Thoughts about uncertainty and surrender

What I remember most was how quickly I was able to accept what was happening.

An eastward swing down Porter Street, a long residential mediary between two busy thoroughfares, offers an easy and enjoyable tree-lined descent to cyclists with a modicum of common sense.

But am I a sensible cyclist? Nope.

I was coasting down a curve after leaving a friend’s house near the top of the hill when I realized that I’d forgotten to roll up my right pant leg to avoid its ruination by the grease from the chain.

On the assumption that I could easily correct this oversight without interrupting my ride, I bent my right knee to bring my foot up toward the seat and reached back to the cuff with my right hand.

Have you ever done something while riding a bicycle that seemed like a good idea at the time but turned out to be… not so smart?

An intelligent rider would have just stopped for a moment to safely attend to such sartorial concerns.

But am I an intelligent rider? Nope.

The little glance back toward my right foot was the last straw: my left hand followed my eyes and, with my front wheel suddenly perpendicular to my trajectory, the laws of physics demanded that I be launched out of my seat and up over the handlebars.

As time slowed down to let me fully appreciate the ephemeral sensation of weightlessness, along with its implications for what would come next, an inner voice spoke to me. The voice said, “Surrender.”

And that’s what I did.

I surrendered to the inevitability of gravity as I catapulted through the air en route to a rendezvous with the pavement below. I let go, both literally and figuratively, relaxing my body as I dove into my fall rather than resisting it, rolling to land across the backs of my shoulders and pop up to my feet just in time to see the eyes of the driver behind me pop out of his head.

I assured the concerned driver that I was okay, knowing that the bruises I had just sustained wouldn’t fully blossom until later.

And so it goes: one moment we’re gliding through life, the next moment life gives us a beating. We never know when the laws of material nature, such as the law of gravity, will turn effortless enjoyment into unwelcome injury. They say the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes. We should add uncertainty to our list of certain things.

Much to our collective chagrin and dismay, uncertainty is the new normal.

Psychologists tell us that uncertainty is unhealthy, that, for the sake of our mental health, we need to have some sense of certainty about the future, some confidence in our ability to control the outcomes of our actions. I think I can, I think I can, I know I can…

Yet, time after time, the will of providence pulls the rug out from under our feet, repeatedly proving to us that we’re not really in control, that we can’t really be certain about how things will turn out, that any presumption of control or certainty we may harbor is a product of illusion.

When we cling to our illusions despite their being revealed for what they are, we become unmoored. Set adrift in a sea of uncertainty, we double-down on a false sense of identity, we become angry, anxious, and bewildered, and our true nature disappears from our view like a distant shore sinking beneath the horizon.

As I crouched by the side of the road to see if my bicycle had sustained as much damage as I had (it hadn’t), I took a moment to reflect on how I had clearly been defeated by a the laws of material nature, the will of providence, and my own poor judgment.

And on how my immediate surrender in the face of my defeat probably saved me from more serious injury.

In yoga, ‘surrender’ means ‘to offer one’s self to’ (prapadyante) or ‘to take shelter of’ (śaraṇaṁ). It’s an act of humility rather than an expression of humiliation, an acknowledgement of reality rather than an admission of defeat. ‘Surrender’ in yoga is the recognition that the basic need for shelter extends beyond the merely physical or psychological but to the spiritual as well.

Spiritual surrender offers us a practical solution to the problem of material uncertainty. Krishna spells it out for us in the Bhagavad-gītā:

“My divine power of illusion, composed of the qualities of material nature, is nearly impossible to overcome. But those who offer themselves to me can easily cross beyond this bewildering power.” – Bg 7.14

We don’t usually notice how the force of gravity holds us to the earth or how the laws of physics dictate the nature of our experience. Similarly, we’re usually unaware of how the laws of material nature generate reactions to our actions that bind us to a cycle of alternating happiness and distress.

But the wisdom texts of yoga tell us that there’s an alternative to being thrown hither and thither by the illusory power of material nature: surrender to the source of that power.

If we try to control the material energy in an attempt to enjoy material happiness and avoid material distress, one thing is certain: we will be defeated. After all, death is certain.

If, on the other hand, we surrender to the source of this divine and bewildering material energy, we’ll experience an everlasting sensation of weightlessness as we’re lifted up from the ocean of uncertainty into a position of spiritual empowerment.

This doesn’t mean that nothing bad will happen to us; it means that we’ll be able to roll with whatever happens to us with the knowledge that happiness and distress are temporary conditions of material existence and that material existence itself is a temporary condition for one who has surrendered to the Supreme Controller of everything.

If I had tried to regain control of my bike once I’d lost it, I probably would have done myself more harm than good. My choice was to let go of the bicycle or have it taken out from under me. Either way, one thing was certain: I was going down.

Somehow or other, I chose to let go and the experience made me certain of something else: surrender is an enjoyable glide that can save us from the inherent uncertainty of life in the material world.


Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels