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From 'Look For Yourself'

by Douglas Harding


Being united to the will of God you enjoy and possess Him.

It is in His purposes, hidden in the cloud of all that happens to you in the present moment, that you must rely. You will find it always surpasses your own wishes.

People who have abandoned themselves to God always lead mysterious lives and receive from Him exceptional and miraculous gifts by means of the most ordinary, natural and chance experiences in which there appears to be nothing unusual.

Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Inspiring words, coming from one of the great experts in self-surrender and abandonment to the will of God. But of course they are for testing, day in and day out, and not just for believing and taking on trust. And it's when we start trying them out in practice that we run up against what look like insuperable difficulties, some of which we address in this chapter. It is about practice and not theory. Here we are not concerned with the theology or philosophy of surrender to the Divine Providence, but with precisely how to give up and let be and let go, precisely how it is possible for you and me to arrive at and maintain this wonderful state.

It's not so easy to describe what surrender is, but we all know what it feels like – the sudden cessation of struggle, the end (for the time being) of all our resistance, the special sort of calm that follows the storm of what has become futile effort, the relaxation we enjoy when 'something gives' at last after a long period of mounting tension and anxiety and all the fight goes out of us.

A beautiful presentation of this abrupt shift of mood – or rather reversal of mood – is to be found in Berlioz' overture Les Francs Juges. This celebrated piece of programme music dramatises the tale of a prisoner who is appearing on a capital charge before a secret mediaeval court. As he tries, with mounting desperation and terror, to defend himself, the music gets wilder and louder, more and more frenetic. Then quite suddenly, realising that his fate is sealed, he abandons all hope and submits with perfect calm to the death sentence; and the music of struggle gives place to one of the great serene tunes of the world, smoothly flowing and even blissful. (Berlioz took the tune from a Russian folk song. In fact, it's common property, a perennial theme that crops up in unexpected places, for instance in the once-popular song Now the Carnival is Over, which is itself about a lover's resignation, if hardly his self-abandonment.)

We may take as typical our example of the prisoner on trial – typical of the dependence of surrender upon its opposite, without which it cannot exist. Giving in is as inseparable from fighting as up is from down and left is from right. You can't let go of something you weren't holding on to.

It follows that the mood of surrender can't be permanent: to be itself it must alternate with its opposite, with the mood of resistance. It's not in its nature to be steady. This is certainly common experience. We go on struggling against God's will as bodied forth in our circumstances, then somehow we find the grace to submit to it – for a while – and then the wretched process starts all over again. Surrender may come, but alas what comes goes. In common with all thoughts and feelings (no matter how profound or enlightened or even divine they may be) it is impermanent. Since it's a specific something with limited characteristics, it not only implies and needs its opposite, but is always tending to merge into it.

These obvious but neglected facts set limits to all cultivation of surrender – whether by reading and thinking about it, by trying somehow to work up the feeling, by various kinds of religious disciplines and practices, by any means whatever. The trouble with this highly desirable experience is that it fluctuates all the time, that it eludes our grasp, and is apt to be least available when most needed. Who, indeed, can feel anything to order? And in this instance there's something particularly self-defeating, and certainly ridiculous, about deliberately cultivating what must come naturally if it comes at all: about chasing stillness, about trying not to try, about holding on to letting go, about straining after relaxation. The sooner we surrender these absurd attempts to surrender the better.

Is there then nothing we can do about the problem? Must we continue to let these alternating moods of struggle against the nature of things, and whole-hearted (or half-hearted) acceptance of even the worst of them, continue to structure our lives? Or, more likely, tear them apart?

No. The direct method of trying to gain control over our feelings proves self-defeating, but there is an indirect method which is more promising. The problem can be solved – though emphatically not at its own level or on its own terms – and solved absolutely.

The solution is ATTENTION, attention instead of intention. Attention to What is, in place of striving for what should be. Attention to how things already are, without any attempt to improve them. The fact is that total attention is surrender, and total surrender is attention.

Attention to precisely what? To what's given right where you are at this moment, regardless of other places and times. Just to read about this attention is no good at all. To get the point, dear Reader, look right now at what's taking in this line of print, at its Seer, its Reader – if any. Isn't it a fact that there's no-thing where you are, nothing but space for the scene (for a pair of hands holding an open book, surrounded by vague coloured shapes) to happen in? Nothing where you are now but this speckless Awareness or Capacity, itself lacking all smell, taste, sound, colour, opacity, movement, and therefore perfectly fitted to take in all these, and more? How marvellously accommodating you are!

This inseeing, this attention to What one always is, this discovery of What is beyond all improvement or deterioration (because there's nothing here to change or be changed) – this alone is total surrender. It is the giving up of every attribute and function that one had claimed, the end of all one's pretensions to be anything whatsoever. Not an atom of substance, not a twinge of feeling, not the shadow of a thought can survive in the rarefied atmosphere of the Centre. Here remains only Attention, simple Awareness, pure Consciousness-of-consciousness without content or qualification, and This can never come or go. Here is Abandonment itself, including the abandonment of all time and change. One doesn't achieve this abandonment. One is it eternally.

All the same, this essential inseeing doesn't put an end to the parade of feelings and thoughts with their endless shifts and alternations, their built-in contradictions. Nor can it be counted on to 'rectify' them. Maybe they will in some degree sort themselves out, and maybe the feeling of surrender will grow apace, now that all feelings are consciously experienced from their problem-free Source and Container right here. Nevertheless they remain in their own sphere essentially 'problematical': it's their nature to be incomplete, in part false, at odds with one another. The real difference which this seeing-What-one-is makes, isn't the improvement of that scene (of one's thinking and feeling and behaving) but in its placing. It all belongs out there, in and to the world. What I used to call my thoughts and feelings are found to be thoughts and feeling about things there, not about Me here. The universe is as replete with sadness and joy, ugliness and beauty, fighting and giving up, with all the other opposites, as it is with colour and shape and movement. All of it is brought to light by the Light here, the Light that is itself clean of every thing it shines on. You are that Light.

But you may object that this Seeing-Who-and-What-you-really-are doesn't last, that it comes and goes just as the feeling of surrender comes and goes, and perhaps is just as difficult to arrive at and maintain.

Well, try it, and you will find that, quite unlike the feeling, the seeing is always available. You can see perfectly well What and Who you really are, whatever your occupation or circumstances or mood. Nothing is easier or more natural.

Nor, strictly speaking, is it intermittent. It occurs out of time, inasmuch as it is seeing into the Place where nothing whatever – not even place and time – survives. This isn't theory for thinking about, but fact for testing. Look again and see the Emptiness that you are, and you will find that it doesn't read as beginning at such and such a time by the clock, and end so many seconds or minutes or hours later. I think you will find that it cannot be separated by any interval from other 'occasions of seeing', so called. As one of the Zen masters observes, "Seeing into nothingness – this is the true seeing, the eternal seeing."

Where there is no time there is no will or intention or choice: all three are time's offspring. Paradoxically, real surrender to the Divine Will isn't just giving up one's own personal will but all will, and resting in the perfection of what is. The only way to come to the place of no desire is to attend to it, and see that one has never been anywhere else. Right here at zero inches from oneself, at the very midpoint of one's universe, is the God who is the still point at the heart of the storm.

We used to pray: 'Thy will
my Lord and God, be done.'
And lo! He has no will
He is stillness alone.

So wrote Angelus Silesius, the Cherubinic Wanderer.

But in that case what are we to make of Dante's cry from the heart: "His will is our peace"?

The answer is to examine yet again the Spot one occupies and see how empty it is of all content of its own, and in particular of all will or intention. And see, too, how full it is of the scene, of the world as it is now given, complete with all the feelings and thoughts that are now colouring and enlivening it. Isn't it a fact, in your own experience at this moment as the will-less Source, that your will is perfectly embodied in what is now flowing from that Source, so that all of it is perfectly acceptable just as it is? Is it possible to see Who you are without endorsing things as they are? Is there any other way to true self-abandonment but falling into the arms of the One who is infinitely more you than you are yourself? The One who in Himself has no will, but is responsible for everything in the world? To see that you are not in the world, but that on the contrary the world is in you, is to be more than reconciled to its every manifestation.

First see What and Who you really, really, really are, establish your true identity, and then see whether you have anything whatever to complain of.

(The book 'Look For Yourself' is a collection of essays by Douglas Harding first published in 1996.)

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