The Bhagavad Gita, which Gandhi referred to as his “spiritual dictionary,” tells us to only act after becoming “established in being.” “Doing” and “being” are the two pillars of yoga practice. Doing is also referred to as effort, work, or action. Being is also referred to as surrender, letting go, non-attachment, dispassion, or renunciation. Balancing work and surrender can allow us to be alert (from work) and relaxed (from surrender) at the same time. This is one of the great gifts of yoga.
The classic yoga text The Gheranda Samhita says that “The Sun is in the navel and the moon is in the head.” When we let “cooler heads prevail,” we are keeping the moon center calm. The moon is associated with surrender, and the sun with effort.
Surrendering before acting means letting go of the fruits, or results, of our actions. It means that our actions can be grounded in compassion. It means reflecting (moon) before taking action (sun). It means selfless action–surrendering the individual (jivatma) to the universal (Paramatma).
In your yoga practice, this could lead you to begin your practice with something calming or
restorative (helping to set the tone for your practice). Within any given pose or practice, it
suggests releasing before acting–releasing physical, mental and emotional tension. Letting go of our attachment to getting “somewhere” with our practice. Then when we act, we can be strong, open, and soft all at the same time. (Softness is a quality born of surrender.) We can feel supported and at ease at the same time.
To be “established” in being suggests that surrender doesn’t stop when effort begins. Starting with surrender can help us make good choices (choices that are not ego-driven). Continuing to surrender while we work is also important, as that is the time when we can actually observe the effects of our actions. If those effects are unhelpful, letting go of what we are doing or how we are doing it can help us practice more safely and effectively. Finally, surrendering after we act allows us to experience contentment (santosha in Sanskrit). Continuing effort after our intended action is complete wastes energy and creates unwanted tension.
Dissatisfaction with the results of our efforts or attachment to our experience can also create suffering. Thus it is important to surrender before, during and after taking action.
Surrendering before acting gives us pause. Like the natural pauses at the two ends of the
breath, this pause slows us down. If we act in haste, we create unnecessary effort, unnecessary tension, unnecessary suffering. Yoga sage Patanjali told us in The Yoga Sutras that future suffering can and should be avoided. Surrendering before (and during and after) acting is essential if we are to heed Patanjali’s wise advice.
Image y Jessie Eastland – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0