Surrender Is the Way
Once you give up all expectations, the path will become clear
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Last summer, I visited Ottawa, Canada, as mentioned in the previous article, Be the Seer.
Between the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers, Canada’s capital city abounds with museums, plazas, tree-lined neighborhoods, charming houses, and paths for walking, biking, and running. The city is also rich in architecture, one of the things I appreciate most about travel.
On our third day, Kie and I walked around the University of Ottawa. Afterward, we meandered through a lovely neighborhood and down to the Rideau River. At the edge of a footbridge, a marmot waddled along the river bank unnoticed by the passing parade of walkers, runners, and strollers.
After an obligatory stop to gaze at the water, we headed onto a walking path. Attractive parents and children walked briskly to and from tennis and swimming lessons at the Rideau Sports Centre.
The weather was sublime, and it felt liberating to be without agenda or the to-dos of daily life back home. After an hour or so of strolling along the river, we sat down on a park bench to rest our feet from days of walking. I soon realized my favorite sweater, which acts more like a jacket, was missing. How could it have slipped off without me noticing?
“It’s gotta be on the trail somewhere,” I said to Kie. “I’ll go look for it. But don’t worry, I won’t be gone too long.” I headed back in the direction we came, scanning the path and tree branches.
The flowers were still colorful, the sun still filtering through the tree leaves, yet the further I walked, the more narrow my focus and the more possessed I became. My body and mind tensed. After thirty minutes, I still hadn’t found the sweater, and it was getting hotter with the sun now directly overhead.
I know I had it with me at the footbridge. If I haven’t found it by then, I’ll turn around. I reached the bridge but still no sweater. For sure, it was with me at the start of the neighborhood, my mind bargained. Knowing Kie was waiting, I hesitated but sped toward the university anyway. I can be selfish in my single-mindedness.
I huffed up the hill and back to the street corner where I last saw my sweater. Still no sweater. In this “all is lost” moment, as Stephen Pressfield, author of War of Art, calls it, I froze for a few minutes before heading back.
My sweater wasn’t in the sports club’s lost and found, and passersby hadn’t seen it, and I kept walking. The closer I got to the bench where I had left Kie, the less hopeful I was at finding the sweater and the more concerned I was for Kie’s welfare. I began intermittently running and walking.
Kie was now lying down on the bench. Was I gone that long? At that moment, all hope vanished. My sweater was gone, and there was no possibility of finding it. I veered off the path and onto the grass toward the bench. But my eyes drew left to a couple walking toward me. There it is! My sweater! It lay draped over a woman’s shoulder bag just like it had lain over mine. How strange.
“You found my sweater,” I blurted out.
“What,” the woman asked, looking surprised.
“Did you find it on the trail,” I asked.
“Uh, yeah,” she said, still looking puzzled.
“I can’t believe it! I’ve been looking for it for an hour,” I gestured.
“Uh, well, I just found it and was going to try to get it back to the owner,” she said. Maybe she needs the sweater more than I do.
“Here,” she said as she handed me the sweater. “Oh wait, I think I left my lighter in one of the pockets.” But it’s my favorite sweater. Anyway, did she really intend to give it back?
“I can’t believe you found it,” I said as I took the sweater. “Thank you so much.” I felt a pang of guilt.
We’ve all had a similar experience of giving up all hope and suddenly getting what we wanted. But incidents like these don’t just happen in daily life. They occur in spiritual life too.
The inspiration to discover the truth, see what is real, and lead a sincere life underlies every spiritual journey. When we embark on the spiritual path, our search feels special, and we think it will bring us the peace and happiness, wisdom, and salvation we long for.
Awareness of our suffering creates a tremendous thirst for knowledge and a longing for relief. But if we push too hard, the path of spirituality will only add to our pain and confusion. Instead of letting ourselves be, our ambition may prevent us from progressing on the path. If a teacher is present, we expect them to answer all our questions and solve all our problems and become disappointed when left to work them out on our own.
Rather than rushing onto the spiritual path, allow a gap. Allow for spontaneous understanding to reveal itself automatically through our intuition. Our native intelligence is what shines through confusion, not great striving.
It’s like waiting at a coffee shop for a date. You are about to give up all hope that he or she will ever come. You begin to think the notion of his arrival was a fantasy, that he was never coming in the first place. Yet the moment you surrender, there he is.
The spiritual path is similar, a process of wearing out all expectations. Instead of being too forceful and hungry to understand “reality,” be patient, and allow for an opening. We must let go of our hopes, expectations, and fears and work directly with disappointment, which is very difficult. First, we must understand the motivation behind our spiritual search.
When we go beyond expectation and turn our literal way of viewing spirituality upside down, our innate intelligence emerges to cut through ignorance. Once we give up all hope of attaining any sort of wakefulness, the path before us begins to open.
To surrender is to give up worshipping an external power, to meet the world as it is, and to become an empty vessel into which knowledge may be poured. We find true spiritual freedom in giving up, not hoping for something better or something in return, and facing things as they are.
“Surrendering does not involve preparing for a soft landing,” writes Chögyam Trungpa. “It means just landing on hard, ordinary ground, on rocky, wild countryside. Once we open ourselves, then we land on what is.”
The first step is allowing yourself to trust yourself and your innate intelligence.
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