Ishvara pranidhana! Surrendering to our highest goal! Surrendering to God!
The third practice that today is probably the most challenging for us humans is surrendering to God’s loving providence. Either we don’t believe that God is lovingly compassionate, especially when things are not going well or we don’t want to believe that there are some things in life that we just can’t change. According to the Yoga Tradition we are destined to experience certain things in life because of deep-seated unconscious samskaras (mental patterns). They dictate our lives.
For example, I may have been born, for whatever reason, with the unconscious pattern of drinking a lot of alcohol. Let’s say I mix that unconscious samskara (pattern) with the goals that humans usually have; namely, pleasure, power or fame. I may for a period of time become confused about how I might attain true happiness. Instead of surrendering to God, my highest goal, I start to surrender to pleasure as my highest goal. I end up drinking a lot more than I should maybe to drown some hurt or anxiety. In the end, I do not experience happiness.
Out of this confusion, I end up being quite unhappy and may eventually, after a spiritual awakening, realize that the reason for my “alcohol-use” pattern is to learn that I needed to surrender to God and not my own desire for pleasure.
Accepting things that happen in our lives is a challenge, but those events are a way for the compassionate, loving Source of Life (God) to bring us back to the true goal of life—union with that Source of Life, union with God. That’s what most religions mean when they talk about “getting to heaven.” But even non-religious people want to be one with ultimate happiness. They just don’t think Ultimate Happiness is A Compassionate, Loving Being that people call God.
Surrendering to that Being, to that Reality, means that we are always protected, always cared for. However, this surrendering process is challenging because often we think that what we want is what God wants. When I am experiencing painful moments, or even glorious ones, I have found that focusing on the presence of the divine in my life and being surprised by what happens is truly an exciting adventure.
My inner divinity never lets me down. Sometimes what happens is a great experience and at other times it is quite challenging and painful. I usually find myself saying a little phrase to myself, like the Jewish phrase, “Be still and know that I am God.” Or the Christian phrase, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Or like my mom always used to say, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph help me!” Or my Sanskrit Maha mritungjaya mantra.
Each of these phrases (mantras) guide my mind back to my Ultimate Goal (Ishvara) and I accept what is happening in my life. Each of them brings me to a point of joy and peace. I return to the happiness of knowing that I AM LOVED by the Source of Life, no matter what is unfolding in front of me.
Of course, this takes effort, the effort of tapas; and takes self-knowledge, the knowledge of realizing which “mantra” or “phrase” will be the most appropriate for that particular experience.
In the long run, we return to the three practices that happy people have learned to practice constantly—tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana. And all this can happen on the yoga mat.
Happy practicing! Happy exercising! Happy surrendering! Happy yoga!