Ishvara Pranidhana | Finding the Wisdom to Accept Our Path in Life

Welcome to the tenth and final post of the yama and niyama series. We're finishing things out with such a great tenant, Ishvara Pranidhana, meaning surrender. It feels like all the previous nine tenants have led us up to this final one of surrendering to what life brings our way. Let's get in to what the tenant of Ishvara Pranidhana asks us to bring into our lives.

The text we've been following, The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele, provides such a fantastic explanation of Ishvara Pranidhana. It states that the tenant of surrender proposes that there is a divine force at work in our lives. This can take on different forms for everyone, whether you attribute this higher being to a god, nature, or just some force, the belief is that this force is greater than we are and cares deeply for us. Surrender invites us to be active participants of our lives, being present and fluid with each moment, while also appreciating the magnitude and mystery of life. Ultimately, this tenant invites us to open our hearts and accept the higher purpose of our being.

Some have described this balance between being active, present participants and acceptance of all that life throws are way as those moments when you become so involved in something you love that you lose track of time. In these moments, we often feel so in flow with the task at hand that we experience total and complete mindfulness of the moment and totally lose ourselves in the activity. In these moments, everything has lined up to create harmony, the rhythm of surrender. This rhythm is what we're seeking to find between ourselves and life.

To follow Ishvara Pranidhana we're also asked to release the control and rigidity we hold over life going a certain way. Rather, we are invited to engage fully in whatever comes and allow the purpose or gift each moment can bring to come into our lives. 

Take advantage of the immense, certain, and always available good fortune of every moment.
There is a purpose hidden in each event, and if we trust this hidden purpose, life will always surpass our own expectations.
— Jean-Pierre de Caussade

One important aspect of this tenant worth mentioning is that the practice of surrender is not passive. The act of surrender is asking us to actively accept life as it comes while also participating and engaging with each moment. There are aspects of both letting go and of action.

The first step in practicing Ishvara Pranidhana is to begin releasing the control we want to have over the world around us. So often we expect life to provide us with certain things and for our day to go a specific way. All this does, though, is create a struggle between our desires and reality. We must be willing to release our expectations of life and be open to letting in whatever comes.

One way to tell how we are engaging in the practice of surrender in our daily lives is by monitoring moments where we either contract or expand. In moments of contraction, we may get a feeling of constriction or pulling in towards ourselves and away from that which we do not want to come into our lives. In expansion, we feel open and willing to allow that which is in front of us into our being. In order to open ourselves and surrender to the moment, we must let down our armor that many of us have built up around ourselves in an attempt to battle away the things in life we do not want to engage with.

A great way to practice surrender and the releasing that is involved is through savasana, or corpse pose. This is the pose that occurs at the end of all yoga classes where you simply lay on your mat for several minutes. In this pose, we are asked to fully release any tension that we might be holding and surrender to the moment and the practice we just engaged in. This pose literally represents the death of the moments we just engaged in and the birth of new moments to come. It is a great teacher for all parts of our life.

The second step is to begin to fully engage and become an active participant, flowing with life. We are asked to open ourselves up to and go with the current of life, accept reality as it is. Instead of moving into contraction and fighting with life, coming back to the control we wish to maintain over our reality, we need to see reality for what it is and learn to work with what is happening.

Come back to the words of Jean-Pierre de Caussade above - each moment has embedded within it some kind of good fortune. We may not always see it immediately, but it is there waiting for us to take notice and bring the good pieces into our lives.

When we choose to fully engage with our lives with courage, even in moments that are scary or uncertain, we are able to grow and achieve things we likely once thought impossible. With each new challenge, each new moment, we are able to become more skillful at living our own unique life.

So, it if wasn't obvious by now, the third step in practicing surrender involves acceptance. Think of life as being a dance partner. We cannot only be the leader or the follower through the dance. We must work with our partner, paying attention to the other's moves and intentions in order to flow together. This is how we should be with life. We are dance partners with our life, allowing its moves to come into our existence, while also responding with our own steps accordingly.

If we are willing to pay attention to the needs of each moment, life will certainly come to us and provide what we are seeking. We just have to be open and willing to receive the messages and take action as it comes. If you have been following along with the series and practice the other nine tenants in your life, all of these have built the base for us to remain open to our reality, be courageous in scary times, and get out of our own way in order to listen to what life has to offer. These are your building blocks to the practice of surrender.

One of the hardest aspects of surrender is knowing when we should be taking action and moments when it is not our place. 

Do what is yours to do; don’t do what is not yours to do.
— Swami Rama

These words seem so easy to follow, but many of us know that this is much easier said than done. When we learn to surrender to what life is trying to provide us, we allow the chance to come into our own unique path. We are able to let go of the things we are unable to change and grow into our own unique gifts and contributions to this life. If we are unwilling to become aware of and accept our unique path, we will continue to go through life as though it's a battle, which is a certain recipe for discontentment and suffering.

When I worked for a residential facility that offered services for women who were in recovery from addiction, we often ended our group therapy sessions with the Serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

This prayer always reminded me of the acceptance involved in surrender. We must come to accept the things in life that we cannot change and have to courage to move forward on those that we do have power over. By accepting and opening ourselves to the messages life is trying to provide, we can achieve this.

For the week ahead, try the following practices to bring surrender into your life:

- Notice the times when you contract or expand. How do each of these reactions feel in your body?

- Pay attention to the tension that arises when things don't go your way. See if you can relax and allow yourself to open up to whatever the moment brings.

- Welcome each moment as an opportunity. Trust in life, who is your partner, and work towards becoming a more skillful participant in your life.

- Practice believing in something greater than you. Start each day with openness and purpose and allow your actions, mind, and heart to align with that.

Well, my beautiful friends, I hope that was helpful and you're able to find more surrender in your daily life. It is crazy to think we've gotten through all ten tenants now and are wrapping the series up. I hope you enjoyed the series as much as I did and that you were able to take some nuggets of wisdom and bring them into your life. Think of these posts and the ten tenants as a practice that you can come back to time and time again. The yamas and niyamas are just that, a practice, that we can all work on and become more skilled at with time.

We now will return to regular posting, with topics including yoga, mental health, and growth. I will see you all very soon.

Until next time,