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Home Articles Thelki Not my will, but thy will
Not my will, but thy will PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 15 March 2010 12:49

The personal stress, anxiety and frustrations experienced over the last few months trying to initiate and pursue some structural repairs to my house have brought the issues of personal Will into clearer focus.

Many of the world's faiths invite us to 'surrender'.  For years, this notion of Surrender has felt problematic to me; in my mind, it has implied weakness, defeat, giving-in - all derived from the military connotations of the word. Yet, at a deeper level, I begin to appreciate the significance of the teachings on Surrender. Interestingly, one of the meanings of 'Islam' is a translation as 'submission' or 'surrender'. It is an invitation to surrender to the will of God.

Human beings have been given free will. This is one of the defining characteristics of Man. Throughout recorded history, man has valued and exercised this freedom of choice, this 'free will'. Genesis records that in the Garden of Eden, man lived in perfect harmony, in paradise.  But the choice presented by the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was seductive and man chose to exercise personal will and to "eat of the fruit" leading to self-consciousness, perceived separation of the self, and individual human suffering.  When we look around us - at other living plants and animals - we do not recognise the same self-conscious separation and suffering.  Most other living beings live and die in perfect harmony with nature; without consciousness, they follow instinct rather than choice.  It is Man that has chosen to exercise - indeed to elevate - the practice of choice and free will.  We have come to believe that we are able to control what happens to us.  Or rather - and more accurately - our self-absorbed minds have come to convince us that we should be in control.  Our minds are engaged in a constant dialogue to create and sustain this power and pretence: we anticipate the future, usually fearfully; we engage in planning and strategy to forestall this future; we manoevre for advantage; we protect and secure whatever we have secured from the past.  We live in fear.  From the Christian perspective, this is not actually 'living'; this is existence as death-in-fear. It is the human condition of suffering that the Buddha searched for so long to discover the way to transcend.

It seems to me that at the heart of this issue is a wonderful paradox.  The only way choice we can truly make with this 'gift' of free will - if we seek freedom, joy and happiness - is to make the choice to relinquish it, to give it up ... to surrender.  The irony for man: once we have discovered that free choice brings only suffering, we can choose to release our futile attempts at control and surrender our lives to the Great Mystery, the Infinite Tao.

The Gospels consistently show Jesus' teaching on surrendering our habit of free will.  "Unless you become like one of these [children], you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven".  Young children resond entirely naturally, by instinct, rather than conscious choice and action.  To the disciplines: "Lay down your nets and follow me." An extraordinary request (in today's terms) - to let go of homes, jobs, security, families, responsibilities, and to follow a nomadic teacher.  And the teaching is most evident in the story of the final hours, after the Last Passover, when Jesus retires to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before his arrest.  Knowing what is about to happen to him, he prays for another outcome; and then seeing again that he is not in control, adds: "Let it be, not my will but thy will be done".  A renewed surrender to the will of God.

And what happens when we surrender?  We don't know.  We place ourselves in the unknown.  No matter what we seek to control, the future is always uncertain and unknown.  We live in the "place of unknowing"; we always have done, and we always will.  The unknowing can be a place of fear and anxiety, particularly to the mind. But beyond that fear, the unknown is also the realisation of the greater mystery of life, that our true self is held, safe, untouched and loved.  This is the heart of the mystic experience in all traditions: that by surrending our will to the unknown, to come to live fully, completely and in peace.

This essence of Surrender lies in the heart, not the mind.  The mind will play all its games in order to convert and 'own' the notion of Surrender, turning it to serve the mind's objective of continuing control. Wherever fear is present, there lies the working of the mind.  True surrender is within the heart: it requires nothing, it asks for nothing, it plays no games, it simply acknowledges the truth of 'what-is'.  We know this surrender through the peace that it gives us.  We live in the moment, accepting all that is, feeling whatever we are feeling, knowing that the true Self remains safe, secure, held, loved and at peace.

None of what I seek to write here describes Surrender; all this scribbling is just more mind activity. True Surrender lies in the heart's intuitive recognition, in that quiet moment, of Your Will.