The ideas below on practicing surrender are simply a reflection of my direct experience applying the wisdom of many great teachers to my life. They are not my prescriptions on how others should live their life. I share these thoughts and experiences not to gloat or cast judgment, but rather to feel the joy of creatively expressing myself and to potentially help others on a similar journey.
“He consciously moves with the cosmic current. In moving he loses nothing but his limitations. He can take with him in essence all the experiences and understanding that he has gained.”—Collins
One of the most impactful, yet challenging concepts on the spiritual path is surrender. Similar or equivalent concepts might be called acceptance or detachment depending upon the tradition, but the broad idea is pervasive across most major religions and many ancient teachings.
One simple way to think about surrender is unconditional acceptance of what happens as the world unfolds around you.
The first time I encountered this idea with an open mind, I remember thinking “wow, that sounds great!” You mean all I have to do is just let everything happen and life will be great. Sign me up!
The truth is that actually pulling this into practice within the demands of western society can be very difficult and confusing. I’ve found there to be immense nuance that can make you feel like you’re chasing your tail or even compel you to give up without proper understanding.
The intent of this article is to share what has been helpful in my own direct experience, not to tell you what is right for you.
The Concept of Surrender
The model of self realization pictured below very much mirrors my own experience of the stages of spiritual progression.
I think I might have first encountered this progression in The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. Moving from the bottom left, the evolution of consciousness can be described as:
- Life happens to me (victimhood)
- Life happens by me (personal will)
- Life happens through me (surrendered, spiritual vessel)
- Life happens as me (Self/God realization, oneness)
For the first 30 years of my life, I had been rewarded for control. For getting out what you put in. It’s what we are conditioned to do at a young age and you can’t fault a single person for being this way. In the United States, everywhere we go we are fed this type of rhetoric during our formative years and it is reinforced by the false gods of our society (status, excessive wealth, etc).
As a result, this pattern can be quite hard to break. In the model above, this corresponds with “life happening by me.”
My entire existence was based on achievement with the idea that if I acquired certain things whether it be a financial position in the world, a romantic partner, friend group, status or accolade, I would feel good. This is the dogma that society thrusts upon you, and for a while this way of being can in fact make you feel good! When things are good, you’re good. But eventually, no matter who you are things may take a turn for the worse and you must internally and externally deal with the circumstances.
The strategy most of us employ in the scenarios is to figure out what adjustment we need to make to the outside world in order to return to feeling good, temporarily.
…until one day you recognize this treadmill existence is a fool’s errand or an unwinnable game.
I had grown up in a Christian household and heard a lot of sermons through the years around giving it all up to God. For some reason, this just didn’t seem to resonate for me. I was fearful that submitting my sovereignty to some amorphous figure in the clouds relegated me to a life of poverty and boredom. The idea of surrender seemed to be in direct competition with the acquisition of things I wanted which felt dangerous and complacent.
“So am I just supposed to sit there on a mountain top and do nothing!?”
How could you possibly have a good life living like this?
So I did what most people do, which is self rationalize the pursuit of their egoic desires by disguising my ambition in the name of the greater good and mostly save God for later.
I’m going to build a big company, and make a lot of money, and then give back, and doing this is serving god. And because I’m in a position of leadership and I am a good person, this will give me an opportunity to impact others and be a positive influence on society. And then when I’m really, really successful and have done all the things I want to do, I will then focus completely on god-centered, save the world type activities.
This was my narrative.
It’s not that this general trajectory is at odds with serving the greatest good. It’s that for me personally, behind this story was an underlying motive of grasping for self importance and survival vs. true unconditional love and service for others.
One thing I’ve learned about the spiritual path is that motive and intent often carry more weight than the content of the actions themselves in their ability to uplift or undermine your growth. Thus, radical honesty and investigation play a pivotal role in your expansion of consciousness.
It wasn’t until I read Michael Singer’s book “The Surrender Experiment” that I was intrigued by the concept of Surrender.
Here he was, someone who tried to drop out of life and ended up becoming the founder and CEO of a billion dollar public company. That appealed to me, and by me, I mean my ego. The ego wants things and paradoxically the early parts of spiritual ascension are fueled by the ego because you think that by growing spiritually it will get you something. ✓
Surrender seemed like a path to achieve spiritual growth without completely giving up the pursuit of things outside myself. In some ways, it kind of felt like making Michael Singer successful in business and then having him write a book about it was the universe’s little way of luring high achieving people like myself into this path.
The concept of the book and idea which spans many religions is to accept life fully as it comes. To stop striving, grasping, and controlling, and be at peace with what life brings to you. There is also a deeper level that deals with actively surrendering the personal will to the divine will.
The risk that many people face is one of conditional surrender. Sure, I’ll accept life as it comes, so long as it matches my preferences!
Unfortunately, that is not how this works. And if you get stuck in conditional surrender land, you won’t end up making a ton of progress on the quest for returning to the truth of who you really are.
The highest path of surrender is unconditional. To accept all things with equal reverence. You sell your company, you welcome and accept it. You get sick, you welcome and accept it. The good, the bad, it all must be embraced with open arms.
In practice this was very tricky for me, especially coming from 30 years of conditioning that posited living by the personal will was the way to be happy.
In the beginning, surrendering is very hard. But like any muscle, over time as you increase the good repetitions of surrendering, you will get stronger and this will get easier. As this occurs, you will find yourself evolving from surrendering to an annoying thing here or there, to it becoming what feels like an automatic, habituated process (embodiment).
There are multiple phases of surrender. The first is non-reactivity and acceptance. This looks like just being at peace with what comes your way. The more advanced spiritual path is surrendering your personal will to the will of God. This occurs at a certain level of awareness where you begin to receive direct transmission and guidance that you know is true. This is hard to explain unless you experience it directly, but when this occurs, you start to experience life happening “through you” and eventually as you.
Below are some ideas that once clarified and cemented, helped me immensely in my pursuit of living from a place of surrender.
Surrender Does Not Mean Apathy
To think that working on oneself requires “dropping-out” of society is to miss the point. Certainly you must drop out . . . but the drop-out is internal, not external. – Ram Daas
Oftentimes people misconstrue the idea of surrendering to life as doing nothing. They read a book like the Surrender Experiment and take it so literally that they think they should just do nothing and say yes to everything that comes your way.
This is an incorrect interpretation of surrender. This way of life is more about putting in your earnest effort into the things you are doing and then as life unfolds, being accepting even if things don’t go your way. Surrendering or letting go doesn’t absolve you of the world, it absolves you of your negative reactions to it.
In order to get good at this you must develop the ability to observe your thoughts and reactions so that you can slow down and start to watch life unfold. This is where practices like meditation come in and allow you to move from a place to being the thoughts vs. witnessing or watching them. Some traditions call this witness consciousness. Being seated here allows you to see negative thoughts and reactions in real-time before they become actualized so that you can more selectively choose your behaviors.
Once you’re watching the thoughts and reactions, I’ve found the most constructive way to engage any internal experience or resistance is to just relax into it. This is the path of practicing surrender…and it can be really hard at first!
If you’re on a plane, and a thought pops into your mind of the plane going down, what do you do? Most of us, immediately try to divert our thoughts to something else. We don’t like acknowledging that we even had this thought, let alone sitting with it. It’s uncomfortable and part of us is scared that even by thinking of it, maybe even the odds of it materializing increase.
This resisting, fighting or trying to change things on the inside or outside is what we are taught to do and a natural proclivity of the ego’s survival mechanism.
It’s Okay to Have Goals and Enjoy Things
“Taking pleasure in your physical life is as much a spiritual goal as achieving a healthy physical body. Both are the consequences of following Divine guidance in making choices of how to live and of acting out of faith and trust. Surrender to Divine authority means liberation from physical illusions, not from the delights and comfort of physical life.” -Caroline Myss
I remember when I first started to consume a lot of spiritual material related to practicing surrender and detachment I was very confused.
So does this mean you shouldn’t have goals? What about all my preferences that I have developed over the years? Can I be surrendered and like things?
The surrender step on the path to awakening precedes enlightenment (permanent realization of the Self) so it is natural to still identify with the “you” that has preferences or wants things.
At this level of consciousness, it’s unrealistic to expect you shouldn’t want things or have aspirations. So my experience is its best to relinquish self judgment and allow yourself to be okay with having them. The key is as life unfolds learning to be okay with it not going the way you had anticipated. Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t. I’m going to be fine either way, and it’s not really a big deal!
As cited in previous posts, you can still achieve great things in the material world from this place. In fact, I think this is the state of consciousness that many of the great entrepreneurs and artists of our time operate from.
Trust; The Ultimate Virtue
In order to be okay with things not going my preferred way, I needed to develop the open heart quality of trust.
By trust, I mean a sense of knowing that everything is going to be okay and that all is going according to plan regardless of the content. I’ve grown my sense of unconditional trust by practicing the letting go process any time doubt surfaces, as well as listening to Ren-Xue meditations about trust.
As you learn to live with greater degrees of unconditional trust, a positive reinforcement loop emerges. You recontexutalize all things happening for maximal spiritual benefit, and most things end up working out better than you expected. This causes you to trust more. You realize that you’ve created all this unnecessary suffering in your life with doubt and worrying due to your inability to see the totality of why things are happening in any given situation. Eventually you develop deeper levels of compassion for yourself as it becomes clear that the worrying is no one’s fault, just part of the inherent structure of the ego’s nature. This realization allows you to integrate the ego vs. push for complete separation of it.
Anyone that has a pattern of trying control life needs to learn how to replace it with trust to grow spiritually, and be happier. In order to do this, you must be open to the idea that there is a higher self and/or universe at work that is far more intelligent for you. It always has your best interest in mind, and understands the totality of things more than you do in your limited consciousness. I frankly don’t see how one can grow in unconditional trust without some form of this belief system as even the most herculean personal wills are subject to crumbling.
You know those situations where things didn’t go your way, but then things ended up being far better then you ever deemed possible? Living from a place of trust means believing that this is happening for you in all situations.
You must grow to love the idea that everything around you is conspiring in your favor. The good, the bad as defined by traditional societal means, it’s all for you. Specifically, it’s all for happening for maximal spiritual benefit. The goal of consciousness is to become aware of itself through form and it will orchestrate activities through its experience to reveal its true nature. Because at the lower levels of consciousness we are unable to see the totality of the divine orchestration when bad stuff happens it feels like life is happening to us, not for us.
Recognition of this concept alone can be transformative for your growth. However, to cognitively habituate trust, you must observe instances and situations where you experience doubt and replace it with trust as described in this patterns process post.
“Can you accept you have doubt about this situation? Can you replace it with trust?”
Or practice self-inquiry until it dissolves: “Who is this one that has doubt?”
Ideally these practices are implored in the moment. But even if you later identify that you were not accepting of a situation or experience an emotion indicative of lack of trust like anxiety, then simply accept that you felt that way feeling into your body and replace it with trust.
Without trust, it’s hard to be open to bad things happening. It just seems like bad luck and that life is happening TO YOU. To see purpose in all situations absolves you of any sense of victimhood.
On Motive for Surrender and Why Are You Here
The most straightforward motivation to practice surrender is that you think by engaging in this way of living it will make you feel good more often. This carrot is often enough for most people. For me personally, there has also been a deeper motive that has empowered me to persist.
I am going to start this section off by acknowledging that the ideas I will posit below will sound blasphemous to some people. A common debate in the secular world when evaluating spiritual concepts is proof. Where is science?!? How can we know for sure!?!?
Evidence can take many forms including Science and direct experience. Given the current state of science, most spiritual truths are observed more experientially than empirically, although this is evolving.
Thus, the substantiation of many of my beliefs is through experiential knowledge. In addition to peak experiences through meditation or things like plant medicine, a growing sense of direct knowing also emerges that is hard to explain. I can’t sit here and tell you what direct knowing feels like because unless you’ve experienced it, you probably won’t understand it. If you’ve done some heavy psychedelic journeys you probably are aware of this phenomenon where thoughts pop into your awareness and you just know that they are true. It feels similar to what some call divine guidance or even strong intuition. I will write more on this as distinguishing source knowledge and egoic thoughts can be quite confusing at first.
Back to the point of this section.✓
As stated previously, I believe consciousness has an innate desire to evolve with the eventual goal of discovering its true nature. For me, this has been evidenced in many ways, highlighted by my own burning desire to understand the nature of my being and reality.
Why are we here? Where did I come from? What is the meaning of this experience?
These questions have been a focal point for man throughout human history which further points to consciousness’s desire to understand itself.
Many great sages and thinkers believe that this experience we call life is consciousness manifested as form for the purpose of experiencing itself. This makes a lot of sense to me. And if we expand upon this concept, one way you can interpret the human experience is almost a school for your personal and the collective consciousness’s understanding and expansion.
We don’t need to get into reincarnation or past life experiences here, but all this leads me to believe that we are here to evolve and the way we do that is through experiential learning.
With a higher level goal of evolution supplanting accumulation of assets, accolades, and exotic experiences, surrender becomes an attractive path. Real “long tail thinking” expands to viewing your time on earth in terms of lifetimes and incarnations vs. careers.
The first compelling evidence I experienced of life extending beyond a single, physical incarnation was during my first ayahuasca experience. I had very long conversation with what felt like my creator where I had the magnificent opportunity to ask questions. One of the answers I got was:
“You’ve been here with me many lifetimes and will be here with me many more.”
What a fricken relief!
The gravity and weight that comes with the finality of “this is your one shot so better make the most of it” became so much less. If you’ve been here many times, and will be here many more…then accepting life as it comes just becomes a lot easier.
I’m not sure I would have arrived at this belief system without such a strong direct experience that was followed by many more, but I am sure grateful I had it!
Get Rid of Polarity, Good vs. Bad, and Saving the World Thinking
A common pattern or samskara is this idea that there is such a thing as good and bad. Surrender is hard when you hold such concepts. Why would you unconditionally accept something that is bad? It’s near impossible.
Eventually you come to realize that all thoughts and ideas are more or less programming that are interpreted and processed at an individual’s level of consciousness. All you need to do is look around at different belief systems across the world that are in complete opposition and yet, both parties think they are right in order to understand that everyone is just following their programming, often unconsciously.
Or think about the different levels of life happening to me, by me, through me, and as me. A victim loses a job and thinks of it as random misfortune. The by me probably judges themselves and takes responsibility. The through me trusts it as an emergent opportunity. And the as me sees the exact same seeming inconvenience as inherent perfection.
At a certain level of consciousness, you start to recognize this dynamic which means that there are far less absolute truths than you thought. So much of it is programming and the context at which people interpret everything is based on their level of awareness.
Now this doesn’t mean you should go out and be mean to people or kill something. That is certainly not a good thing to do. However, leaving physical bodies does happen as a part of nature. The experience of earth and evolution throughout the entire cosmos must contain balance and harmony. The yin must be balanced by the yang. That is how evolution works, and you are it.
Do we think one fish eating another fish is evil? Or do we see it as a part of nature and evolution? So when fish or other sentient beings see our behavior as we control nature for our own devices they probably think the same. Oh, that’s just a human being a human. Therefore, an upgraded belief system from good vs. bad is that everything is merely evolution occurring and you are the witness to it.
Adopting this belief system is incredibly freeing and empowers your level of acceptance of all things to grow. You no longer feel such a strong need to save the world and fix everything. In most cases, the predominant motive for saving the world or “maximizing impact” is underpinned by a desire of the ego to be important vs. such a deep level of unconditional love and inspiration that it cannot be contained.
Now you might be wondering, will removing the concepts of god and bad make me a bad person? The irony is, oftentimes this level of consciousness is accompanied by an opening of the heart, so you are typically automatically doing the loving or virtuous thing vs. willing it from conditioning to get something . It’s a very different texture of experience than “shoulding” all over yourself through life.
In summary, the more you get rid of the notion of polarity, the easier surrender becomes.
Other people Are Just Doing the Best They Know How With Their Programming
It goes without question that one of the hardest things to surrender is your reaction to other people. The actions of others will always be the biggest trigger because they are a reflection of your perceived self (the ego).
A big shift for me in my ability to surrender in my interactions with others was when I realized I was not relating to that being, but the programming they inherited (often unconsciously).
This person that just pissed you off came into this world a clean slate and then had a bunch of things happen to them, many of which that they did not choose. All of these experiences formed who they became. And within that container, that person in that moment is just trying to do the best they can with the information they have…just like you are. In today’s world, most people’s consciousness is a conditioned consciousness, until a certain level of evolution.
When you are deeply seated in this belief, you start to have compassion for all people and all things regardless of the content. You begin to relate to people at their level of programming which makes surrendering much easier.
Eventually, there are other levels you can experience temporarily or permanently such as oneness through self-realization that will make relating to others even easier, however that is not required to lead your life mostly from a place of surrender.
It’s nearly impossible to be completely present and worried about the past and future at the same time. In presence, surrender comes naturally because you side-step the whole rig-a-ma-roll of worrying beyond this moment.
The way I like to think about developing presence is a combination of skills. First you must learn to call it at will. Something triggers you, drop into presence. Move from thinking, to feeling the sensations in your body. When you do this, anything you’re resisting tends to evaporate.
Eventually, you can increasingly move towards embodying presence. You don’t have to worry about being present because you just are and if you get pulled out of it, it’s very easy to get back quickly.
Presence is totally a skill which means you can work to actively improve it. Adjacent skills and practices that have helped me:
- Concentration – developed through meditation
- Alertness – to catch yourself and rehabituate when you are out of presence
- Clearing patterns – working with the energetic system to release all the blocks and patterns that take you out of presence and remove blocks to an open heart
- Self inquiry – draining the ego of its power by confusing it with questioning followed by presence
Developing presence and practicing surrender more broadly may start as something you do when you have 10 minutes in the morning, but to really progress you’ll need to habituate it to become something you’re working on throughout the day. This seemed like a tall task for me at first, but with enough practice, intent and desire eventually this progression seemed to occur automatically.✓
True Growth & Consistency Vs. Spiritual Tourism
As you go on the path of surrender, you’re going to naturally start to be interested in spending time with other spiritual people and teachers.
All of these people are going to tell you different things that you should be doing. Read this book, take this psychedelic, do this meditation…and god forbid, don’t eat meat!
It’s all great and well, but it can be very confusing.
What I have found worked best for me, is to pick a core concept or philosophy like practicing surrender and just stick to it. Don’t confuse yourself with trying everything at once. Many people just go from one concept or spiritual book to another hoping for some magic bullet that will alleviate the human condition.
Moreover, be very wary of taking advice from others. Similar to every single person engaging with life from their programming, all of these people are going to be providing advice to you based on their level of consciousness. I guess that’s what I’m doing here 🤣.
Just because someone says they are a reiki healer or has done ayahuasca a million times, doesn’t mean they understand the nature of reality and higher states more than you. A lot of these people are posers who through proclaimed possession of spiritual knowledge or abilities really just desire to be important…and of course, there are those that are the real deal.
Engage with people and concepts until you find something that just resonates and stick with it. Trust your direct experience and recognize that there is not a singular path to self-realization which frees you from judgment of others.
When Practicing Surrender Really Starts to Get Easier
“As spiritual work advances, the self progressively dissolves and merges into the Self, which has its own learning capacities that differ from those of the ego/mind.” -David Hawkins
The main inflection point of when surrender shifts from an active effort to something that occurs naturally has to do with your identification.
When you identify as the ego, practicing surrendering is an act of personal will. It feels like something “Scott” is doing to become something greater. It’s hard because Scott has all these preferences and things he likes. When life doesn’t match these preferences there is resistance.
All of this changes when you can reach a point where you start to identify as consciousness instead of the false self. A perception emerges that thoughts and externalities arise spontaneously as consciousness vs. apparent creations of your own doing. You increasingly recognize everything is unfolding perfectly for your evolution and start to receive divine guidance. What does divine guidance actually look like?
For me, it comes in the form of a spontaneous, auditory voice I have learned to trust in my head (awareness) when my mind is quiet during meditation, in the middle of the night, and still periods during the day. The voice is always loving and provides information that I would have never conceived on my own. Simultaneously, the content of the world unfolding outside you provides synchronicities and clues to substantiate and illuminate the directives.
All of this builds an immense amount of trust to a point where you no longer solely rely upon the rational mind for most decisions. You consult both and learn to place a higher weight on the divine intelligence even when you don’t understand it, which again is reinforced by positive outcomes. Increasing allegiance to the guidance compels you to trade frenetic busyness, doing, and mind activity for stillness with the recognition that it provides superior information, insight, and directives.
Unlike the transitional state of balancing conditioned, egoic preferences with the seemingly competing drive to surrender, there’s now a lot less resistance because of your new allegiance and understanding that surrendering to guidance results in much better outcomes in the long run with the prize being evolution, vs. material gain. This evolution primarily takes the form of growing revelation and an increased sense of peace.
My experience is that this shift is more gradual then binary. It’s not like one day you wake up with this new found identification and never entertain the ego again. It’s more like a scale where you increasingly identify as consciousness for longer durations and in more circumstances which makes handling life more enjoyable.
This blog post is just me sharing my experience, not me telling you that it makes sense for you.
You don’t need to do any psychedelics or wear certain crystals or clothing or even do certain exotic to practice surrender. All you need to do is relax into the experience and try to do it as often as you can. Remind yourself each morning that it’s the most important thing you can do to free yourself from everything, and then do it consciously every time you remember to.
Make no mistake, this is work. For me, it is my life’s work and sometimes it’s very hard. But in my experience, I have not found a more direct path to become a more loving, joyous, and content person. And in the end, it seems that is the true goal of goals when you get to the bottom of it.
Recommended Further Readings:
- All of Michael Singers’ work – I especially like his audio book “Living From A Place of Surrender” for application. The Surrender Experiment is a fun story.
- Letting Go
- Becoming Nobody
- Radical Acceptance
- A Path With Heart
- The Universe Has Your Back
Thanks for reading Life-LongLearner! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.