What does it look like when we surrender to divine will? Does that mean that we just sit back, take our hands entirely off of the steering wheel, and let everything and anything happen as it will? Do we need to sit without moving a muscle? Does surrender always mean you let someone walk all over you like a doormat?
Or is surrender something much more subtle and actually rich? Could it be that true surrender is an inner attitude towards whatever is happening? What if you can be fully surrendered and also take appropriate action when needed? What if surrender includes both passivity and activity? Can you still protect yourself, improve your life, work to change your circumstances, do any inner healing and processing of your conditioning, and make definite choices about your life while still being in a place of total surrender?
A friend just shared a simple three part theory of the brain: The lower brain is the seat of our reactivity and resistance to life. The mid brain is where sensory experience is taken in. And the higher brain is where we experience the capacity to understand and ultimately accept, surrender to and embrace life. She then suggested that the key in every moment is whether the sensory input into the mid-brain activates the lower brain, triggering the fight or flight response and other emotional reactivity and suffering, or whether that same sensory experience is processed by the higher functions of intellect and perspective that process the sensory experience into understanding, peace, acceptance, surrender and even joy.
She then shared a simple practice for directing the present moment sensory experience into the higher functions of the brain. All that is required is speaking or thinking, "I am happy to be here." It is a surprisingly effective way to shift from resistance and suffering to surrender and peace or joy.
What if that fundamental attitude of "I am happy to be here" is all that is required for surrender to happen? What if you could even continue just as before to actively engage with the experiences you are having, including trying to make it better or more comfortable or more whatever, as long as you also were "happy to be here"? And of course it also would be fine to stop trying to change or fix anything if the underlying attitude is that it is all fine and I am happy to be here.
Taking this one step further, when the opposite is happening and the thought is "I am not happy to be here" or even "I hate being here" and "This totally sucks!", then the possibility exists to add on this attitude of acceptance to that experience of suffering also. When the lower brain is being activated and we are upset, worried, fearful, etc., what if in the midst of that experience, we also think "I am happy to be here"?
Could that bring an overall sense of peace and surrender to the experience as it is? Can you surrender to suffering itself and thereby short-circuit the suffering into something else called peace or joy?
The more I explore the nature of suffering, the more I discover the endless layers of subtlety to the experience of distress or suffering. There are many levels to our present moment experience and as long as there is also this level or layer of an affirmed acceptance, then the other layers do not need to be gotten rid of. You can still struggle, effort, give up, try harder, take a break, wish it was different, try to get rid of something, try to hang onto something, explore the conditioning that is operating, and anything else that is either active or passive, effortful or collapsing from all effort, as long as there is also an overarching attitude of "I am happy to be here". It is not necessary to choose one level or the other of our experience, but to simply add in this "attitude of gratitude", as we sometimes call it. We sometimes hold back from the admission or affirmation of happiness because we think we have to get rid of the unhappiness first. But what if you can just add a heaping layer of happiness on top of whatever else is happening?
Surrender and happiness could be much simpler than we have believed. Instead of surrender and happiness being something else that requires a super-human degree of passivity and total allowing of everything just as it is, and instead of being something that we have to do in place of whatever we are already doing, surrender and happiness could be something we simply add to whatever is already happening or whatever we are already doing. This simply adds to the experience an inner movement towards whatever is present, whatever is actually here in sensory experience, including any inner "sensations" of thought, emotion, desire or judgment. Even our suffering or movement away from what is becomes one more thing that we can also move towards. And no matter how many layers of suffering, effort, activity, striving, struggle and just plain everyday doing or activity are currently activated in our mind and body, we can always also add a layer of surrender to the mix.
Surrender and happiness may not be a difficult sacrifice of all we know and already trust in life including our striving and effort, but simply an invitation to add in a deeper attitude of trust, acceptance, and gratitude to everything that is already here and already functioning in our inner and outer experience. You can even be very busy and also be totally surrendered! All it takes is "I am happy to be here."
Someone emailed me asking about self blame and requesting any suggestions I might have for how to address it. Here is my response:
Self blame is an interesting dynamic. It is mostly perpetuated by what is known as the super-ego or the inner critic or judge. This is a normal and healthy development very early in life that allows us to behave and stay out of trouble even when mom or dad are not present. We internally form an image of them and behave as if they are still watching us. It is useful when we are young, but later in life it is pretty detrimental to have a voice or image inside our head always telling us what is wrong with us. One of the key signs that the super-ego is active is if you feel small or inadequate or unworthy, and there is a voice referring to you in the third person, i.e. "What's the matter with you?" or "You are so worthless."
This split off image of others criticizing us is also a ripe place for projection of our own strength, power, and discrimination. And surprisingly, the best approach to the superego is to tell it shut up! And mean it! If that does not work, then tell it shut the hell up! In essence you do whatever it takes to get that voice and image to leave you alone. Do not allow it to get a word in edgewise. Make fun of it, laugh at it, tell it to go jump in a lake. But do not try to reason with it. Logic does not work with the super-ego.
If you can collapse the projection by standing up to the super-ego, then all of the strength and power that was being projected onto that critical voice will flow back into your body and Being, and then you can decide what is true and what you need to do. Paradoxically, when we defend ourselves against the super-ego, we actually are embracing the energy of it by reclaiming it for our own. And by the way, I do not recommend telling the actual people you love or who do practically have authority over you to shut up. You can be this fierce and go to battle because it is just an image in your own mind. It is like a cartoon character and you do not have to worry that you will hurt the feelings of the imaginary voice in your head!
One bit of good news in this approach is that when we are successful at dissolving or at least quieting the critical judge in our head, the other thing that can dissolve is the ego. The ego forms at the same time as the super-ego as we need a mental image of ourselves to relate to the mental image of our parents. When there is no longer any super-ego activity, then there is no longer any need for an ego.
I wrote something similar on my blog here and there is a book available that explores this in greater depth called Soul Without Shame available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B009GN3DD8/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
I hope this helps.
Note added: My friend replied with some perspectives from her work with multiple personalities that would suggest that the super-ego is just a child-like part of us that might respond better to a gentle acceptance and some understanding of its positive intent. She was intrigued though by the idea of reclaiming the energy, strength and power that is split off in the superego. I wrote her back as follows:
There can be a surprising amount of energy and strength that flow back into the body when you stand up to the super-ego. It can also become very quiet and peaceful inside.
I do find the gentle approach you are suggesting can work also, but it often seems that the super-ego responds better to a firm and unyielding approach. Again, it can paradoxically turn into an embrace of the actual essential strength and power that is being held outside the body by the projection. And just to be clear, this approach is not appropriate for dealing with the hurt or wounded aspects of our psyche as they would only be more traumatized.
It maybe helps to remember that the superego is truly is just a projection of your own mind. There is no actual harm done to an independent being when you yell at it. I sometimes even grab it by the throat to make sure it shuts up. When I do, it becomes small and inconsequential and I feel much bigger and expanded. I actually enjoy the feeling of being like a big powerful Samurai warrior! I definitely embrace the energy when it is back inside my own body!
One other point you might encounter is that the superego can also give a comforting sense that mom and dad are always present....even to us as adults. The first time the superego falls silent, there may be a profound sense of alone-ness that has never really been encountered before. It is unfamiliar, but ultimately freeing. This approach of turning the tables on the superego maybe goes beyond the comforting and embracing of the split off projection and actually dissolves the sense of otherness altogether....which again can also dissolve the sense of a separate self or ego. You can be so alone that there is nobody here....not even you!