Surrendering to God

by Michael Ketterhagen

“Surrendering to God!”

--Yoga Sutra

“Ishvara pranidhana” means “surrendering to the highest goal,” “surrendering to God.” It is one of the “niyamas,” (observances) of the Yoga Tradition.

When I asked Swami Rama in late 1988, “What should I do to be happy and fulfill my purpose in life?” he said, “Surrender to God.”

At the time I thought that his answer was nice to hear, but I had no idea of how I would do that practically. It seemed more like just an intention or act of faith. My whole life had been focused on doing God’s will. Yet, I was often confused as to what specifically I should do that was God’s will. Was my life-desire, God’s will for me? Was my talent and ability to teach and inspire others, God’s will. A lot of my Catholic Christian training told me many rules and practices that would be God’s will for me, but I still felt unclear about my daily life practices, until recently.

Mary and I had been talking about “vulnerability.” In our conversation, I realized that being more vulnerable to Mary, which was what she had wanted at that moment in our marriage relationship, was really “surrendering.” Being vulnerable meant letting down my guard, setting aside my deep urge to protect myself. I often didn’t even know why I was protecting myself. Yoga philosophy taught me that self-preservation was one of the four natural, basic urges of the human. We naturally want to protect ourselves from any danger or threat to whatever we saw as harmful to ourselves.

I realized during our discussion that my self-image, not the Yoga understanding of Self as divine, infinite and perfect, was tied to my fear of revealing things about myself of which I was not proud. I was afraid of being vulnerable and maybe having my self-image, which was a deep unconscious image of myself that was formed during my childhood and teen years and carried with me through my adulthood, being hurt.

I, like most men that I know, was not excited about looking weak or trapped or uncertain. I did not want to make myself vulnerable.

Learning to surrender really was learning to be vulnerable. I now realized that I had the perfect practice for the niyama, Ishavara pranidhana. I needed to make myself vulnerable to Mary and to others and to life. If I believed that the Divine Mother is protecting me all the time and that the Divine Source of Life (God) was completely one with all of life, then every time I risked the trivial sense of who I am and faced my fear directly, I was learning how to “surrender to God.”

That might mean doing what many others have done –skydiving, bungee jumping, swimming, climbing tall heights, sharing feelings of weakness with strong people, looking foolish in the eyes of powerful people, making a mistake about something that I believe in. All these are moments of vulnerability, but the most important for me is making myself vulnerable to Mary.

Then, I will be learning yoga more practically. I will learn how to practice one of the important “observances” in Yoga, learning how to “surrender to God.”

I pray to the divinity in you!

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