Surrender is absolutely necessary if you are to have success on the spiritual path. But surrender has to be done with awareness and discrimination. Otherwise it may be just apathy or indifference.
Surrendering doesn't mean you don't have to make plans. You do. You must make the best plans you can, and then turn the whole thing over to the Divine. I call this doing my homework -- I do my best to look at the situation, then I make one or two or three plans, and then I wait to see what the Divine has to say about all this.
You can begin to learn how to surrender by practicing. I began to practice before I ever went to India. I was told about surrender by some Indians in Montreal who invited me to dance for them to celebrate their independence from Britain.
I asked them what it means to have a Guru, and what the next step is once you have found him or her. I was told that I would be well-advised to prepare myself first of all by writing down all my shortcomings -- and be clear about them, admit them quite freely. The next thing needed was obedience. That worried me greatly because, never having had brothers and sisters, I never had to give in the way most people do.
Learning to Surrender
At that time, I was giving classes in Montreal on dancing, creative movement, and photography to make extra money for my trip to India. I had one young dance student who had learned some simple folk dances and I decided to ask her to teach them to me. She was nineteen.
She said, "Oh, Mrs. Hellman. You wouldn't be interested. They are only folk dances."
I said, "That doesn't matter. I would like to learn them."
In the lessons she gave me I observed myself and my reactions. She was a young girl, nineteen, and I was forty-four, a middle-aged woman and a professional dancer. I thought, "If I can surrender to how she teaches me -- if I can handle this -- then I don't need to worry about surrender once I meet my Guru."
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It was quite an ordeal because she showed a very different nature then -- a different tone of voice, a different vocabulary. She even called me stupid. I could see how the Divine used her to bring it home to me that surrender can really be very difficult. But even after that, I had no idea what Gurudev Sivananda was going to ask of me.
In surrendering, obedience is an absolute must. If you don't practice obedience, you will never follow instructions correctly. If you do a practice incorrectly, saying, "Oh, this is more comfortable, I like it this way better," you will never have the result of the practice. Often people say, "I have done this for five years and I haven't got anywhere." When I ask them to show me what they are doing, I can always see that they have made changes to the instructions.
To learn surrender, you have to look for opportunities to practice. I found opportunities in my travel. Wherever I went -- and I have stayed in many houses, in many places -- I never made any special requests. Until I had my first bout with arthritis, I accepted whatever was offered. If somebody gave me a bed, it was great. If it was a nice bed, that was fine. If it was a lumpy bed -- and I have slept in many lumpy beds -- I never said, "That was not a good bed," or "I won't go there any more because I will get a lumpy bed."
You accept what is. If it's good, say thank you. If it's not that good, still say thank you, because you had a roof over your head, you had a place to sleep. One person will give you a chest of drawers, another will just let you live out of your suitcase. Whatever comes, you adjust -- wherever you are.
Use any such travels to surrender to what is. Don't say, "I don't like this table. Can I take it out?" Don't change the room around because you like it better a different way, even if you are going to be there for a month. In other words, subdue all thoughts that you have about making immediate changes. That's very important.
The only exception is a change that serves your spiritual practice. Then ask if you can make the change you want. Or learn to adjust your practice to whatever the circumstances are.
Accepting Whatever Circumstances Come
Practice your surrender in the small things so that you slowly get used to doing it. If you can make a big leap and go to the biggest, the most difficult surrender, so much the better. Then the other small things will easily fall into place.
But do not practice self-inflicted pain to learn surrender. Just accept whatever circumstances come.
To practice surrender, I would sometimes promise the Divine that for a particular length of time I would do anything a certain person wanted me to do. Then for a time before beginning the practice, I would put that person into the Light. I have prepared people this way for a week before beginning, and sometimes up to three weeks if they were really difficult. I always made it clear in my preparation period that I would not go against my conscience, but anything else I would go along with.
One time, when I was doing all the housekeeping at the Ashram, I was practicing this surrender with a fellow who had a workbench in the basement where he sawed wood. We had forced air heating with big ducts. He reached up and rubbed his hand over one, and he said, "Look at that. You call that clean?" Well, it had never occurred to me that it was my duty to clean his workshop, but I had said I would do anything, so I cleaned it.
At one time that promise to surrender to someone cost me two thousand dollars. I had to decide whether to follow my decision to surrender or save the money. I said, "This is probably a very special test. How far will I go? Will that include money, too?" So I let the two thousand dollars go out of the window. That was a tremendous amount of money in those days, when I was getting only fifty dollars for a lecture. I had to give many lectures before I got that amount together again.
In doing this practice, you don't sacrifice your ideals, you don't go against your conscience. But you sacrifice whatever else you have to sacrifice, and one day the time will come when most of your surrender is no longer a sacrifice.
Surrendering Habitual Thinking
I became aware, also, that unless I surrender my habitual thinking, the habitual quick response in my mind -- in other words, my own mental activity -- I can't really hear what anybody is telling me. In any human relationship (not only in marriage), if you want to hear somebody, you have to surrender at that moment and really listen to that person.
If you practice that, thinking each time, "That was another little opportunity to be better able to listen to the still, small voice within, to listen to the Divine," then surrender becomes second nature and you don't have to make a conscious effort. When surrender has become part of your nature, you will no longer have to say to yourself, for example, "At five o'clock Jane will come to talk to me and I had better surrender so I will hear what she says."
At times, if something comes out of the blue or somebody drops in unexpectedly while I am busy, I may not hear what is being said. As soon as I become aware of that, I say, "Repeat that, please. What was it?" At that moment, then, I drop everything else. Now this means I can forget a hundred and fifty other things, but this is what must be done.
Sometimes my place is like an airport with all the people coming and going. But I have made it that way on purpose because surrender means not saying, "I open the doors from three to five only, and if you don't make it, that's too bad." You have to surrender to the Divine twenty-four hours a day. You cannot do it part time.
Deepening Your Acceptance of What Is
How do you do a spiritual practice if you keep all your doors open and somebody walks right in? Well, you have to learn to incorporate that person, that conversation, into the practice of surrender, even if you had intended to do something entirely different. And don't get irritable, don't get impatient -- particularly if the interruption isn't all that important and the work you were involved in is important.
This practice teaches you to surrender, to be quick in adjusting your concentration, to be able to go back to where you were quickly, and it deepens your acceptance of what is.
When that is well established, then you can say, "Okay, between seven and nine -- that's my time." But still be willing to surrender to circumstances and adjust your time. If you don't, impatience comes in the door. You will begin thinking, "Oh, I can never finish anything. There are all these disturbances. There are all these interruptions." That impatience reflects later on in other areas of your spiritual practices and your daily life.
For me, all these things were particularly difficult, not having grown up in a large family and having no brothers and sisters. To me, people meant problems, and who wants problems? However, I made up my mind I would do it, never mind what it was, and there's no question that I had my hard times. But victory comes only if you allow it to happen.
What Are You Surrendering To?
Explain the idea of surrender to yourself in many ways. When you light a candle, you can see that the candle has to surrender to your action and to the flame. It has to burn down. It can't say, "No, I don't want to."
Ask yourself, "What am I surrendering to?" If you are surrendering to the Light, make sure it's the Divine Light, not some colored or black light.
People who live in the Ashram may think at times they are surrendering to me, or to the Ashram, or its policies and regulations, but really the Ashram is only the battlefield on which they battle their own problems and difficulties. It is here only to provide them with the opportunity to practice surrender.
If it becomes really tough, I tell people, "Ask the Divine for a breathing spell, but don't be foolish and pack and go. There is no great lesson in packing and going. Anybody can do that. If you feel like doing that, acknowledge those feelings. Don't hide them in the closet. Don't make ghosts out of them. But don't act on them."
When it comes to surrender, there is often less struggle for a woman than there is for a man. I did not have many of the struggles that a man undergoes, particularly if he has made a name for himself. Men go through life always with the undercurrent in their mind, "I am superior. I can do this, and I can do that, and I can do the other." Unless a man has developed the feminine part in himself, he feels very superior to any woman because he has greater physical strength and he is usually physically taller.
If you are a woman and you feel badly about your position, think also of the advantages you have on the spiritual path. To surrender to the Divine is, from my experience with what I have seen of the struggle of men, considerably easier for a woman. A woman doesn't usually need to nourish intellectual pride. If she feels like crying, she cries. A man too often feels, "No. Men don't do this," or "That is beneath my male dignity."
Women don't have that problem. But a woman must be careful to surrender to the Divine and not to the desires of her feminine nature. Look at all your desires. Don't surrender to them. Don't scheme the fulfillment of those desires.
Surrender is Essential for Selfless Service
You will go through phases in your efforts at selfless service, but the important thing is to do it. The quality of your work and the quality of your attitude will improve if your dedication is complete.
Why is surrender essential? Because you can't always know when your self-will is active. There may be just a tinge of greed or desire in your attitude to the work -- and just a tinge is too much. Let go and say, "Well, I will wait and work, and when the time comes the answer will be given." You will see that it will be given.
Every now and then review how you are doing with surrender and obedience. Put a list on the inside cover of your diary and tick it off. When you come to the bottom of the list, put up a new list and start all over again, because it is so very easy to slip up. You have to keep your mind on the many things that have to be incorporated into your spiritual practice.
Self-will and work done selfishly keep you in bondage. The biggest enemy of your spiritual development is stubborn resistance and self will. The Buddhists have given perhaps the most detailed description of how to control the mind, and it is mainly control of self-will.
Making the Best Use of This Life
You have to keep asking the questions: "What am I doing with this life? Am I really making the best use of it?" Those are the questions everyone has to ask himself or herself. No teacher can do more than present you with them and advise you how to apply them.
These questions have to be ingrained, they have to become part of you so that you can help yourself. A teacher can give you the opportunity, but what you do with the opportunity is up to you. As a teacher, I can stimulate, coax, and sometimes give you a little shove, but you have to do the walking. I cannot just pick you up like a stone and fling you into the lake. That wouldn't work.
Work done selflessly in the service of the Most High -- and that Most High is also in part within yourself -- -- is what will get you to your destination. Selfless service will bring you into contact with that Guru within and that will make you independent.
Selfless service is also your protection in these times when the obstacles to Higher Consciousness can have a devastating dimension. Krishna in his last message to the world says, "Whenever people suffer at the hands of others, I will destroy evil." To the evildoers, he says, "lf you remain hard-hearted, I will destroy you."
Today there are millions of people suffering at the hands of others. How do you protect yourself in such times? By practicing selfless service, for that is what will make you divine. It is the road to return to the Light, to your inner being.
Excerpted with permission. ©1996.
Published by Timeless Books.
Time To Be Holy: Reflecting on Daily Life
by Swami Sivananda Radha.
"Take time to reflect, take time to be holy." With these words Swami Radha offers a way to return to the true source of inspiration within. Based on talks given to an inner circle of students, Time to Be Holy is a series of her reflections on topics that range from sex and relationships to intuition and consciousness, from getting along with others to karma and rebirth, from symbolism in daily living to faith and commitment. Her words are inspiring.
About The Author
Swami Sivananda Radha was the first Western woman to be initiated into sanyas. Her numerous books have been published in several languages. Workshops and classes based on Swami Radha's teachings are available at Yasodhara Ashram and at affiliated centers called Radha Houses located in urban communities internationally.