Spiritual Practice Is an Exercise in Surrender

Spiritual practice is an exercise in surrender

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Viktor Frankl


I want to grow.

I want to progress on my path of spiritual development. I want to be a better person. I want to connect more deeply with Spirit. And I want to prove that I am up to the challenge, that I am worthy of such noble goals.

But I have a nagging feeling that something about my desire is getting in the way. My effort has a quality of striving, an overreaching that feels out of balance.

Through my life experience, I’ve trained myself to pursue my goals with perseverance. I see something I want, I make a plan, and I take actions that move me toward my goal. When things get tough, I don’t stop, I push harder. And for many aspects of my life, this works. I am able to get the things I want and I feel good.

But spiritual growth doesn’t work like that because it’s not about achieving something I don’t have. It doesn’t make me worthy. It isn’t what connects me to Spirit. It reveals what is already present:  my inherent goodness, my radiant beauty, my ever-drenching immersion with the Cosmos.

My inherent goodness is not moral goodness, which is relative. My inherent goodness is my fundamental worth as a living being. I cannot become more worthy by my actions. I am enough, loveable, whole, just as I am.

My radiant beauty is not physical beauty, which is skin-deep. My radiant beauty shines through the collage of qualities, strengths, gifts, quirks, and perspective that are my unique expression of life. Its luster does not become more beautiful through my efforts.

And I am always connected to Spirit in a living stream that flows backward and forward in time. Completely, totally, unbreakably. No amount of spiritual practice can douse me more deeply into this stream than I already am.

At its essence, spiritual practice is an exercise in surrender. My practice has physical activities, but they touch the truth more dearly when they have the fluid qualities of openness and noneffort, approached as an endeavor greater than myself, not for the sake of achievement. It is about seeing more clearly and encountering more fully the depth of who I am.

This is what Frankl means when he says that happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue. I enter spiritual practice with a faith that my surrender aligns me with deeper currents that surface as they will. Something happens along the way. New doors open. Doubts about my inherent worth linger less. I feel freer to express my unique gifts. I notice I become more patient and peaceful, I’m a better friend, I receive creative insights, I feel more clear and present. A growing intuition tells me that I am loved.

All arising without direct effort. These are the unintended side-effects, the by-products of surrender, as Frankl would say.  

Photo – Unsplash in collaboration with Getty Images

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