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“A Cherokee or Ojibwa chief is said to have asked his young braves, ‘Why do you spend your time in brooding? Don’t you know you are being driven by great winds across the sky?’” – Richard Rohr
There are as many maxims for the notion that we are part of a greater whole as there are spiritual traditions. During the years of my most passionate seeking, when I was terrified that I’d miss my calling and, therefore, waste my life, one of my favorite verses from the Bible was from the Old Testament – Jeremiah 29:11. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Spending a little time with these words reassured me that I was part of something so big that there was no way I could mess it up. Knowing this, it was easier for me to surrender to this time of restless seeking.
As my yoga practice deepened and it was becoming clear that it was part of the path I sought, I dug into yoga philosophy. One of yoga’s ten moral tenets is isvara pranidhana or surrender to God. In yoga’s supremely open way, God is never defined or boxed into a particular religion. Nevertheless, God, and the need for us to surrender to God, is at the heart of the practice. In his book, Astanga Yoga Anusthana, Sharath Jois writes, “The more you think of God, the more you become attached to the divine, providing the inner strength to deal with the uncertainties of life.” To attach to the divine requires open hearts and hands. We must relinquish our grip on our own plans, worries, fears and desires in order to step into our role within the great Creation of which we are a part.
Despite the magnificent capacity of our human minds (or perhaps because of that capacity), we may only be able to sense this greater whole every once in a while. We get very caught up in the illusion (delusion, really) that we are the center of the universe. That said, in the moments when we do feel part of something more than our own small lives, we often find great peace. In these moments, we cease our striving, we release our grip on control and we surrender with utter confidence to a plan we do not fully understand but do fully trust.
Reaching these moments of peaceful surrender is not easy for us. Not at all. In fact, it is profoundly difficult. It is also something that the less-enlightened among us (I’m squarely in this camp) may have to do over and over again for the rest of our lives. To let go and trust like this, requires us to be small, relatively unimportant and most definitely not in the driver’s seat of life. In short, we have to step down from the self-made pedestals that we’ve spent a very long time clambering up upon.
These pedestals take many forms. One is classic success. Perhaps you’ve spent years working for and earning promotion after promotion until you’ve reached the top of your corporate climb. While you may not have to let go of your job, in order to find the peace of surrendering to the greater whole, you must let go of any and all illusions of heightened power or increased self-worth that you feel you have earned from your career. We must stop striving toward some future goal, and, instead refocus fully on the moment. We must ask ourselves, “What is the most good I can cause right now?” and the answer to that selfless, generous question must dictate our next step.
Another “pedestal” that many of us create for ourselves is calm. Perhaps you and your family have a very nice life. Each day you wake up with a smile. You know what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. Whether you know it or not, your sense of peace is supported by daily and weekly routines that make you feel under control. We must relinquish even our slightest grip on control in order to step into the unknown in which our purpose and future await. We have to be free to say “yes” when opportunity knocks. Saying “Yes!” may mean that the laundry doesn’t get done on Monday, or that our annual trip to the beach may not happen, or that our child doesn’t come home for the summer as we had planned. But unless we say “yes” to the unexpected and the unknown, our lives will be stagnate and unchanging. We will, in essence, remain closed off from the possibilities of playing our role in a plan greater than any we could construct for ourselves.
The most unexpected “pedestal” of all from which many of us must climb down is suffering. Perhaps you’ve struggled and struggled to no avail. You don’t have enough money. You can’t seem to stick to a healthy lifestyle. You still haven’t met someone with whom to share your life. Perhaps you’ve been injured or a loved one has fallen ill. Perhaps you’ve lost your job. These times require precisely the same surrender. We must release the notion that we have any control at all over what life brings our way. More profoundly, we must trust that even our greatest struggles can be formative and filled with grace and growth. When we stop fighting and, instead, immerse ourselves fully in our experience (no matter how scary or painful or terrible it is), we are, in essence saying, “Yes!” At this moment, we open ourselves up to lessons and gifts of life that we could never have imagined for ourselves.
It turns out that we are not much different than those young braves. We, too, need to pause and answer the chief’s question. Why do we make ourselves so very busy brooding on our plans, our wants and all that we think we deserve? Whether our brooding involves resting on our laurels, clinging tightly to structure or struggling against our current reality, what we are doing is stealing ourselves away from God and the plans he has for each and every one of us.