In recent conversation with a poet/yogini friend, I offered to advance her book of poetry via a connection I had in McLeod Ganj. The advantages seemed too serendipitous to pass up. She was appreciative, but expressed reservations, wanting to finalize her publishing deal first. She also made references to other more mysterious factors to be assessed before proceeding in the way I suggested. She had referred to herself as a shaman in previous communication. Now she was sounding like one. I was drawn into her view, which was entirely about fully opening awareness, not to obscure conceptualization, but to the unseen, the non-conceptual un-evaluated forces that impinge on important decisions and activities in everyday life–if we take the time to notice. A shamanic view.
Not only that, I was being drawn into such awareness in that moment, suddenly immersing in the flow of my own life. But I had no doubt it was the energetics of the moment, the exchange we were having that drove my attention in that way. I was having a burning reflection of my personal default state, my primary orientation to material existence, to causes and conditions, to the imaginary nurture of dualism, a force-based mechanical self-assessment and decision-making process about nearly everything I do.
This came as a shock, and with considerable emotion, as if I was suddenly permitting myself to see clearly and to let go, releasing into a more expansive view of everything. The sense of boundaries, physical boundaries, psychic boundaries, the limits of my separate identity all relaxed. The sense of my own influence in the world and in my very own life, my agency, also relaxed. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, my need to exercise that agency relaxed. I sensed the fear at the root of that need melting away. It was a welcome feeling. I was not surrendering agency; I was redefining it. I was no longer the sole agent, the sole cause and director of my separate life, but the effect of energies far beyond my comprehension or influence.
About a month ago I had an experience I called “dissolution.” It was a temporary disappearance of the normal boundary between the perceiver and the perceived. I experienced a dissolution of whatever we imagine separates phenomena from each other. Everything appeared as a single seamless image in which all phenomena including myself, arise and return to a single source-less source, in no-place in no-time. My friend read what I had written and recognized it as territory of common interest.
Returning to and continuing to reside in that no-place and no-time requires more conscious deliberation lest the experience recede and become inaccessible. It’s barely accessible even now. Trying too hard becomes mere contrivance, as if one can set the stage and wait for the actors before the drama has been written. Dissolution, allowing all contrivance to fall away, becomes the new challenge. Yet transcending the contradiction of learning how to “not do” is possible, even if only for brief moments.
In those moments, the presence of death, the inevitable end of everything, arises into awareness, where it has always belonged, where it has never truly left. Fear subsides, striving dissolves, apprehension and anxiety about the past or future disappear. The sense of oneself as simultaneously insignificant abides, being a mere instrument of reality, as well as being an unusually powerful voice of truth.
Exploring these pathways, I re-inhabit a body-mind relaxation-response I associate with surrender. Infusion with this dose of reality becomes a form of surrender, though not in the conventional sense of erasing myself, or giving up something, autonomy; more like redefining the self I imagined, having an opportunity to revise hidden assumptions about autonomy.
The dissolution of duality, the separation of living and dying, arising and disappearing, is not a matter of doing. Neither is the state of non-meditation–entirely different from not meditating–a matter of doing. It is a matter of un-doing, walking backward through the layers of mental construction of everyday mind, the obscuration of reality, to the fundamental nature of mind–a placid pond on which thoughts arise from nothing and skip like stones into exhaustion. The observer disappears. Surrender cannot be true, and remains a limited self-delusional contrivance, if the subject-object structure of perception is preserved.
The most common buddhist inference about surrender implies subsuming oneself to a greater influence, abjectly deferring one’s will to a larger purpose; namely, the intelligence, the practice, the clear seeing of a teacher. One is admonished to regard the teacher as an emissary of the dharma, a voice of all teachers; not merely as just another ego, but even as a Buddha himself. A karmic partnership is expressed in the one who reveals our own self-cherishing to us, holds a mirror to our flawed thinking, doubt and twisted perception.
Yet we also have to ask, “Who is surrendering? And surrendering to what?” There is no doubt that grasping and contrivance may be revealed in relationship, but it is equally flawed to regard the Other as any more real than oneself, with all of the same flaws, feelings and constant tripping over one’s own garments. Subsuming one’s ego to another’s guidance without noticing the empty essence and primordial purity of the entire transaction will not be of ultimate benefit. Light is not other than the sun, but the sun itself in different form. The vast expanse is not other than the vast expanse in every possible form, appearing as Other. Surrender into a relationship that is not dedicated to the dissolution of boundaries, to the promise and evocation of the seamless image, not merely to the destruction of the witness, but to the shamanic inclusion of everything as witness, that is the promise of true surrender.