Sutra 1.23: Surrender as a path to enlightenment

Since Satmato Yoga Therapy’s new home has been open for over a month I have spent my mornings walking around Seward Park with my dog. There are so many lotus flowers blooming right now, which inspired the picture of padma mudra (the seal of the lotus) above.

We continue our exploration of the Yoga Sutras (if you missed some of them feel free to catch up here) with Sutra 1.23: isvarapranidhanadva. “From trustful surrender to Isvara, samadhi also comes,” Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates in his inspiring and illuminating translation of the Sutras, The Secret of the Yoga Sutra.

Last month I shared what samadhi is and some of the ingredients to moving towards this absorption, enlightenment or bliss. After sharing the 5 ingredients Patanjali adds another way to get there: surrender to Isvara. The next question is who or what is Isvara?

Isvara is translated as: God, the Lord or Divinity. I like to think of Isvara is something greater than myself. Some of us call that God. Others of us call it the Universe or Mount Rainier or our connection to animals or nature. The Yoga Sutras is not a religious text, but more of an opportunity to create your own path with some guidance from those who have walked before us. One of the many things I love about the Sutras is that it offers us many different ways to get where we are going and surrendering to something greater than you is one of those ways.

How do we surrender to something larger, and why would we even want to? Surrender is a trigger word for a lot of us assuming it means we are giving up, losing control or being defeated. A few years back I taught a series to veterans who were experiencing PTSD and we talked a lot about surrender. We talked about surrender as a way of choosing to stop the battle rather being defeated or overpowered by something. Other people choose different words instead of surrender: faith, letting go into, trust or softening are other words.

Let’s bring it down to something smaller. I have recently been experiencing some challenges in my personal life. When they first arose I did feel defeated and overpowered, and this did not feel like an act of surrender. It felt like a deflation. After feeling defeated I went into battle mode. I fought these challenges and my feelings about them, and this felt like a war within myself. I still vacillate between feeling defeated and feeling like I am going to conquer these challenges, but now I am also experiencing something new: moments of ease and faith. I do not know what the outcomes of these challenges will bring, but I do have faith that I will make it through and that they will be a part of my continued learning process as a human and a yogini. This does not take away the anger, sadness, frustration or uncertainty of it all, but having a sense that there is something larger at play that I do not understand nor can I see from the other side yet feels like an act of surrender.

Finally, I have an experiment for you to try. Bring to mind something that is mildly challenging in your life (i.e. an irritating co-worker, a difficult situation with a friend or relative or even the person who cut you off in traffic). Allow yourself to feel completely defeated and you have no control or action in the situation. What do you notice in your body? Mind? Heart? Now imagine fighting this difficulty with everything in you and asserting control over the situation. What do you notice in your body now? Mind? Heart? Now, hold this situation with an open palm, curious about it, looking at it as a part of your path that you may not know why it is here. Hold this challenge with a sense of trust that you may not understand it, but that you can surrender to what will unfold (including allowing all the emotions that come with this difficulty). What do you notice in your body now? Mind? Heart? Let me know what you discovered. I would love to hear!

If you are curious about diving into surrendering to something larger even more check out Stephanie Sisson and my yoga and meditation retreat this fall where connecting to Divinity through nature will be our focus. I look forward to seeing you on the mat.