Choice and Surrender

Choice and Surrender

There is a curious dance in the progression of life between choice and letting go. A key feature of early childhood is separation from mother and establishing a sense of personal self.

As we approach spiritual awakening, we learn a new process of surrender, of letting go of those old habits of personal self. This allows the deeper cosmic Self to emerge from behind our constructs.

With awakening, the process of surrender deepens into more subtle layers of being. But it also deepens right on the surface. We discover the ego has been laying claim to our thoughts and actions even though they were driven by the body and laws of nature. We simply observe life unfold from a detached point of observation.

And yet simultaneously, we can find there’s an element of choice in there. Do we choose to favour the mind or go with the flow? What do we give our attention to? Some of that is driven by what is arising but some remains a choice. Not something to be controlled but how we use our attention.

A lot of old reactivity falls away as we heal our emotions. Progressively more subtle drivers like should’s and must’s are seen and released too. There is a deep learning to allow whatever arises.

And yet, discrimination is still required. As I’ve mentioned, we’re all composed of a blend of laws of nature with various levels of emphasis. This gives us our abilities and tendencies. But not all of those inclinations will be healthy no matter how enlightened we are.

On a physical level, for example, our gut biome develops based partly on the foods we eat. Once established, they’ll continue to ask for more of the same even if we try to change our habits. We can feel driven by subconscious calls to unhealthy foods. Our body doesn’t want them but some bacteria do and they signal the brain in much the same way the body does.

Take that example and make it more subtle and you get an idea of why discrimination is still required. I’ve seen teachers go sideways and manipulate their students when they empower less desirable laws within. It can feel “right” because it comes from the same arena as cleaner drivers. But does it have desirable consequences? What does it feed?

Often, we can monitor how smooth and natural a flow seems to determine if something is the right choice or not. We can ask “does nature support?” But what if the laws that are supporting an action are not of the highest quality?

If we’re honest, we can see inclinations that are less desirable. They’ll have shadow or resistance or lower emotions associated. These can drive us if we let them.

I don’t mean we should resist what arises. Only that we still need to choose what to feed, what to give our attention to.

We still have responsibility. In fact, the more deeply rooted and awake we are, the greater the power and the greater the responsibility. Such power also influences the behaviour of others, increasing the effects. What is the influence we’re spreading?

Of course, none of us are perfect. These things can be sub-conscious or hidden from us. But if we realize there’s an issue and don’t take corrective action, then we’re creating new karmas that will hinder our long term growth. No one who acts is immune from the laws of karma.

Responsibility remains, however exalted the awareness.


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  1. Phil

    I think this is a really important article, David.

    It addresses an issue I have with the spiritual world, esp. the neo-advaita movement (you know how that grinds my gears;-)), in regards to the abnegation of ‘free will’ and thus responsibility.

    We’ve seen a lot of violation of dharma in the spiritual world due to this.

    I once saw an interview with a person who awakened spontaneously in the company of a well known British neo-advaitin (T.P.), and when asked about such worldly heinous-adharmic events as child abuse for example, her response was that; it was just the oneness playing with itself, because that was what oneness must have wanted. There was no-one doing it, and no-one to whom it was happening, it’s just a happening, no different from the weather. She then shrugged her shoulders as to signal that it was no big deal.

    As you say in response to a comment on ‘Different Divinities’ “we’re rising out of a darker age when renouncing the world had been a key part of spiritual practice” when hopefully such positions and ‘minimalist neo-teachings’ will be seen as obsolete, if not outright harmful.

    It is such possible positions on responsibility (or abandonment thereof) that has in the past scared off pre-Self-Realised seekers, such as myself, from the whole game. To quote the Zen master Dogen, “Next to good manners, enlightenment is the most important thing in the world.”

    I believe you quite rightly say, “No one who acts is immune from the laws of karma,” but some would just argue that there is ‘no-one’ there acting and thus ‘no-one’ to whom karma can apply.

    While the ego may not be able to claim authorship of thoughts, as you nicely point out – there is still an apparent discriminating function. Such ‘choice’ does evoke the ‘free will vs determinism’ debate of the spiritual world, that while such choice may be limited and predicated on myriad laws, samskaras, vasanas and so on, it does reveal an apparent volition, the importance of which you emphasise.

    Rick Archer brings the up the topic with Tom Campbell here:

    This volition would equate to a probabilistic reality (as Campbell asserts – were such a ‘free will’ is fundamental for spiritual evolution), whereby outcomes and futures are ultimately uncertain.

    This in contrast to a deterministic reality, whereby everything is predetermined to the minutest event, as some others do assert (a position perhaps justifying and making permissible adharmic thoughts, intentions and behaviours to some ‘enlightened’, as ‘they’ are merely God’s puppets in God’s scripted puppet show – no choice about it.)

    It is often touted by some teachers that the apparent reality is akin to a movie for the Self-Realised – the implication being it’s pre-filmed and the ending, though unknown (except perhaps to psychics and jyotishi), is already in the ‘can’. This would dictate that there is absolutely no choice.

    I can’t square this ‘movie’ position with the ‘more akin to an interactive-game position’ where choice, growth, potential and responsibility must have a big place.

    1. Hi Phil
      I agree. The article was partly driven by my own recognition that some laws of nature were not the best to “allow” and support. But also seeing a friend betray his teacher and plead “nature supports”.

      I also agree on the “no person here” thing – it’s a buggaboo for Rick also. And yes, that renunciate approach may serve those few but is not suitable for someone in the world.

      Here, I did experience an “ego death” and later had a 2 week phase where there was no sense of identity. But for a householder, the next step is to integrate better and bring the opening into the world. It’s not to invest in that experience and stay abstracted from it.

      The opening example is applying the rules of one level of existence to another. To determine trajectory, you use classical physics, not quantum. The world is indeed nothing but Divinity. But within that are shadows that don’t recognize this nature and act in less desirable ways.

      Nothing abdicates responsibility. If you’re using spirituality to avoid such, its called spiritual bypassing. Its a form of delusion.

      If someone thinks they’re immune from karma, just wait. Being awake and detached from it helps make it less personal but it doesn’t make it go away. Karma is action so if something is going on, its karma.

      The experience of free will vs determinism changes in different states. I’ve written and spoken on the topic. The funny part is when you get into advanced Unity and realize that which determines and that which chooses are the same thing. We just experience them as distinct due to time.

      To me, its a blend. There is an overall unfolding pattern or blueprint but there is a great deal of leeway in the details of the unfolding. Even if you know the future you won’t know how you’re going to experience it. 🙂

      I’ve also had the experience that the world is a movie. It’s a fascinating perspective. But thats what it is – a way seeing. Its an insight but is not the ultimate reality. Too many people find a satisfying perspective and stay with it, thinking they’ve found “the right answer”. But its always just another step, another perspective of a much greater whole.

    1. Hi N
      This is a concept I’ve worked with since the 70’s and have since come to perceive the mechanics of.

      The basic idea is when you put your attention on something or begin to act towards something, is it supported or not? Do you get smooth and easy results or obstacles?

      For example, you’re thinking of replacing your car. Do great deals show up or friends tell you about a good car? Or do you run into scams and nasty sales people? It’s not always this black & white though.

      The challenges with recognizing support can be many. For example, if we have karma at play, it can interfere with smooth flow. Similarly, if we have internal resistance to receiving or expectations of bad results, these will interfere.

      Sometime, it is necessary to work through some obstacles. We need an income so we we have to work through our resistance to same or abide with a difficult situation until something better can be found.

      And that points to the last thing – timing. The world operates like a giant clock where everything has its time for the whole. If it’s the right time, there will be support. But if it’s the right thing but not yet time, it won’t.

      Key to better support is clearing the old baggage and developing that intuitive sense of rightness. And we can’t do the later if we lie or tell stories.

      As the Yoga Sutra puts it (2v36)
      When truthfulness is established, activity and it’s fruit [consequence] are closely connected.

      When it’s not, right action and consequences don’t feel connected and the right path is obscured.

      Surprised I don’t have a Key Post about this. I have one called Energizing Cooperation but that’s a little more vague. Will do an article. Thanks for raising it.

  2. N

    Thanks for a great answer.

    So, when I was applying for jobs some time ago, what came natural and easy to me didn’t get the results. However, other things, which felt less easy and natural to me gave results. Which would you say were supported then – the first thing, because it came natural to me or the second thing because results came?

    1. This is where it gets complex, N. The second was supported, probably for karmic reasons.

      Easy for you is internal, about comfort and resistance. Response from the environment aka results show what nature is supporting. The world doesn’t care much about our opinions. 🙂

      A good example in my own life was police work. I spent much of a decade working as an evidence man for the police. Was even made a sworn officer, uniform and all. Yet at the same time, I was a fish out of water there. I did really well but was not a typical officer and not all officers were supportive of my being in uniform. (long story)

      This was driven by my own response to circumstances in a prior life. Resolving that meant living the choice I didn’t make then. In other words, nature wasn’t supporting what I wanted but what I needed to heal. 🙂

      I grew a lot through the experience and it made it very clear where I stood on many things.

        1. Hi N
          Yes – different areas of life have different levels of support but we also have different levels of interest. Some are very interested in fame, some avoid it.

          However, there is something I’ve written about called Sufficiency. It means enough but not excess. Enough money, enough influence, a decent home, comfort, etc. This is a more balanced approach than when we chase ever more, often in an attempt to fill an emptiness within. When we fill that with the fullness of self, sufficiency is enough.

          And yes, what is supported closely related to karma and dharma – why we’re here.

  3. Hi David, I appreciate this topic, the responses, and your replies. For me I feel that no matter what point in life you are awake or curious, acknowlment of what is happening for you and then choosing heart felt right action and allowing your self to experience. Action can be in the form of increaing awareness, via receiving understanding and releasing all to the greater flow of all that is. It all comes back to Choice, allow experience, surrender and trust. Again thank you for your continued dedication to all that is possible for all people.

    1. Thanks, Theresa.
      To say choosing to surrender is a curious paradox. And yet, choice and surrender come from the same place.

      I’ve drafted an article exploring the topics a little further. It should be live in a couple of days.

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