Unit VII. Spiritual Will/Surender

1.    Commitment
2.    Surrender
3.    Choice and responsibility
4.    The struggle
5.    Working with the struggle

Materials needed: Journal, drawing materials

Books needed:

Circle of love
“Ego and I” in Parabola
“The Stranger” in Parabola
Straight from the horse̓s mouth*
Learning to fall
When things fall apart
The paradoxes of love

Exercises and practices:

Breaking free
Ego surrender
Threshold as choice
Trusting the One
The paradox of love
Letting go

* You may already have this book

     This trust [in God] is known by the abandonment of one̓s own efforts and resources,
 by the testing of one̓s capacity to endure a total surrender of one̓s own life to the
     very ground of all life. To know this trust is to know that one’s existence is assured
    without striving, effort, or will of one̓s own. It is assured as such.  Renunciation of
    the will, of the self, abandonment to God, and trust in God do not represent detach-
        ment in a physical sense from the ongoing life of the world, but movements that come
  to pass and return as part of the flow of man̓s psychic reality. These moments of
         passive grounding in trust become the basis of an active. . life and of the active virtues
   that pervade the scriptural and traditional imagery. Ira M. Lapidus (1978, 97-112)
A Sufi concept, that of fana, speaks to the same trust and self-abandonment. Pir Vilayat Khan (2002, p. 25) says the personal self is shattered, meaning that you (your false self) are annihilated. This is rather like being in love, he says. He is talking about ego death or the death of self-will. Jesus said, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; but let it be, not as I will but as you” (Matthew 26:39). This was his prayer as he was awaiting his arrest and trial prior to crucifixion. We know that his will was denied in favor of a greater plan. Consider that the crucifixion probably symbolizes the death of ego and self-will if we study the intuitive side of the equation.

Fifth Chakra The elephant in the fifth chakra symbolizes subdued self-will as well as those aspects of mind that are resistant to surrender. You will remember that the elephant is representative of mind because of its mass and weight and because of the effort required to train and subdue it. Neither too much nor too little discipline is required to keep it from getting out of hand. We might add instincts to this mix since they tend to dominate unwary egos and minds.

Exercise:    Breaking Free

Read chapter 3 in Circle of love.  In this, Vaughan-Lee begins to explain how we can tame the power of our instincts and make it available for spiritual pursuits. Here is yet another kind of refinement. You will hear a lot about power in this unit as the struggle between ego and the Higher Self comes to a head. We will come to that later.

Swami Radha said that Will, meaning spiritual Will, is a commitment to our own awareness and to the purpose for which we took birth. On the other hand, self-will
is committed only to the ego and its agendas. She would go on to say that the ego is teachable, meaning that we need to become aware of all our habits, mechanical thinking, acting and evaluating. As we do that, we gradually wean ego away from its power  tactics and immersion in self-indulgence. This was part of the foundation of the purificatory classes in Kundalini Yoga as she taught them and as it is being continued in these guidebooks. When the last veil has been removed, it opens the ego̓s will to the divine One and allows the head and heart to come together. You will note that the throat chakra lies between the two, hence it becomes the battleground for this last ditch stand.


    “This is the way you slip through into your innermost home: close your eyes and surrender.”

In Straight from the horse̓s mouth, there is a short piece on what happens when a cat catches a bird. The prey relaxes and surrenders almost as if it understood that its purpose in life was to be food for a cat. Kincade (2001, p. 211) who was able to access both the bird̓s and cat̓s experiences in that moment describes an ecstatic union between the two animals. This is what Pir Vilayat means by annihilation. The spirit is freed to experience its identity with all that is. If you have the book, stop and read this page. Kincade says, “There seems to be love not only in the takeover but love in the surrender” (p. 212).

Pir Vilayat (2002) reminds us, “‘The purpose of the Message is the awakening of [humanity] to the divinity of [mankind],̓ in other words, to our own divinity. The only way one can do that is to be so shattered by the encounter [with the Divine One that] there is no notion of the individual left. Then only does one awaken to the divinity that one is” (p. 45). [The quote within the quote is from Hazrat Inayat Khan, Pir Vilayat̓s father and founder of the Sufi Order International.] He also says, “The Sufi simply allows his or her vantage point to be shattered by the encounter with the Divine vantage point. In other words, the Sufi is passive towards the Divine action upon him or her” (p. 25). This reminds me of the Buddhist reference to ego̓s need for a point of reference. If my vantage point or point of reference is gone than I am at the mercy of the One. . . this is surrender. My life becomes a vehicle for Spirit in the world. St. John of the Cross said, “To become what you are, you have to pass through a stage where you are nothing” (Peers, 1959).

Stephen Levine said to surrender the pain and let the mind sink into the heart. I love this one especially since Joseph Chilton Pearce recently reported that neurocardiologists have found a brain center in the heart. (quoted in the Omega Institute catalog, April-October, 2003, p. 99). This revelation would come as no surprise to the Yogis and Sufis who have known it for years.  By the way, Pearce will be doing a workshop on “The Biology of Transcendence” there in September, 2003. (www.eomega.org).

Swami Radha talked about both renunciation and obedience as surrender. Renunciation is giving up attachments and obedience requires the surrender of one̓s own agendas in order to listen and try something new. Both are essential spiritual practices in all traditions. She also said that surrender plus an invitation plus patience lures the Most High. Surrender in the body (such as in savasana or death pose) leads to relaxation and a balance of the body, mind and speech while surrender to the breath leads to a quiet mind.

We begin to see some patterns here. The spiritual disciplines whether Yogic, Buddhist, Christian or Sufi all move us toward a merging with the Divine One and away from our own, separate and isolated ego pursuits. Ego death may mean the loss of individual identity, but we are led to believe that when it happens we simply won̓t care. The promise is ecstasy and rapture of a kind rarely found in everyday life. Yet we know it is possible through the lives of saints who have been able to live it on a daily basis. From time to time we are given a glimpse of it in our own experience to encourage us to persist on the path. Moments of deep intimacy, exquisite beauty, timelessness and joy. The cup runneth over, usually with tears of ecstasy.

Exercise:  Ego surrender

To gain some different perspectives on these issues, secure and read a copy of “The Ego & the ‘I’” issue of Parabola, 2002, 27(1). Reflect on your own ego, personality, soul and spirit. Do these seem like separate parts of yourself? If not, how would you define yourself? If you can define yourself in words, how do your feelings and felt sense match the words?  Is there a part of you that defies description, feelings and felt sense?  If so, can you communicate with it?  Assuming you are still with this program, how would you bring your ego to submission and surrender?  and to what?  Can you do that with compassion?  What are the areas that are still holding out against surrender?   What prevents you from assuming your own divinity?  What kind of plan could you come up with to deal with these pockets of resistance?    Journal your responses to these questions and whatever others emerge during your reflections.

    Choice and responsibility

Here we have a choice. Do you want to continue in your old, humdrum, nonsatisfying, safe life; or do you want to be free from the inside out?  The freedom we are talking about is beyond fears of annihilation, fear of nuclear attacks or terriorism, fear of loss of loved ones, fear of poverty, fear of anything. This is because you know you are indestructible. The real, true you is immortal presence. But there is a price to pay for that identity - - removal of the veils of ego defensiveness. Let them burn in the Cosmic Fire. You have nothing to lose but your chains as the old saying goes.

This adventure takes courage. The choices are outrageous. The alternatives on both sides are unbelievable. Yet we have free will. Our gods are not going to do it for us. They stand ready to join us, but we have to make the first move, step out on the path, declare our intention and invite collaboration. Spirit says It cannot help us unless we are moving. So this is not an armchair journey. We are going to lose friends and alienate people. We are going to become strangers in a strange land. This part of the journey is solitary. This is the jumping off place where, if you jump, things will never be the same again. And you cannot go back to where you came from. This journey takes determination which is the Spiritual Will we have been talking about. It takes dedication, a promise to persist despite all obstacles. It takes discrimination, so we are not led astray by false gods and promises. It takes clarity of mind and purpose, so we can see where we are going and not get sidetracked. It takes love and compassion for our smaller selves who may be reluctant fellow travelers and love for Spirit who is the guide.


   When you accept the state of being a stranger, you are no longer a stranger. I have
    been an exile when everything around me seemed strange and everybody was a
    stranger. Once I accepted that I didn̓t have to belong and I didn̓t have to be part
    of the world, then I was free to be part of it. There was a paradoxical release of
    the spirit. The world become mine when I was no longer holding on to it.
    – Satish Kumar (quoted on the cover of Parabola, Summer 1995 and see interview
    with Kumar pp. 6-12)

What are you going to do? The threshold is there, right in front of you. A choice is a threshold. Are you going to step over it?

Exercise: Threshold as choice

1. Secure and read “The Stranger” edition of Parabola, Summer, 1995. Then go back and look at the lifelines you have drawn. Where on them did you confront a threshold? Remember how you felt at that time. What did you do? What kind of growth came out of it? How do you see the events as you look back on them from the present distance?

2. Read chapter 8 in Straight from the horse̓s mouth. Think about how death is like a threshold or like a gateway into another phase of life. How is physical death like ego death? Are you afraid of either.., or both of them? If so, what would it take to get beyond your fears? Someone once said that fear of death is really fear of life. Do you agree? Why?

There is some fear associated with choices because we usually have to give up the unchosen alternative, and often we don̓t want to do that. We want both. ..and. But that is part of the paradox on this path. In the end we do get both. . . and.   However, there is no way of truly knowing that except to choose and experience the consequences as unknown as they may be. That is where courage comes in, and faith and trust. Spiritual practice is designed to provide us with those wings with which to fly. Please take this idea into your meditations.

Kaballah revisited

In going through my resources preparatory to designing this unit, I ran across a xeroxed copy of an article by Zev Ben Shimon Halevi called “Order: A Kabbalistic Approach.” There is no reference anywhere on it except a note that a more detailed account is to be found in the author̓s books: The tree of Life,   Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree, and The way of Kabbalah all published by Samuel Weiser in New York. As I thumbed tbrough the article, I was captured by his diagrams of interlocking Sefiroths that show the process of involution and evolution through the four worlds of Emanation, Creation, Formation and Making.  Note that I am using only the lower three of the four worlds.  The overlap of them is fascinating because each overlap represents a threshold.

Original Sefiroth        

This is the original Sefiroth for your reference in what follows.  Spellings of the Hebrew vary from one author to another.  These are the ones used by Halevi.  If you refer to Book II, Unit 3 in this series of guide-books, you can refresh your memory about the Kaballah and how it works to portray both involution and evolution.  In this section, I will be using only the titles on the middle vertical dimension of this drawing: Keter, Daat, Tiferet and Yesod.  Traditionally, involution or embodiment proceeded from Keter to Binah to Kokhmah to Hesed to Gevurah to Hod to Nezah to Yesod to Malkhut.  Evolution or the return went straight up the middle from Malkhut to Yesod to Tiferet to Daat to Keter.

If you wish. you may print Figure 3 separately for more ease in reading it.

Triple Sefiroth    
In Figure 4, we see what happens when several sefiroths are overlapped using Knowledge (Daat) of a lower Sefiroth as the foundation (Yesod) for the next one up which suggests that each is grounded in the learning experiences of the preceding one (this is moving upward - toward evolution).  [The green and orange in the colored diagram indicates the overlap.  To print this diagram, click on Figure 4.]  Notice that, in both cases, the Daat is Ego.  This would also work with Soul in that position since it is the soul that is learning in this lifetime.  Each Sefiroth has a central point (Tiferet) which seems to be its core. As I studied this arrangement, I was able to see each of these cores as a chakra (numbers two, four, six and seven). 

But what is most interesting for our purposes  here is the presence of the three thresholds. One would be located between  the third and fourth chakras (the wishing tree in Yoga), another between the fifth and sixth chakras (gateway to liberation in our system) and the last between the Soma chakra and the seventh chakra (which would correspond to enlightenment). These thresholds are between  Yesod and Tiferet in each case. Each threshold is informed and influenced by the attributes on either side of it.  The position before the threshold (ascending) is the Daat/Yesod foundation and the position above it is the Tiferet (see Figure 4).

In the middle sefiroth (Figure 5), we can see the ego  transformation with which we dealt in the last  Ego Transformation guidebook, that from Ego (third chakra) to Self (fourth chakra). The ego occurs at the juncture of the first and second  Sefi- roths. He calls that Daat/Yesod foundation the “Ego.” This is located at the top of the first Sefiroth in the Daat position and at the bottom of the second Sefiroth in the Yesod position. The threshold associated with it, he calls “willingness” or “awakening.” Once the threshold is crossed the Ego becomes Self in the Tiferet position.

The Self is part of two triads in this diagram. The lower one is Self flanked by Theory and Practice. Theory and Practice are connected by “willingness” and the threshold itself. The upper triad is Self flanked by Discipline and Love with Discipline and Love connected by “Thy Will.” Note the capitals. The Soul is indicated just above the Self on the main stem of the diagram but not in a specified position. Each of the triads has an active and a passive attribute and has a core. In the entire triple diagram, there are only three such junctures each constellated around the Tiferet or core position.

Returning to the triple sefiroth diagram (Figure 4), the next threshold up occurs at the juncture of the second and third Sefiroths. The author does not deal with the symbolism of these in his article, but it is easy to surmise if we assume that the ego is still active at this point. Here we would have the same constellations except that instead of Self we would have Spirit (he calls it Divinity) in the Tiferet position. Divinity is associated with Tradition and Revelation in the bottom triad which is reminiscent of the second granthi or knot in Yoga that is associated with the sixth chakra. That would fit since the threshold being confronted in the fifth chakra opens into the sixth chakra. It seems fair to say that this threshold is also associated with Will since all choices are acts of free will. The author does not tell us what is above that. If you look at the entire diagram, it would appear that we are half-way there in the fifth chakra.      

This figure and its explanations let us know that the experience of the journey is virtually the same in all traditions.

The Struggle

Much of which we think is the body letting us down or attacking us isThe Person really just the final manifestation of a conflict or disorder that has been going on for some time in the subtle or causal body. If you will remember the circular diagram of the person (Figure 2-1) with its concentric rings that interpenetrate, you can see how this might be so.  And, in fact, those who can see auras tell us that there are color changes in the aura long before a medical problem appears in the body itself. So what does this have to do with surrender. Lots.

Physical manifestations of the struggle

Do you clear your throat a great deal especially when you are uneasy or anxious? Do you ever have trouble  swallowing or feel like there is a frog in your throat? Does your eustachian tube clog  up for no apparent reason?  Do your ears ring from time to time? Have you a traumatic hearing loss - that is when your hearing is normal except in a narrow band where you don̓t hear anything at all. All of these can be related to the ego̓s struggle to maintain control. It is true that they can also be signals to check with your friendly family doctor. But, if you get a clean bill of health there, then you might consider whether it is a fifth chakra issue.

For example, I often find, when working with someone who is approaching a difficult aspect of his/her life, that s/he will clear the throat repeatedly or the pitch of the voice will either escalate or go down into the lower register so far that the person can hardly speak. So I might ask, “Is there a block between your head and your heart?” or “What is happening in your heart?” or a similar question that is relevant to the discussion. Usually there is an instant response perhaps of tears or some other signal of emotional release. In our culture, we are so hypnotized into living in our heads that the heart often suffers from neglect.  Plus the head gets in cahoots with the ego to maintain the defense network, so when the defenses are threatened and the heart might betray them, the throat closes down. It is like bringing in the troops to defend the wall.

Trouble swallowing might mean that there is something in the person̓s life that s/he is having trouble assimilating or controlling (keeping down).   Suppose, for instance, that Thelma is stuck at home all day with two or three small children and then has to cook supper, clean up and put the kids to bed. By the time all that is done  she is too tired to go out or even to make love with her husband. There is never time nor does she have the energy to pursue her own interests let alone the spiritual path to which her soul may be dispiritedly calling her. (This used to be called the “split-level trap” in the beginning days of women'̓s liberation.) As time goes on and there is no relief in sight, Thelma may develop a problem with swallowing. Or it may just show up when she has reason to think about what her life is missing. It may be a resistance to crying or to a development that prevents crying. Remember the lump in your throat when you are trying to be brave? In spite of women'̓s liberation, there are still thousands of women who find themselves in this dilemma. They may be single mothers or working mothers who are still trying to maintain the homefront by themselves or the wives of spouses who are simply unconscious of the problem. There might be a few single fathers out there too who experience the same thing. A similar reaction could occur in response to a bullying boss or one who demands too much overtime. Any situation that causes a person to neglect his or her soul'̓s needs can produce these symptoms. So, if it were me, I would be inclined to ask myself, “What in my life do I have trouble accepting or keeping under control, and what can I do to change that?” before I went to the doctor.

A traumatic hearing loss can be related to something we do not want to hear: a nagging parent or spouse, bad news about which we already have an intuition, something in our personalities we need to change, a gap in our defense mechanisms, a child who tends to scream at the slightest provocation, a lover̓s betrayal, etc. However, in this case, I would be inclined to seek medical help first.

That would be true as well in the case of ringing ears. Still, temporary sounds in the ears especially pleasant ones such as that of a musical instrument can be a sign of a psychic opening sometimes called a siddhi. Yogis have a great deal of experience with the sound aspects of spiritual advancement, so you should consult that literature if you need help understanding those musical signals. Evelyn Underhill'̓s (1961) book, Mysticism gives a detailed account of both auditory and visual siddhis and tells how to distinguish them from pathological hallucinations.

Surrender Revisited

We have seen that many bodily complaints can be related to problems in the psychological arenas of life. But how is this related to surrender?  It is usually because we resist acceptance of the way things are. We are socialized to think we can have whatever we want if we want it badly enough and are willing to “tough it out.” And the media is constantly bombarding us with the message that our desires must be satisfied, so the advertiser can make money of course.  You will recognize this as a primary value in American culture at least. Or the advertiser is engaged in trying to create more desires that can be satisfied by spending money. So it is no wonder that we fall prey to constant insatiability. Desire is a prime motivator in the frenetic life many of us lead. Surrender? Are you kidding? Most of us strain ourselves to the limit just to keep up.

Well, you just can'̓t do that on the spiritual path. Desires and wants are major obstacles to surrender. In fact, we are going to have to renounce the world and all its glittering enticements. Beyond that, come  attachments to people, ideas, traditions, opinions, concepts, and habits - all the motivators that have run our lives up to this point. It will be necessary to focus all our energy on the One, the Beloved, in order to progress beyond this point. You may not want to do that. But if you do not make that choice, the morass that was sucking you down will intensify because the Divine One will have Its way in the end. As the old saying goes, “You can run but you can̓t hide.”

The Sufis have an approach to this dilemma that helps, I think. They view the One as a great Lover and surrender as the prelude to the ecstasy that comes with love-making. That view transforms this alternative into something infinitely more appealing. Virtually all of us have had the experience at some time of falling in love, so you probably know how selfless and helpless it makes you. That is surrender. It does not even depend upon a reciprocal response from the loved one. We fall into love sometimes, not in love with someone specific necessarily, just into love itself as if it were a warm, fuzzy container that makes everything right and rapturous. One can hardly function in such a condition. That is the surrender we are talking about. Rumi̓s poems express this love affair dramatically and seductively. If you are lucky enough to find your teacher at this point, love for him or her can provide an intermediary sanctuary until you can do it alone. Spiritual practice especially that which is devotional in nature is also enormously helpful.

Exercise:  Falling

1. Get a copy of Learning to Fall by Philip Simmons and begin to read it. Philip has Lou Gehrigs disease and was given five years to live. It is a progressive disorder that, at least in my grandmother, resulted in many, unexpected falls. This book is about Philip̓s surrender to the disease and to the inevitability of surrender to the unknown. His language is very beautiful and reminiscent of O̓Donohue̓s. It is a practical guide to how to accomplish it as well.  Put it by your bed or in your meditation room and read a chapter whenever you can. I have found it very supportive.

2. In Pema Chodron̓s book, When things fall apart, read the introduction and chapters 3, 5, 6, and 18. Pema is a Buddhist nun, so you will get another side of the story. Her book is subtitled Heart advice for difficult times which is what lies ahead for the ego in this transition.  Both books are short, about 150 pages each.

If you want to read some of Rumi̓s poetry, there are many small books of his works. The most beautiful and a somewhat larger one is called The illuminated Rumi and is translated by Coleman Barks (1997) with illuminations by Michael Green.

Power Issues

Pride. You will not be surprised to hear that there are power issues involved in surrender. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the struggle between good and evil. We are talking about the tension between dualities that has existed since the beginning of creation. It is almost as if the tension is the glue that keeps the world together.

One of these tensions comes to the fore in the fifth chakra: pride vs humility. Pride might be one of our most dangerous and subtle defenses since it is encouraged by society and customs. It is found in the ego that will not admit its faults nor subject itself to correction or change. I didn̓t fully appreciate the effectiveness of this defense until I met myself in a student who attended one of my Kundalini classes. There was literally no way to get to her to negotiate change. She knew everything and set up an impenetrable barrier of speech about it. I wryly found myself in sympathy with Swami Radha and my other teachers at the ashram. There is probably no way another person can get beyond this barrier except by trickery at which some gurus are notoriously adept. So, if this is your shield, be warned that no one can help you until you attain some humility and are willing to acknowledge that there might be some things you do not know and about which you have no

If you are this person, you may find yourself being attacked by others who are frustrated because they cannot get to you even for loving reasons. You may feel misunderstood. You see the faults in others easily, but less easily in yourself (think of projection). You may be lonely and/or isolated either by others or by your own defensiveness. Your friends may be unwilling to give you negative feedback about your behavior because you do not accept it or because you bite back when it is offered.

It helps to learn more about the ego̓s process and how it throws up roadblocks in order to protect the self-image which is really what pride is mostly about. Another necessary component is compassion for this hard-working though misguided ego. I finally came to think of my ego as a child who does not have access to all the information it needs and, therefore, must be guided by my Higher Self as a parent would direct a child. So, as the Higher Self becomes accessible and liberated, it becomes able to direct the action and give some ease to the struggling ego. You can create a dialogue between these two aspects of yourself because the Higher Self is gentle and understanding. This will help develop trust in the ego which is essential for surrender.  Force will make matters worse which is why we do not flagellate ourselves any more, at least most of us do not.

Need for control. This is another major ego agenda which has been described earlier, so I won̓t go into the whole thing again except to say that need for control is, of course, diametrically opposed to surrender. So we need to examine it in some detail. This course work plus journaling should put you on the right track. It might be well to take another look at how you are doing with it. Where are the pockets of resistance that still linger?

Levels of power. There is a difference between third chakra and fifth chakra needs for power which is why it comes up again in this guidebook. The third chakra power needs come from the ego’s self-will and need for control. The fifth chakra power needs come from threats to survival. This is both survival of the ego and survival of identity. We are confronted with ego death as well as death of personal identity. These two are very nearly the same thing. Now, you may believe what the Buddhists say about there not being a real ego in the first place, but your experience will contradict that at every turn. The belief is in your mind, the panic is in your body and the fifth chakra. Just reading about it may cause your adrenalin levels to rise and activate all your defenses. You may decide you just cannot continue. This is all a bunch of trash. Who needs it?   Well, who is the “who” that doesn̓t need it?  And who is asking the question? Not the author of this guidebook. You came here under the direction of a Higher Self or your own soul. Both are your allies. Trust them to show you the way.

According to my favorite teacher, Swami Padmananda, there are three levels of power: 1) self-mastery, 2) concentration and contemplation, and 3) pure consciousness.  Self-mastery means the ego has surrendered to the Higher Self as a disciple would surrender to the Master. It need not be a bloody battle if we understand that this hierarchy of power is part of the evolution of our soul. Furthermore, if we view the power in question as the power of love, it becomes even more likely that ego will come under the sway of the higher power. One essential conviction is that the higher power will also take over the job of protecting the person which will eliminate the fear and help establish trust. That is an issue which comes up in the next two units. Actually, it really is not a belief, but a fact. However, we may not be able to see that at this point.

Concentration is a matter of learning how to focus the mind, so we can engage in contemplation. It is also essential to maintain our objectives, help overcome
obstacles and avoid distractions on the path. Sometimes it is called singlepointedness. It requires discrimination and discernment along with a  commitment to continue the journey.  

Pure consciousness is the reward. It provides light, clarity and joy. It enables us to be God̓s servant in the world without the stress and strain to which we have become accustomed. The antidote to self-will and survival fears is service and devotion. By behaving as God̓s servant, we may gradually become one. And we find that movement in this direction provokes divine assistance. So that, too, eases, the transitions.

Exercise:  Trusting the One

1. Read pages 117-131 in The paradoxes of love on “Obedience and Freedom” and chapter 4 in The circle of love “Power and Spiritual Life II.” [In case the word “jihad” in the latter bothers you, keep in mind that its original meaning is war against the egomind (cf. Bhagavad Gita). The original meaning has been corrupted in the Islamic culture to mean war against the infidel.]  How are obedience and freedom related?

2. Also consult chapter 8 in Healing communication
for additional material on the subject.

    Working with the Struggle

“To a world used to the incentives of greed and fear, Gandhi gave an alternative:
the driving force of love.” — Narayan Desai (1980, p. xi)

Personally I think Gandhi had the most effective means of addressing the struggle: non-violent resistance. In case you are not familiar with his philosophy, called satyagraha, it means insistence on or adherence to truth. The non-violent aspect came as a result of his search for truth, not before it. Gandhi himself said, “. . I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of Truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one'̓s opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy (Desai, 1980, p. xii). Desai'̓s little book, Handbook for Satyagrahis is only 57 pages, but it might be useful in learning how to defuse ego̓'s defense tactics.

So, first of all, you might ask yourself, what is the truth of my life? . Then what is the truth of ego next. If we assume that the ego is in error rather than that it is the enemy, it puts us in a different position, not of authority which ego immediately resents, but one of love which is much more attractive. If we add to this attitude a receptivity to inner guidance as a result of meditation, we may attract some divine
assistance. That means regular meditation, however. It had only been about a year of daily meditation before my guide came through followed by Spirit about a year later. Over time and with regular dialogue, we can come to trust the inner guide. And, as a result of experience with guidance, we come to love the guide. As mentioned before, we always must use discernment to separate the guide̓s messages from those of the egomind.

Identification with Spirit

In time, it will become necessary to accept our identification with the guide and also with Spirit as there is only one Being. This may prove to be more difficult since we have been taught that that kind of identification is paranoid or blasphemous. However, with study and observations, eventually the proof will emerge. Even then, the question may arise, Am I worthy? This question is based in our tendencies to accept hierarchial models and the need to be protected by a higher power. I found my resistance was based on my wish to be able to seek protection and advice for my problems. I wanted a parental figure to take care of me. If I identified with Spirit, I would have to take responsibility for not only myself but for all of creation. It sounded like too big a job and the prospect scared me to death.  An analogy is in the relationship between the little toe and the whole body. The toe is part of the body, but not the governing part. Nevertheless, it is affected by all that happens to the whole body. We have seen that cells are conscious, so they can be aware of what goes on in the rest of the territory. And we assume the whole body is aware or can become aware of the toe at will. So the recognition is two-way, and each part has its role to carry out. Likewise, the mind and ego are parts of the whole Being who is Spirit if you like. So are spirit guides like Michael part of the whole.  So is the soul and the personality. My choice is upon what I choose to focus attention: on my divine identity or my false self. I also choose to which aspect I give my energy and the power to make decisions.

So here we have another prospect for working with the struggle: give the power to Spirit and wean it away from ego. Like a wise parent, we can meet ego complaints and resistance with assurance that the Higher Self knows best and will lovingly protect it. Obviously this maneuver requires a connection with the Higher Self or with Spirit. If we put the soul and the Higher Self in league with Spirit, we have an unbeatable combination.   To do this takes self-examination, vigilance and commitment to practice.

Exercise:The paradox of love

1. Read the introduction to The paradoxes of love. What is the arena of love? How can we come out of our bewilderment into real knowing? What is the knowing of the heart?  How can we come to know God?   How can we reconcile the inner and outer worlds? How can we use the contradictions of life to help guide us to the Source?

Love is the path.

2.  Sit with your desire to be united with Spirit.  Try using an invocation to begin your meditation. Invocation means to invite.  If you do not have one you like, make one up.  Or you may use chanting as an invocation to call the Beloved to come to you. The Sufi Invocation is as follows:

Toward the One
The perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty
The Only Being
United with All the Illuminated Souls
Who Form the Embodiment of the Master
The Spirit of Guidance

This comes from the “Universal Worship Service and Order of Daily Prayers” at The Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, NY. Think deeply on what this invocation means.  Notice the qualities that are attributed to the One. Think about what “The Only Being” means. Where do you fit into this? Who are the “Illuminated Souls?” How do they embody the “Master?” Who is the “Master?” And what is meant by “The Spirit of Guidance?” Reflection on this invocation can go a long way toward resolving ego̓s reluctance to surrender.

Spiritual Practice

An important if not the only key to all of this is spiritual practice. Sometimes it is called sadhana a word which also means self-effort and a tool. This can take many forms depending upon your orientation. There are many forms to suit individual inclinations and personality types. There is meditation which is preferred by Raja Yogis and Buddhists. There is chanting, music and dance used by Yogis and Sufis. There is service which is a choice of Karma Yogis. Service may take the form of work for a spiritual community or volunteering in the community usually to help those who are not as well off as the practitioner. Prayer is preferred by Christians and Jews along with music and singing. All traditions use prayer with variations that fit the beliefs of the worshippers. Worship, itself, is practice and is used, in some form, by all traditions. In Yoga, it is chosen by Bhakti Yogis as a form of devotion that expresses love for the deity. Praise goes along with worship and glorifies the deity. Self-study is an integral part of most traditions and takes the form of Jnana Yoga in the Hindu tradition. It is expected to lead to higher knowledge or consciousness or prajna. All mystical traditions have, as their goal, liberation or enlightenment. Religions minister more to daily life in the world and how to live with others. Most religions have a mystical counterpart for those who want to work harder on themselves.

Another practice, sometimes formalized as renunciation, is letting go.

Practice:  Letting go

Set up a time to begin the practice and allow at least a week. If you feel it is helpful, you may continue it as long as it bears fruit. Do not wait for a vacation or time off.  Most of the stimuli you need are already present in everyday life. However, do arrange to give yourself some daily time for reflection, so you can journal your progress. If you can combine the practice with your meditation in some systematic way, that should help also.

First day: Watch  yourself to see exactly where you are holding on to: old habits, control, opinions, self-image, possessions, schedules, other people, certain foods, etc. You get the idea. What you are doing is the point. You know what holding on is. Carry a small notebook and jot down the names of what you are grasping. At the end of the day, select one thing you want to work on. Pick something that happens a lot.

Next day: Whenever your thing crops up, let it go. Do something else, eat something different, do not say what you think, give away something you possess, try a different aspect of self-image on, let someone else do it, etc., whatever expresses letting go of that particular thing. Every once in a while, jot down what is happening in your notebook. At the end of the day reflect on your progress and decide whether you need to continue with that thing or whether it is all right to choose something else. If it has been especially difficult, that suggests continuation along the same lines for some more time. If your issue is a big one, you may want to spend all the time on it. That is all right too. You be the judge of what needs to happen.

Following days: Continue as you have planned. At the end of the time, or periodically if you decide to continue for a longer time, take an hour or so to reflect on what is happening and how you may want or need to change the routine. Throughout, use meditation and prayer to sustain you. Use self-expression in art, music, dance or other forms to lock in important insights you gain along the way.

Trust your own experience

There is no room here for beliefs because they are filtered through someone else̓s experience. To truly know something, you must experience it for yourself. So it is essential to learn how to trust your own experience. The problem with religion is that it tells you how it is and discourages experimentation. You are continually asked to believe what someone else is telling you whether it is the priest or the holy scriptures. If you go along with this, you are denying your own reality. Furthermore, those sources generalize to the public and may not meet your needs for spiritual food. In a setting that demands you believe something, you surrender your soul and your independence to say nothing of your freedom. Television is your worst enemy as it constantly regurgitates an artificial reality, and it brainwashes you to boot.

Accept free will and responsibility

Sometimes it is difficult to see that we have a choice in a situation, But there is always a choice even if it is between two negative alternatives. Accepting free will means we take the responsibility to choose and for the consequences of that choice. Bugental (1963) pointed out that one of our existential dilemmas is that we have to make choices and we do not always have all the information we need to make good ones. It takes courage to proceed in light of that fact. But, if we do not keep the ball in our own court, it may fall into the hands of another and we thereby lose our freedom. If you do not make your own decisions, you are in a condition of slavery. Marriage, as well as other relationships, can do this to one of the partners if s/he trades independence for security.

Ego makes these choices in the experience of most people, but that does not have to remain the case. The ego can choose to delegate the responsibility to the Higher Self. This is done as a matter of trust, not as a cop-out. If our intuition is in good shape and working, decisions can and do occur painlessly and accurately. The Higher Self has far more resources than the ego as well as a wider range of experience. For this to work properly, the mind must be quiet so the messages can get through. The way it happens for me is that there is a moment of relaxation and a “gap” in the mental chatter during which I relay the problem. Usually this is  preceded by the realization that I am trying to do it all by myself again, so I have to stop mentally.  Invariably the solution comes,  sometimes instantly, other times it may be several days. But inevitably it is accurate and right on target. When it does come it may arrive on little “cat feet” very gently and unobtrusively, so we have to be alert to catch it. It usually carries with it an air of absolute truth. This can be tested in the heart center if there is any doubt at all.

There are many other ways to work with ego issues. You will discover them as you need them if your search is sincere.

Light at the end of the tunnel

You will find there is encouragement along the way. Also, when the brunt of the struggle is surmounted, there will be a felt sense of easing. Some of the pressure is diminished and you feel lighter. From this point, life gets easier. There is still work to do, but there is also the confidence that you can do it and that progress is being made. You will experience more light in your life. People may comment that you look different or happier though you may not, at the time, feel any different. You find you have more patience - to wait in line at the post office. . . to hear all of what someone has to say. . . to tell the child one more time. . . to not react to someone else̓s anger. . . to try to understand the prickly co-worker. Gratitude arises spontaneously. You feel optimistic about the future. You can see both sides of a conflict, or a war. You relish the mystery in the universe. You talk to animals as well as to Spirit, and you see Spirit in them too.

But, this may not happen until after the dark night of the soul which comes up next.


Appelbaum, D. (Ed.). (2002). “The Ego and the ‘I̓.” Parabola: Myth. Tradition and the Search for Meaning, 22 (1), whole issue.

Barks, C. (1997). The illuminated Rumi. New York: Broadway Books.

Bugental, J. (1963). The search for authenticity. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Chodron, P. (1997). When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times. Boston: Shambhala.

Desai, N. (1980). Handbook for Satyagrahis: A manual for volunteers of total revolution. New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation or Philadelphia: Movement for a New Society.

Draper, E. & Baron, V. (Eds.). (1995). “The Stranger.” Parabola: The Magazine of Myth and Tradition, 20 (2), whole issue.

Halevi, Z. (no date) “Order: A Kabbalistic Approach,” (xerox copy). cf. Tree of life. Adam and Kabbalistic tree: Way of Kabbalah. New York: Samuel Weiser.

Khan, Pir V. (2002). “The Encounter with the Divine.” Heart & Wings, Summer, 2002, 25, 45.

Kincade, A. (2001). Straight from the horse̓s mouth: How to talk to animals and get answers. New York: Crown Publishers.

Kumar, S. (1995). “Longing for Wholeness.” Parabola: The Magazine of Myth and Tradition, 20 (2), 6-12.

Lapidus, I. (1978). “Adulthood in Islam: Religious Maturity in the Islamic Tradition.” In E. H. Erikson (ed.) Adulthood. New York: Norton, 97-112.

Pearce, J. (2003). “The Biology of Transcendence,” (Course description in Omega: Workshops. Wellness Vacations. Retreats (catalog). Rheinbeck, NY: Omega Institute.

Peers, E. (Tr. & Ed.).  (1959).  Dark night of the soul by St. John of the Cross, 3rd revised ed..  New York: Image Books ( a division of Doubleday).

Simmons, P. (2002). Learning to fall: The blessings of an imperfect life. New York: Bantam Books.

Underhill, E. (1961). Mysticism: A study in the nature and development of man̓s spiritual consciousness. New York: E. P. Dutton

Vaughan-Lee, L. (1996). The paradoxes of love. Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.

Vaughan-Lee, L. (1999). The circle of love. Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.

We have looked at the differences between Spiritual Will and self-will and the implications of those for the struggle to surrender. In Unit VIII. The Dark Night we go into the depths of loss of Spirit.

LogoReturn to Home Page