that there are all these forces at play, it can remind us that we can sometimes let to let go and surrender to the flow of things. While it's good to take part in the creation of what comes next, and to know that we can make a difference, in our health, in the well-being of others, in the creation of a just society... we can also take time to rest. That fire to create change can (and needs to) be tempered with some down-time, some rest and some letting-go of the want to control the flow.
This can be practiced in many ways in yoga. Yin Yoga is all about surrender. We practice letting the force of gravity to take over. We tune-into ourselves, adjust and then release and relax into shapes for many minutes, trusting that we can not do for these minutes, and that things will not only be okay, but may improve by our not doing.
In mindfulness-oriented meditation, we practice being with what is, not controlling what is. Although it's a practice, it is actively letting go of what we think is supposed to be happening, and being with what really is happening, and trusting that this will also be okay.
After most of our physical yoga practices, we relax and release into the pose savasana, or corpse pose. In a way, we're saying, we've done what we can for now, and now we will practice stopping and letting things be. We use that shape of dying as a transition, as a completion of effort and as a resting time, before some other creative venture.
Efforts need to ebb and flow. We need to do, and we need to not do. We need to surrender to the other powerful forces that exist. One name for God in yoga traditions is Ultimate Reality. Our efforts are real, but they may also stem from an idea of an ideal. Our ideas of ideals are ignited by action, and they do change the world. And, they are performed within a greater reality, of which we have limited understanding. That limitation, is human. It's okay. And remembering that there is something greater than our limited view helps us rest and have some peace.
So, take time to surrender. Take a nap. Take a breath. Wave a white flag with regard to your efforts. Even if for only a minute or two. The perspective frees us up to be more connected to a greater reality, a greater peace, which includes much more than the challenges of being human.