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Spiritual Survival Skill #3: Giving Up the Illusion of Control

by | Apr 21, 2020 | 0 comments

The third Spiritual Survival Skill is especially relevant in our current moment. It’s about learning to surrender our need to be in control so that we can more fluidly and effectively respond to what seems to be the constantly changing reality that characterizes our lives right now.

In the 18-minute video below, I explore this skill and lead a guided meditation to help you practice the art of surrender by letting everything be as it is.

Below the video, I’ve also included an edited transcript and an audio recording of the talk, if you’d prefer to engage the content in that way.

Want to listen to the talk instead of watching? Click here to download an MP3 version


Surrendering Control When Things Are Out of Control

The third Spiritual Survival Skill that I want to talk about is something that many of us on the spiritual path have heard about: surrender. 

Surrender can, of course, mean a lot of different things. But in relation to what we’re experiencing on the planet right now, one of the things that is being most deeply challenged in us is our desire to control outcomes—to control what’s going to happen. And that’s what we need to surrender.

Even if we know on some level that we don’t have ultimate control over our fate—that all kinds of unexpected things can happen—the reality is that we all assume a degree of control in our lives. And we tend to find that the more control we have, the better we can be at achieving our goals and succeeding in our endeavors.. 

So generally speaking, being in control is a good thing. When you’re driving the car, you want to have control over its path down the road. You want to have control over your finances. You want to have a certain amount of control over your life so that you’re not as susceptible to unforeseen circumstances. 

But of course, we’ve all also experienced how the need to control things can become compulsive or even pathological—in ourselves and in others

And when it comes to spiritual awakening, our need to control can be a major obstacle. In fact, from one way of looking at it, spiritual awakening opens us up to a way of living in which we are really giving up control. 

When I say “we,” I mean the ego structure in each of us that’s trying to predict outcomes, control what’s going to happen, and keep things together. In spiritual awakening, this ego structure ultimately has to fall apart and give way to a completely different order of knowing, responding, expressing, living. 

We’ve all probably heard some version of the phrase “To wake up, you have to get out of the way.” And it’s true. We will experience a higher and more awakened way of being to the degree that we can get out of the way. 

So surrender, in the context of spiritual awakening, means surrendering control. And right now, there’s so much we don’t have control over. Just look around. It feels like the world is spinning out of control. So much of what we thought we had control over in our lives has vanished. So it’s a very good time for us to practice surrendering.

Practicing Surrender Through Meditation

One of the most powerful dimensions of meditation is that it gives us an opportunity to simply sit still and let everything be as it is. Letting things be means not trying to change anything at all about this moment. 

We’re not trying to control what’s happening—in or around us. We’re letting go of trying to make anything happen. 

Meditating gives you an opportunity to really notice the impulse in yourself to try to change something, even your own experience of the meditation itself. 

You might feel like, “Oh, I’m meditating, so I’m supposed to feel really peaceful right now. Let me try to make any agitating feelings go away. I need to release them. I need to let them go.” 

No, you don’t. When you’re meditating you can just let everything be. This is the deepest kind of letting go. You’re letting go of trying to change anything. You’re accepting. You’re surrendering. You’re just being with reality as it is.

Surrender means not needing things to be any other way—not insisting that something’s wrong or something should be other than this.

When you meditate, you just allow each moment to unfold into the next moment. You allow your experience to change from one thing to the next without trying to steer it or control it in any way.

To further demonstrate what it means to access this depth and solidity in meditation, I’ve included a guided meditation in the video at the top of this page.

The Active “Act” of Surrender 

While surrendering in meditation means stepping into a kind of radical acceptance of what is, surrendering in daily life is a different matter. Unfortunately, many of us have confused the idea of surrender in daily life with a kind of passivity. We confuse surrender with just accepting everything that happens as though everything “happens for a reason.” In this way of thinking, we imagine that we’re just supposed to accept whatever happens in life, and not try to do anything about it. 

That is definitely not what I mean by surrendering in daily life. In meditation, you can just let it all happen, you can let it all be. But how can we bring this practice of surrender into an awakened life practice? 

There are  two parts to what I want to share here. 

The first has to do with a willingness to really see things as they are—to face reality and not avoid what’s happening. We’re deeply conditioned to avoid uncomfortable truths and to look away from things we don’t want to see or don’t know how to make sense of. 

So a big part of surrendering in life is learning to face what’s happening. It’s really wanting to see the truth. Wanting to see what’s really going on allows us to be intimate with reality—to be face to face with what actually is. 

If we’re facing reality as it is, it allows us to become more fluid and flexible and agile. This is the second aspect of actively practicing surrender. If we’re really allowing ourselves to be face to face with reality as it is, we have the opportunity to respond and move with the flow of life. 

We’ve all probably seen that when we try to control things too much, we become rigid and don’t have the ability to quickly respond to new events or changes. And in a moment like this, where the script is changing every day, we need to be very fluid. 

One day we were all going about our lives and the next day this crisis has hit and sparked a cascade of changes. It’s all changing so fast. So, in this time especially, we want to be fluid and open to change.

Think of water going down a dry creek bed after a thunderstorm.  What is the water doing? It’s flowing around whatever obstacles are in its path. If it hits a rock, it moves around it. If it hits a big tree branch, it dams up a little, and then goes over the top of it. It’s just finding its way, fluidly. 

We want to become like water running downhill—able to fluidly move to find our way down around all of the obstacles we face. That takes a kind of surrender. We have to be able to just  go with the flow, which means toalign ourselves with the flow, with life. 

This doesn’t mean we’re not actively making choices and decisions. We’re not just accepting everything that comes our way. We’re actively navigating. And ideally, we’re doing it from this deeper wisdom component that’s arising because of our willingness to give up our need to control. 

Because we are willing to be comfortable in the unknown, which is the first of the Spiritual Survival Skills, we gain access to wisdom. Then as we surrender our need to control, we become more agile and able to freely move and respond to what’s occurring. This ultimately opens the door to a radically different way of living in which we are responding to life dynamically and wholeheartedly, guided by a deeper source of awakened wisdom and love.

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