The God Question
Surrender is an important, but challenging, part of all yoga practice. We are many of us familiar with the idea that yoga is (or should be) a combination of effort and surrender and I have written about it before in this blog. But what or whom we are surrendering to is an important question. Yogis are lucky, I think, in that the word God is never used; we have no prescribed image of a deity or anthropomorphised figure issuing judgment or calling the shots. Patanjali entreats us only to surrender to that which is greater than us: ishvara pranidhana.
I think it is important that we find a definition of spirituality that works for us. For some of us, spirituality involves belief in a specific religion and in the idea of God as omniscient, omnipresent creator of the universe in whom we find refuge; others might find this notion of God judgmental or threatening in some way; still others reject the idea of God entirely.
Whether or not you hold with a specific religion, whether you are an atheist or agnostic, whether you find the idea of God appealing or threatening, in yoga we all need to find a way to connect. Connection with that part of ourselves which is beautiful and eternal; connection with other people, in whom we recognise an essential sameness, beyond elements of personality, race, gender or upbringing; and connection with the whole universe, in which we are simply a small part of the whole.
I don't think it matters how you describe this connection, but I do think that cultivating humility before it is crucial to our practice. When humans believe that they are greater, or more important, or more powerful than the rest of the natural world; when they forget that they are just one small part of the whole, then they forget to respect it; they forget to replenish what they take from it; they forget to look after it. When humans think they can control life, or nature, they are misguided and they run into trouble. Nature shows us time and again that it is more powerful than we are and that even the smallest creatures will spell the end of so much, if they cannot survive.
Surrender is a potent word. It inspires strong reactions. But I am not suggesting that we become passive; on the contrary, a life lived through yoga is an active life, it is an exuberant grasping of life and all the opportunities it presents us with. I am thinking of surrender, not as giving in, but as going with... go with life; try not to fight it. Accept that you cannot control everything; be grateful for your little place in the great scheme of things; remember your sense of wonder at the world on a daily basis.
This idea of surrender; this humility before something greater than you are; this wonder, love and joy at the world is something that we can cultivate in our yoga practice and in our life. This idea of surrender, for me, is spirituality.
What works for me is being in nature; what works for me is getting very quiet during yoga practice; what works for me is being in the sea: I never quite feel so strongly the glory and power of the world, my connection to it, and my small, but perfect place in it, as when I am in the ocean.
The way spirituality feels for me is the sensation of being very small and very big at the same time; perfectly insignificant and yet absolutely essential. It is sensing my place in the world with certainty, and an utter connection to every other thing; each of which has its place too. The way I express this spirituality is through love, that's all.
In finding a definition of spirituality that works for you, you are finding for yourself a pathway to this sense of connection and your place in the order of things. You belong here. Your definition doesn't have to look like anyone else's and nobody has to validate it for you. Call it God, or don't. It's not so important what label you give it; you know it's right for you when it feels right; this is something you feel in your heart, rather than understand or know in your mind.
'what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
through the pale-pink morning light.'
From Bone, by Mary Oliver