Surrendering is the most powerful spiritual practice.
What, exactly, does that mean? Why does it work?
Attachment to ego is the most important obstacle to living well, to flourishing, to realizing Being.
Ego is separation. If there were no separation, there would be no ego.
It’s as if the ego is in constant fear of its own nonexistence. It is always grasping for more separation, always looking to strengthen itself. For example, it loves to react! Why? Reacting perpetuates its existence because it perpetuates separation by undermining identity.
The ego is never satisfied, never at peace. It perpetually wants more and more and then even more.
This explains why, if it is left unchecked, it is perpetually evaluating everything. It always labels experiences as either positive (“this is good for me”) and desires more of them or negative (“this is bad for me”) and desires fewer of them.
These egocentric evaluations are at the heart of every emotion. There’s no such thing as a detached, impersonal emotion.
Emotions provide an excellent test of spirituality. The more emotional someone is, the more egocentric that person is. The more egocentric someone is, the less spiritual that person is.
It’s easier to spot this in others than in ourselves.
Since children are more immature and self-centered than adults, they are more emotional than adults. If you doubt this, watch children. Their emotional tanks are tiny and require frequent refilling. They have short attention spans. They are easily bored. Their egos are constantly gobbling up experiences.
Despite occasional outbursts of spontaneous generosity, children are typically ready to take everything personally and, so, engage in emotional reactions without hesitation.
This does not entail, though, that there are no immature, emotional adults! Most adults are as emotional as they can get away with being.
Some people rationalize this by claiming that emotional intensity is valuable. The rush or high from, say, falling in love can be intoxicating and addictive.
However, the price to be paid is more valuable than the experience purchased. “Emotional intensity” is a euphemism for “emotional slavery.” Admit it: you have always suffered whenever you have experienced prolonged bouts of emotions such as grief or loneliness or anger or fear or emotional love (attachment). No form can provide lasting satisfaction.
Surrendering works because it dissolves reacting as a way of life. By dissolving reactions, including emotional reactions, it opens the way for appropriate responses to changing circumstances.
Please don’t confuse reacting to events with responding to them. It’s good to respond appropriately and even spontaneously; responses come from freedom. It’s bad merely to be reacting to whatever unfolds next; reactions come from slavery.
The stronger the ego, the stronger and more frequent are reactions. The weaker the ego, the weaker and less frequent are reactions.
The ego thrives when reacting. Reactions strengthen the ego. This explains why, if you accidentally bump an angry young man on the street, you are likely to get attacked. He’ll take it personally, egocentrically. Reactions often spawn violence.
The ego does not fear reacting; instead, the ego fears living without reacting, which it thinks of as weakness. The angry young man imagined in the previous paragraph falsely believes he’ll be demonstrating weakness if he doesn’t react to being bumped.
By way of contrast, how would a sage respond to being accidentally bumped? He or she, of course, wouldn’t react at all. A fully enlightened sage never reacts, never takes anything personally.
Nothing is personal. The mature, who are sages, understand this truth, whereas the immature, who are not sages, just don’t get it.
So don’t confuse responding with reacting. Surrendering to reality (what-is, truth) is not reacting to reality; instead, it is the only way to respond to reality. It’s impossible to respond and to react simultaneously.
Surrendering to reality is a way of life, a way of living from moment to moment.
Surrendering to reality is a recognition of reality. Since reality is already real, it makes no sense whatsoever not to surrender to it.
The only alternative to living by incessantly surrendering to reality is not surrendering to it. This is a rebel’s life of perpetual rebellion, a life of war instead of peace. Pace Camus, being a rebel is far from the best way to live.
Surrendering to reality does not require liking reality. It does not mean that you will not try to respond by improving conditions. It does not mean that you have given up promoting something better.
All it means is that you are being realistic in recognizing reality. The only other option is not recognizing reality. If you don’t recognize reality, how could living well be possible?
Surrendering to reality undermines the ego. It is an act of unity (nonseparation, oneness). It is an act of releasing futile resistance. Why? Since reality already is, it is always futile to resist it.
For example, your physician tells you that you have cancer. You are shocked. After the initial period of questioning and double-checking the diagnosis, you stare reality in the face.
What should you do? Accept reality. You have cancer. It happens. Now consider the best way for you to respond.
Living well requires responding well; it never requires reacting.
Objection: What about automatic reactions?
Reply: There are, of course, times when you will react automatically. When a snake strikes, you’ll leap back without thinking. If you took the time to think through a good response, you’d surely be bitten. Since you don’t control such automatic reactions, there’s no need ever to worry about them.
Other kinds of automatic reactions are the result of training; those are your responsibility. Suppose, for example, that you are a master of karate, someone attacks you, and you react automatically to defend yourself. As long as you don’t react with more force than is necessary, there’s no problem. If you had had time to think through an appropriate response, you may have acted in an exactly similar way.
Practicing surrendering is taming the ego. Taming the ego is what spiritual mastery is all about.
This practicing requires persistent effort, relentless mindfulness. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. You’ll try to stop reacting and yet find yourself reacting again and again. Reacting is a deeply engrained habit. It’s difficult to free yourself.
Once you accept that it isn’t easy, practicing becomes easier. If you don’t practice, you’ll never free yourself. Nobody else can free you, and there’s nothing between you and freedom except you.
Leading a nonattached life is better than leading an attached life. The critical attachment is attachment to the ego. It is necessary to tame the ego to achieve any degree of freedom from it; it is necessary to kill it to achieve full emancipation. The ideal of living well without freedom from attachment to the ego is an idol.
Living well requires a sufficient degree of nonattachment, detachment, surrendering.
Since the only alternative is continued slavery, why not do what it takes?
Other aids: my How to Survive College Emotionally and any works or audio training programs by Eckhart Tolle.
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