Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Surrendering to life - 1

The word 'surrender' has bad connotations in our culture. It's equated with defeat, weakness and failure. So much so that we probably need a whole other word for 'surrender' as it's meant in the context of spirituality. This form of surrender has nothing to do with defeat and failure and is actually more synonymous with strength than weakness. It takes a lot of strength and wisdom to know when and how to surrender to life.

Eckhart Tolle defined this form of surrender as simply "yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life." The Tao te Ching is an extended meditation on the art of surrendering to the flow of life. It draws our attention to the inherent perfection of nature, which is driven by an inner force, an underlying principle of balance and harmony. The sun and the wind and rain just do their thing. Animals exist, just doing their thing. In spite of the seeming chaos and violence we might observe in the natural world when viewing its constituent parts and their interaction, when the whole is taken into consideration, we see it is all driven by balance and perfection. Whenever it resists and constricts, something usually happens to bring it back into balance again.

We are not separate from nature or from the natural world. Only the human ego would assume otherwise. And so our lives are really meant to flow in perpetual balance as much as anything in the natural world. This balance is lost the moment our egos interject the notion of 'doership'. Doership revolves around a sense that “I” am living “my life” and “I” am the creative force behind everything that happens in it.

Now, we can shape our lives and destinies to an extent. But it is limited and in our overwhelmingly individualistic, 'power to self' kind of culture, it is greatly overemphasised. We lose touch with the underlying balance of life because when we think that we're the one doing everything, that we have to control and direct every single part of lives. If things go the way we want them to go, we're happy. If things don't conform to our idea of what they should be, we're unhappy.

From an early age we learn that if we manipulate situations in certain way we can get results that are favourable to us and there's nothing wrong with that. Until, that is, it gets out of hand and before we know it we're in a megalomaniacal relationship with life. We become the ultimate dictators. Instead of flowing with life, life has become something separate that we need to endlessly control and manipulate. As a result we're perpetually at war with life.

I believe this is at the root of much of our suffering. We devote years of our lives and exhaustive effort to manipulating life into what we want it to be. Sometimes it works, but often it doesn't...and when it doesn't, we suffer. No matter how much we fret and struggle and strive, life is ultimately going to get its own way: we're going to grow old and die. It's a shattering realisation that when it comes down to the war between us and life, life is ultimately going to emerge victorious. So why fight?

Surrender is acknowledging that there's a deeper flow, a deeper reality beneath the myriad forms of this world which have hitherto absorbed and imprisoned our attention. It's only when we let go of our need to control everything and recognise that our reign as supreme dictator of our lives has caused more pain than gain, that we can begin to form a deeper connection with life.

Contrary to everything we may have been taught, accepting and yielding to the flow of life gives us infinitely more power than trying to control and manipulate every aspect of it. The latter wears us out, grinds us down, tending to make us bitter and disillusioned. The former makes us as fresh and innocent as a young child; we regain some of our wonder at the miraculous gift of life. We connect with a far deeper power and come to experience a profound joy at simply being alive and open to life as it unfolds.

It's also possible that when we approach life from an attitude of surrender and acceptance that situations become more harmonious, because we're no longer creating tension and constriction by trying to control everything. Letting go of our stranglehold on life frees up a whole lot of energy that was otherwise being wasted. Perhaps if we are a little friendlier and kinder to life, life will return the favour? Why not surrender to the flow of life and just see what happens...

Monday, March 14, 2011

What do we do (or not do) when the world is going crazy?

These are without doubt turbulent and deeply uncertain times.

Just days ago Japan was hit by one of the biggest earthquakes and tsunamis in recorded history, leaving the world in a state of shock. The devastation sadly continues as I write this. This is not an isolated blip either: in the past few years extreme weather and geological instability has increased exponentially. Apparently between 2006 and the end of 2010 there has been a 75% increase in earthquakes, and a similar increase in volcanic activity as well.

And it's not just the planet that's in turmoil - it's the people living upon it as well. In the past few weeks both Tunisia and Egypt have undergone revolutions, with deeply revolutionary unrest continuing in Libya and other parts of the middle east. The rest of the world has not been immune to this revolutionary fervour either, with civil unrest even in comparatively stable countries such as the UK, USA and Ireland.

So what do we do when the world around us is in a state of chaos?

It's normal and natural to react to a terrible occurrence with a measure of shock. Our reactions and the pain we feel motivates us to take action and do what needs to be done. However, problems can set in when we get caught in a kind of feedback loop. This is something the media tends to cause and exacerbate and I feel it's unhealthy and destructive.

When something bad happens, it's best to avoid doing what the majority of people do. It's almost as though people are programmed to respond to chaos in a certain way. They stay glued to the news, which continually feeds images of devastation, violence and heartbreak. This feeds the cloud of despair and shock that almost tangibly hangs in the air, getting larger and larger the more it's 'fed'. People also like to talk with others about how terrible the situation is...which, it may indeed be. The suffering and devastation is indeed heartbreaking and it's necessary to acknolwedge and witness the feelings it brings up in us.

But I also feel we have to pull ourselves out of our knee-jerk reactions of shock, despair and fear and recalibrate ourselves. Instead of continually fixating on images of the outward dissolution and disintegration of form (which was always so incredibly fragile and fleeting in spite of its illusion of solidity), we can instead turn our attention inward and seek that which is beyond form...that which can never be harmed or diminished in any way.

When the world around us is crumbling, we must go within and find our centre. The importance of doing this cannot be overstated. It's not something that comes naturally to the vast majority of people - it's something we have to consciously do.

This formless background upon which the ephemeral objects of this world come and go is eternal, untouchable and ungraspable and yet it's there if only we take a moment to connect with it. For want of a better term, I'll call it the Tao. It is the source of this world; the page upon which the words of this world are written, the very space which allows objects to exist.

There are many different pointers to help one discover and reconnect with this inner vastness. Some people find that quieting the perpetual chatter of the mind allows them to access this state of inner stillness and aliveness. I find it easiest to become aware of being aware, turning awareness toward itself, enquiring 'what am I?', 'what is it that's conscious?', 'what is it that is awake and aware at this moment?', 'what is it that's looking out of these eyes?'

Becoming aware of what we truly are beyond the surface-level movements of mind and beyond whatever is happening in the outer world creates what has been termed 'coherence', a state that can actually now be scientifically measured. Psychological and physiological disharmony dissolve as we reconnect and anchor ourselves in this inner reservoir of awareness/peace/being and we are automatically centred, strengthened and sustained. Coherence is catching. Peace has a habit of spreading.

The world is free to do its thing...which it's going to do anyway, whether we like it or not. From this deeper perspective we are just witnesses, observing the play of form in all its wonder and terror.

"But wait a minute...isn't it selfish going on a bliss-trip when the planet is in chaos and people are suffering and dying?"

There's often an unconscious assumption that if we don't suffer along with others we're cold, heartless and unfeeling. Some people seem to feel that if we aren't constantly glued to the news, trying to glean as much information as we can about a disaster, then we're almost letting down those that are suffering. Yet if you've ever been in a crisis, you know that the people that are of the most help are those that remained balanced, centred and who don't allow the stress of the situation to sweep them into shock, panic or despair. Those reactions, though natural and understandable, have a crippling effect and are completely unhelpful. In order to help in a crisis, you must first transcend it.

Getting swept up in the chaos and trauma simply adds more chaos and trauma to the world. It creates greater disharmony and incoherence. Scientists and mystics agree that we are all interconnected and inseparable from the whole. It's therefore not unreasonable to assume that our state of being must have some kind of an effect on the whole. My personal feeling is that spending all our day focussing on devastation, conflict and violence may actually energise the disturbance and might even perpetuate or worsen the very conditions we're upset about.

If, on the other hand, we remain centred, balanced and in a state of peace (or at least acceptance), then we are emanating the qualities of peace and coherence to the whole. This can only have a positive effect. Again I am brought back to Nisargadatta's statement that we can only save the world by transcending the world.

It's likely that the geological and social/political upheaval our world is experiencing will continue. In the end it may even be necessary for our continued survival as a species. We have created and unsustainable and self-destructive system that simply has to change. We can do it the easy way or the hard way. I think the majority of people are still too deeply asleep to see the choice that's before us, so it's likely we will be forced to wake up and forced to change.

Is this nature's way of bringing us to our knees? Sometimes it takes a disaster of epic proportions to shake us out of our slumber and make us realise...heck, I'm alive! But I'm destroying myself and the planet. What do I have to do to change? The human race has never done things the easy way and alas I can't see that changing anytime soon.

Ultimately it's all just a process. From the perspective of the Tao, the world of form and objects comes and goes...things happen, then change...things happen, then change again. Good things happen, bad things happen. The Tao doesn't manipulate or cling in any way. That's not to say it's cold and aloof, for it is intimately connected with everything. It embraces the entirety, the whole, with wide open arms, judging nothing. (How can it judge? All is part of the overall process and no seemingly separate component can be judged on its own merit).

I feel we are being invited to do the same. Find the Tao within yourself and surrender to it. Let it live through you. Let it observe, with an open mind and open heart, doing what it can when it can, allowing, witnessing, being. By finding the stillness within and embodying and BEING that stillness, we give a tremendous gift to this world. It is a gift of transcendence and transformation.