Surrender (written 2016)
Leading yin classes each week I often remind yogis to allow time and gravity to do the work, to surrender, to give up resistance. It is in this way that the various asanas/postures are effective. We move into a posture that is not typical of our daily living...a twist perhaps, or a backbend or a deep forward fold, and then in the patient waiting, the body is invited to open and release, to test and move toward new edges. In yin, a particular joint and the body wrapping of ligaments are lubricated, activated and opened in this way. We find greater flexibility and strength, protection from injury that comes from stressing tight joints and muscles which are the natural result of immobility and of aging.
Yin meets meditation in a multitude of ways. The most obvious is in the stillness. In yin we are still for several minutes, perhaps only three or five for most asanas in a class, but perhaps as many as ten or twenty or more in personal practice, depending on the posture in question, our intent, our body and our mind. For siddhasana, easy seat, and svasana, corpse pose, are also yin postures and these as well as other gentle postures easily allow the willing body and mind to spend this kind of time.
But stillness is only the most obvious and most externally observable quality that yin and formal meditation share. A necessary condition of stillness is patience. The capacity to surrender our reactivity. To see into the mind and to notice the constant motion there and the way that motion pulls us along with it, compelling us to physically twitch and adjust and express. This may only be in a ripple of small movements perhaps, like a breeze on the surface of a lake, or sometimes in energtic surges of anger or panic or avarice, as when the very rocks divide and the earth and sky open and shift in dramatic and catastrophic ways...earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis. The mind is capable of all these things. Training it to stillness is the work of patience.
These similarities between yin practice and formal meditation have been evident to me for a long time. In fact, as a meditator for decades, it was recognizing this overlap that was the seed of my instant affinity with and great love for yin practice.
But over time, another level is revealing itself. When we train in patience and stillness in this way, the impact goes well beyond our formal practice. The capacity for surrender is what takes concentration to a deeper place, and what permits the loosening of ego's hold on all we do, and how we live our lives. I don't think it is stretching things to say that the capacity for surrender is the key to happiness. No longer blockading the door that protects what is mine, I allow it to drift open revealing no threat, but ease of spirit.
It takes a lot of effort, of the unskillful and stressful kind, to maintain a sense of self, the ego that wants everything to be “my way”. When we sculpt a self it is a bit like building a sand castle from the yielding, malleable sand near the great ocean. We must protect and refurbish and reclaim in a continual way. This bit of territory is “mine”. This solid-seeming wall that contains and guards it . This tower of accomplishment. This bridge of beauty. This is the way we work to protect our body, our feelings, our ideas, our beliefs, views and opinions. Yet, like the wave of the ocean, time itself is inexorable. We age, we change, we lose what we value. Yet gleaming new treasures sweep in, if we have the eyes to see.
When we surrender to the truth of life, without this struggle to maintain an artifice, we find that rather than being only what is within these crumbling walls, we are the entire shoreline and even the ocean itself. Like moving into a yin posture that may at first be uncomfortable, I learn to stretch beyond habit, to be less argumentative and to release my views, to be more generous and less selfish, to be content and less restless. Moving beyond my comfort zone and staying with this, allowing time and inner wisdom to do its work, I create the conditions for surrender and find happiness like a bright seashell surprise.