No matter how good meditation and contemplative prayer may be, they are not ends in themselves. Francis Bennet, my spiritual director, and author of I Am That I Am, says that our meditation practice is just that – practice for life. When we meditate we are developing the skill and the discipline of surrender.
When we meditate we surrender with every breath to whatever is going on inside or outside us in the moment. Whatever thoughts, emotions, sense perceptions or distractions are happening either in our mind or in the environment around us; we don’t try to stop it or change it. We try simply to notice that it is happening without getting caught up in it.
Ultimately, however, surrender to life, surrender to God is the essential practice. It is this that will set us free from the struggle and suffering of life in the relative world, and help us to enter the Kingdom of God – the absolute reality that exists deep in the heart of creation.
There is no end to this surrender
Head bows eternally
to the Beloved
enthroned in my heart
Defenceless and unresisting
in the face of all that is
Everything is accomplished
Perfection and chaos
Stillness and motion
in this present moment
The whole universe flows
around an unseen centre
Hollow identity collapses
into deep silence
No doer is here
Only the radiance
of purest love
dances in limitless space
An extravagant offering
of longing and reverence
towards the One
How we choose to engage with life is possibly one of the most vital decisions we will ever make. Do we choose the path of resistance or the path of surrender?
Of course we all want to believe that we are living a surrendered life. The truth is, however, that resistance in some shape or form is the ego’s habitual response. When faced with the events and circumstances of life – good or bad, the ego always seems to want them to be something other than they are. Perhaps we don’t want them to be happening at all, or maybe we want to change them in some way. Possibly these events don’t conform to our expectations of how things should be, so we try any one of a number of strategies to deal with the dissonance. We could simply ignore and deny the reality of life, or perhaps we push back and fight against what we don’t want to accept. More subtly, we can sometimes try to manipulate things, so as to make them more to our liking.
The path of the mystic on the other hand is one of total surrender to life. We could think of it as the path of absolute abandonment to the present moment.
Some people may be concerned, believing that surrender could lead us into some sort of passivity. After all it goes against the grain not to do something when life hands us situations we don’t want. Even more so when we see injustice or disaster befall another person. We want to engage, we want to intervene, we want to change things for the better. The reality, however, is that surrender is not passive at all. We cannot use it as an excuse to stick our head in the sand.
We do not only surrender to the external events of life – that could indeed result in a passive cop out. We surrender as well to the internal responses of our heart. When we surrender to the heart we find ourselves acting with love and compassion towards those who are hurt or broken. We find ourselves supporting those who are downtrodden by injustice, poverty or misfortune. Surrender is a stepping INTO the flow life, not a stepping out.
Frequently, in the Gospel accounts, we hear of Jesus being ‘moved with compassion’ just prior to performing some miracle of healing. His heart is so surrendered to the eternal source that the right action or non-action naturally flows out of the movement of the Spirit.
The ego resists and intervenes based on a false perception of reality spun by the mind. The surrendered heart, however, allows God to act perfectly through us.
The mystic is utterly surrendered to everything. Nothing is excluded. God, our Beloved is a consuming fire, and to surrender to Him is to allow our own hearts to be set ablaze by our proximity to the raging wild-fire of His love. Everything we have, everything we know, everything we are, is fuel for the burning. Every preference, every bit of resistance, every attachment, anything at all that might cause us to put conditions on life, goes into the flames.
Of course this doesn’t happen all at once. Typically the spiritual seeker begins by holding many things back. There are things we want to save from the flames of love. There are things we are attached to, things we don’t want to let go – you can take anything Lord, but please leave me with …
We develop a comfortable theology of a God who panders to the self-indulgent demands of ego. Whatever ego wants, whatever makes ego comfortable, we can have. But this is just self-deception. The uncomfortable, if not downright scary truth, however, is that God is a relentless and demanding lover. He wants everything, because he wants our whole heart, and until all that other stuff is burnt up, we cannot fully connect with our heart. There isn’t a single thing we cherish or want to hold on to that He will not take from us, if we are ready to offer it up to Him.
However, if we aren’t willing to offer it up, he won’t take it. Our Beloved never forces us, because love forced is not love at all. He is a lover not a rapist. When the Beloved calls us, it is with an invitation not a command. He invites us to join with Him, to participate fully in the infinite and eternal flow of Spirit that we call life.
In the Flow
I used the word ‘vital’ about the choice we have to make. This is not an accident – the word ‘vital’ literally means concerning life. It is what we could think of as a life and death decision. Perhaps that sounds a bit melodramatic, but this decision – resistance or surrender, is actually about whether we make a choice to go with the flow of life or against it.
The breath of God, Spirit is an eternal flow from the source, in and through everything that exists. This is breath and life that fills and flows ceaselessly throughout all creation. It is the flow of love between God – the eternal source and His creation.
When we resist life, we go against the flow, effectively stepping out of the current of love and life. Our ego’s resistance cuts us off from the source and anchors us in the relative world of time and death.
When we surrender to life we step into and remain in that flow – immersed in everything that is – the actuality of life. We ourselves become part of the flow, partners in this great and ceaseless movement of Spirit, of life-breath. God breathes life and love, out, into and through the whole creation. The love and devotion of the mystic, the crazy, surrendered lover willing to give all in pursuit of the Beloved, is the return flow of breath. It is Spirit returning to the source. God inhaling His own life and being through our surrendered hearts.
The call to the mystical path is a call to love and be loved. To surrender all we have and all we are, with every breath, in every circumstance. The choice is always available, and the response is ours alone. Today, right now, how do you choose?