I was walking down a beach recently, when I turned my attention towards the sand beneath my feet. Usually, in a moment as this, I’m transfixed by the horizon—the wave action, the search for an emerging fin or distant spout, and if it’s late in the day, of course—watching the sun make her daily farewell.
But on this day it’s the sand that’s got my attention.
I find that one of the trickiest terrains to navigate in life is the fulcrum between force and flow. Namely, how do we know when to go with what is naturally occurring, and when to exert our effort? What is the relationship between effort and surrender?
Nature in Pure Surrender
As I watch the sand, I can’t help but be impressed. The sand (especially within the tide line) is subject to constant force. Just as it comes to rest, the water comes through again, jolting the grains from their temporal respite, and whipping them back and forth, to and fro, in and out of the sea.
Again, and again, and again.
Sand, as conventional science will tell us, is inanimate. It doesn’t have a will, and therefore can’t choose to be here or there. It just IS.If a wave is coming, the sand in its path is going to move.
And yet, I suppose all of nature just IS. The wave was sitting calmly until the wind decided to come through. And the wind was nowhere to be found until... You get the picture.
Nature just is. Nature just is a tapestry of force with no beginning and no end—an indefinable flow—requiring nothing more than pure surrender.If only we could truly know this!
If in every moment, we just intuitively knew that—that everything was in its right place—that we needn’t worry, that we could kick-off our shoes, throw on our flip-flops, sit back and just enjoy the ride, as our sandy brethren so gracefully demonstrate.What a relief!
Man in Constant Effort
Alas...It’s not so simple for us.
We have these big brains and these egos of varied sizes ensuring that we’ll have to come into flow, into that state of ease, in a completely different manner. It is hard for us to be, as the sand, and simply allow life to happen.
Our strivings—our wants and desires—demand effort. After all, we can’t manifest our dreams from our couch.We have to go out and do something to make them happen!
The Big Picture and the Delusional Picture
This is where it gets tricky. That flow, the one the sand is at peace with, is the big picture. Yoga is an attempt to get us to see this picture. This is the feet-up, smile-on-the-face picture. The other picture isn’t so rosy, and could probably best be dubbed: the delusional picture.
The delusional picture is where YOUR idea of perfection becomes the dominant voice and its main tune is pretending the bigger picture doesn’t exist.
This dominant voice manifests in the near-constant thoughts that direct your days—causing you to behave with perpetual unease, as a hamster running on a wheel, as you attempt to satiate this perfectionist drive.
This picture will make you flip the bird to the person who just came into your lane, forcing you to slightly press your foot down, and slow your car down by a fraction—perhaps, causing you to arrive at your destination two to three seconds later than anticipated.
This is the picture where it feels like we need to make a lot of effort because, well, as the hamster, we can try as hard as we want, we’re still not going anywhere. Such is life within a delusion.
When we are talking about effort versus surrender, what we’re actually talking about is which picture are we participating in?
Flowing with Ease
I believe when we’re in big picture mode, both effort and surrender flow with ease—as natural inevitabilities of each circumstance of our lives.
Effort and surrender become as lovers in a tango, intertwined and inseparable. We make moves in effort that flow out of deep recognition of the incredible mystery, and we surrender to the results of those efforts with grace.
This is the world of sand. This is the big picture.