It is mid-April and I am hunkered down yet once again, nudged indoors by forceful winds and dropping temperatures. A frozen fortress quickly forms around me, as the snow falls heavy and wet to the warming earth of northwestern Wisconsin. I’m reminded of the remaining quiet of this season, reminded to keep the fires stoked inside, as it is not quite time to throw open the windows and emerge into the warm embrace of spring…at least not here where I reside. The great Thaw appears to be taking its time this year, a seemingly leisurely process, despite presenting human momentum to ‘get on with it’ and leave winter behind. We’re over it. Or at least that is what we say. Northern Mid-westerners like to think that we don’t complain about the weather (we know better)…yet there seems to be a time each spring where we get fed up, a somewhat predictable point of saturation. This year, I ponder the actual potential of these moments – that which lies beyond our resistance to what is, in fact, happening around us. This year, I wonder if April may just be the perfect month to focus on surrender. And as my meditation teacher always clarified, I’m not talking about the “I give up” white-flag kind of surrender one might think of, but rather a more spiritual type of surrender. Perhaps we would be wise to seek the greatest boons of winter amidst its finale, rather than to expend all of our available energies and focus on the disappointment for what could or should have been instead.
So…what is surrender exactly? Oh, the myriad of ways to talk about this grand concept! My first notions of surrender were shaped by the excruciating Civil War-era documentaries my dad used to watch when I was a child, or from the sensationalized scenes of pirate invasion from the original Swiss Family Robinson film. So, when I first heard meditation teachers talking about the concept of surrender, I naturally assumed there was going to be a concession, a retreat or some sort, a cessation of effort or resistance, just as I had observed in the films. However, this concept would prove, over time, to be much more challenging than the ‘giving up/in’ I was previously familiar with. Quitting something in life, or letting something go, as we may frame it, certainly does not have to be a spiritual act. Often these types of effort may be done with little to no consciousness, and may be completely outside the realm of higher action that I am pointing to here, acting as nods to our ego or gestures toward our smallest Selves. As many spiritual leaders are quick to clarify, spiritual surrender is never to another person, thing, idea or anything external. Rather, spiritual surrender results from communion with something greater, a life force, Divinity. It is what happens when we get out of our own way…Not unlike the sentiment summed up in the ever popular phrase “Let go, and let God.” How does this happen? Thus far in my experience, most surrender happens of a spontaneous nature, demonstrating to us the limitations of our perceptions. However, there are certainly ways to practice surrender daily. It seems to be a by-product of witnessing one’s state…for example, noticing how one feels and thinks, rather than “being” one’s feelings and thoughts. Witnessing. Meditation offers direct access to states of witness and surrender, as it gives focus to the here and now, in an attempt to be freed from distraction and states of longing that cause suffering. When we find distance from our personal experience, we move from the ‘doer’ to the ‘watcher.’ When we watch life unfold, we tend to recognize the grander of it all, and eventually, begin to see how little of it is actually within our control, allowing us to merge with some larger entity or being (call it what you will). Upon recognizing that we are entangled in this big amazing unfolding, it often becomes easier to approach our lives from a more surrendered place. Full circle. It seems all roads of contemplation eventually lead back to meditation…
I think of surrender as a place of perfect balance on the spectrum between craving and aversion. It seems a goal most worthy. And no matter how we language the concept, surrender is a principle that emerges in the foundations of most world religions. The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism suggest that: 1) All human beings suffer. 2) Human suffering is rooted in desire and attachment. 3) Freedom from this suffering is possible once human beings are liberated. 4) Liberation is achieved by following the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, a recipe, if you will, laden with surrender and a type of active receptivity. “Active receptivity.” I feel a little more relaxed just trying to embody the words. Similarly, Christians speak of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the intention of ‘God’s will be done’ – reminding practitioners to make space for surrender in their daily lives. And did you know that the word “Islam” literally translates to “peace through surrender?” It is foundational to the Muslim community to practice utmost surrender to Allah, or God. Reminds me of the ways in which we try to balance effort and grace in our yoga practice, lessening our grip on challenging physical exertions by using breath and mindfulness to go deeper into what the practice might offer us. Something that proves time and time again to be more potent than the strongest of forced wills. Trust me, I know – I am (and always have been) a stubborn bull, armed with the most forceful of wills! While a strong will most certainly serves its purpose in our day to day life, it is certainly not without its limitations. We become limited by what we are able to perceive and aspire to, potentially missing out on the infinity that lies beyond our perceived experiences. The best part about surrender?…It appears to be one of those things in life that only grows in nuance over time. Rarely manifesting in a form we might expect, experiences of surrender often echo the disservice of our expectations.
Fear not! On the physical plane, I’m certainly not suggesting that you put away your spring jackets or galoshes, no matter what the rest of April might have in store for us. Because regardless, the creeks are explosive with evidence of an ongoing melt and the birds chattering around remind us that a transition is most certainly taking place. The days are growing longer and more and more of our plant and animal allies are peeking their heads out from hibernation. It is absolutely time for us to awaken, open our eyes a bit wider and to gain some momentum for the coming months. At this point, most of us have at least caught a glimpse, a whiff, or a song of spring in our days. So let these tantalize us into appropriate action.
Before this storm, most folks I encountered were more interested in griping about what the weather was preventing them from doing, rather than turning their attention to what the storm was, in fact, making possible. For example, spring cleaning. Everybody talks about it – seems like a good idea. Well, tell me the last time it was a warm beautiful day and all you wanted to do was stay inside and clean….Right?! That never happens. Spring storms provide the perfect opportunity for us to rid ourselves of that which no longer serves us or the season, whether it be clothes, food or just plain dust and cobwebs! Use these unexpected and unpredictable moments to purge and make space for the new, knowing that these physical acts parallel experiences we may also have on other levels, mental/emotional or spiritual. You can’t bring all of the daydreams, deep introspection and ideas of winter with you into this next season…it’s simply too much. Now is the time to let the storms wash away the old and the outdated, allowing you to create or renew what is meant to be right now. Now is the time we clear away the clutter, plan the gardens, and give light to the ideas, dreams and projects we are intended for this year. And sometimes, we just dance in the living room like crazy to warm up, shake loose and feel free! 🙂
In the weeks leading up to this post, I was sure I would be embarking on an extensive spring cleansing process, which I was stoked to write about and share with you here. I guess one might say I am ready to clear out internally, not unlike the house cleaning I described above. However, what that means has certainly shifted in recent moments, and to be quite honest, I am proud of myself for acknowledging the shift. Thus far, April has not about initiating a deep cleansing or detoxification process….but rather, April appears to be more about lightening up. I’m still drinking tea to keep warm on these cool days, but I’ve ditched the heavy cream and have switched to nettles and liver detox teas. I’m still practicing cozy yoga on my living room floor as I have all winter, but now with more focus on breath work (pranayama), flow and warming movement – from deep restorative yoga to a more vinyasa style practice. I’m not quite up for a fast or a cleanse that might strip me of much-needed nutrition and warmth in these northwoods early spring days, but I am most certainly feeling a shift in my appetite and trying to honor its gentle communications. I have been slowly trading in the heavier, more oily and sweeter foods that I found so comforting this winter, for a lighter and more spring-appropriate diet of fruits and vegetables, with some whole grains and proteins to keep me energized. And just as my ancestors must have felt when the root cellar shelves began to empty, I am finding comfort in evidence that living foods will become more and more available in the coming months. These are the days of the greenhouses, where seeds are planted and new life begins.
And remember, the farmer may not plow directly into the mud of spring, no matter how anxious he is to bear fruit. First, he must take time to plant the seeds of his intention, and see them through their most vulnerable moments. Notice the rhythms of nature around you and feel free to sync up. Be light and give momentum to what might be stirring with potential inside of you for this coming year. Use this time, wherever you are, to marry the peaceful stillness of winter with the efforts and movement of this new season. Take this time to actively receive grace.
Very little grows on jagged rock.
so wildflowers will grow up where you are.
You’ve been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
If you are feeling a bit more progressed along the path of spring that I am here in the north country, you may feel lightened up and ready for a deeper spring cleanse – a gesture of wellness for the body-mind-spirit. I authored an online cleansing course, inspired by the transformations of spring, and informed by Ayurvedic principles. Follow the link to read more about the course, or to sign up and get started: Spring Rejuvenation Cleanse.
Works and teachings of Sri Shambhavananda Yogi
Basic teachings of Siddhartha Gautama: The Buddha
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali