Following, Yielding, and Working With Circumstance

March 27, 2024

Shambhavi and the Jaya Kula community gather for satsang and get real about all the questions we humans want answered. Intimate, courageous, heartfelt spiritual talk about pretty much everything. So happy you are here! A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Could you talk about surrender?

Well, there's two other words I like better than surrender, because surrender implies you're going to do something really effortful. You're going to surrender.

You're going to surrender your fixations and your compulsions, good luck with that, you're going to surrender to the teacher. It's very sort of individualistic, over-effortful kind of affair. Has slight Judeo-Christian overtones, somehow.

I used that word a lot when I was younger, and then I realized that the process really isn't like, 'I am going to surrender,' or something like that. The two words that I like best are following and yielding, in this tradition, and I think all traditions, even if it's never articulated this way.

To be a follower means to be a follower of wisdom. To be a follower, you have to be able to recognize that there is wisdom, that there's more to you than meets the eye. You have to recognize.

And the recognition isn't intellectual. It can just be a felt sense or maybe some more coherent recognition, but it has to be a felt sense that you know beyond logic that there's more here and more to you than meets the eye, and that you have more capacity than you have access to right now.

That is the whole basis for practice in this kind of tradition. It's the whole basis of desire, this feeling that is a knowing that there's more. And that you don't want to miss out on it.

And so following means you recognize that there is this wisdom. There's something here. My word is wisdom, but your word could be something else. And you're following that.

You are going along with it because you have a felt sense, an inner knowing, even if it's only a speck, that by following That, you are going to discover more about who you are and what's happening here.

Or another way of putting it for a lot of people is you're going to be relieved of pain and suffering. A lot of people start out from there. You're in some pain and you see something or you meet someone who seems to embody a way of living that is less insufferable than what you're experiencing.

And so you decide to follow that. Now, when I was from the very youngest age, I can remember, I had this felt sense, not only that there was more, but that there was something to follow. That was really one of my most early experiences.

And lots of people have this. You feel guided somehow. This isn't an unusual experience. It's unusual to let yourself live according to that because, of course, we can feel that sense of guidance.

It's coming from insight. It's coming from our circumstances. It's coming from a teacher, perhaps. Not everybody meets a teacher, but you can still follow wisdom even if you don't meet a teacher.

So lots of people have that felt sense, but they don't give it enough importance. Other things, like what your mind is telling you, your intellect, is something that you're trained to give that more importance than this felt sense of guidance.

The wonderful teacher of Irina Tweedie, who was a 20th century woman practitioner and teacher, she had one Trika teacher and one Sufi teacher. And her Sufi teacher was in kind of some Sufism, which I don't really know a lot about, where a lot of the practice that she did was basically just sitting with her teacher and experiencing this dismantling that happened through transmission that was very intense.

For her, anyway, it was very, very intense. She would just sit with her teacher for hours and hours and hours and have all of these things happening inside of her as a result of that, and particularly in the heart space.

And lots of things were unwound. But this particular Sufi sect was very focused on the heart space, like Trika was. It's called Chasm of Fire, her autobiography. And the words of her teacher are just marvelous. Like when you read, you know that this teacher really had something.

She is kind of whiny. It's a very long book. So after about 300 pages of her whining, complaining, it gets to be a bit much. In any case, she was still a very dedicated student, so I admire her.

One of the things that her teacher said that really impressed me a long time ago was that the purpose of doing spiritual practice is to lead a guided life. Not just that the method is to lead a guided life, but that the fruit of the practice is to lead a guided life.

Ma said this, and Anandamayi Ma said this in another way. She talked about, as most of you know, kheyal, the sense of being moved by life, and in this very spontaneous improvisational way, that she just felt moved to say something or do something or to not say something and not do something. She said, I never do anything other than by kheyal.

I never decide to do anything, basically. She said, I'm always being moved. And that was her way of talking about being guided, to be moved.

When we are a student in this tradition, especially with me as a teacher, if I were your teacher, the sense of being guided for me is primary. Like I said, it's one of my earliest experiences.

And my personal idiosyncratic way of teaching is to talk a lot about being guided or following as the path very, very explicitly. That means a few different things for people.

First of all, in this culture, it means that you have to give up your attachment to this idea that you are going to decide things and everything's going to make sense, and you're going to be able to logically explain everything that you're going to be doing or that's happening to you, that you're going to understand it in an ordinary way.

And instead of that, you need to identify that sense of a guide, perhaps in a teacher, me, but ultimately in yourself, and ultimately from all of reality, this feeling of being guided by all of reality.

Some of you have heard me talk about this because when I was a little kid, that sense of guidance felt like it was inside. And then when I was studying with teachers, it felt like that guidance was coming from teachers.

But at some point, after I'd been practicing for a while, I realized in a visceral, direct way that the guidance was coming from everywhere, and I totally freaked out. It was like there wasn't anything happening that wasn't that guidance, and it felt completely overwhelming, that there was no escape route. [laughs]

So we have to learn to pay attention to that guidance, and we have to learn to follow that without asking questions about it. So we have to learn the feeling of that guidance.

There's a special feeling, what I call guidance from the Friend, whether that's, again, in a person or in a circumstance or your own wisdom heart or everywhere.

We have to learn to identify the special feeling of that guidance so that we can have confidence when we're following it, that it's not just our own fixation or somebody else's.

We also have to, maybe this is the hardest thing of all, actually admit to ourselves that this is what we want to do. Because we have a lot of pride. We have to do it because we want it.

To let yourself want something is very dangerous, especially something that unconventional. Because that desire, and I think we all have this intuition, we know that once we start leading a guided life, that we actually desire to do that.

The only reason anyone should follow is because they want to. That's the only reason I ever did it. It's not because someone said it was good or ethical or you'll get this or you'll get that or you'll improve yourself or something like that.

All that stuff is very secondary. It's really just because you want to. You have this desire to do it. And when you recognize that, you recognize that's it. The game is over. Once you recognize that you have that desire, and you may hem and haw and resist and rebel, but you know.

And if you're really going to be spiritually mature, you're going to embrace that, right? You're going to stop resisting.

You know, I put surrender in the same category now as acceptance. They're all very I-centered things where 'I'm going to accept you' or 'I'm going to surrender to you' or to this or to that.

Circumstances are. You surrendering to them or accepting them makes not one iota of difference. [laughs]

Right? They are what they are. Minute to minute circumstances are impermanent, so they're changing all the time. But the fact that they're happening is completely impervious to your acceptance or your surrender.

So when we say yield, it's like yielding is more recognizing the circumstance. We're in a circumstance. We have a circumstance of the condition we're in. We have circumstances of relationships and other things happening. Genocides, that's a circumstance.

To just yield to the circumstance is basically saying, I get it. This is what it is. And now I'm just going to work with it. So that was one of the famous sayings of my Dzogchen teacher, we work with circumstance.

But before we get there, we have to be like, 'Okay, this is the circumstance,' and that's the yielding part. This is the circumstance. It is what it is, and I'm going to work with it.

There's a sense of passivity around acceptance and surrender. I think of it in a martial arts sense. Like in judo, it's all about yielding. Someone pushes you and you don't resist, you go with what the force is.

But you have to be active. Because this image of surrender, especially with a teacher, can sometimes be, "Okay, I'm surrendering. Now you do the rest." It's not like that.

So think of following and yielding. If we really embrace our most essential desire in life or desires, if we let ourselves be moved by those things, our life takes on a completely different quality than a life lived through intellect and decision making and logic and coherency and explanations.

I have a question that goes along with what you were just saying. As far as there being a circumstance that we yield to, there's so many ways to perceive the circumstance. I think we often don't perceive it correctly. So that gets curious for me.

We're all going to have some degree of karmic realm vision and not perceiving things clearly. The only thing we can do in those circumstances is do our best, try to have as much clarity as possible, and do our best in working with those circumstances, including when we discover that we were wrong about it all along.

That was another famous saying of my Dzogchen teacher, we do our best. I just love these, work with circumstance, we do our best. I recognize that he was a type A character teacher, but he also had these very simple ways of relating to things, which was great.

And do our best just means in any moment, we're just going to try to call on all the capacities we have, recognizing that that's not going to be good enough, and it's okay. [laughs] We're not going to have perfect clarity.

This idea of doing your best and not having perfect clarity, because I'm a woman teacher, I think more than if I were a man, some people have wanted me to be more apologetic when I make a quote unquote mistake.

And sometimes I'm just very clumsy or do something and I apologize. But I'm just not as sorry as most people because I'm like okay with it. I'm okay if I make a mistake. I would hope that for all of you also.

Just don't be so sorry about the condition you're in, right? It's all okay.

There was a conversation on Instagram on one of your posts. It's been deleted where there was a guy who was opining in an uninformed way about the situation that was happening in Palestine. I found it super, super, super annoying. I just wonder if you have advice about how to deal with those situations.

Well, first, I want to ask you, did you have fun being super, super annoyed at this person?


[laughs] Yeah. So there was a whole bunch of people like you who were having a lot of fun just bashing this person. At first, it was, 'Okay, that person was uninformed, hadn't done their homework, and had some really dumb opinions about things. And was promoting them with great authority and not listening to people.'

And at first, people made some comments. They were angry, and that was okay. But then it just went on and on and on for days, and more and more people getting on the bandwagon of bashing this person.

And I just felt like it was energetically pointless. And one of the skills of, I think human maturity, definitely spiritual maturity, is knowing when you have an opening with somebody and when you don't.

So if you keep bashing someone that you don't really have an opening with, this person was not open to anything. It just became like a bunch of people kicking a dead body, right? That's how it felt.

And we want to use our energy wisely, and we want to only be putting our energy into circumstances where there is an opening, where there's been an invitation, where there's some remote possibility that there might be real communication and some heart opening or something might change.

On a long-winded way, getting to your question, there is a wide spectrum of people responding to what's happening in Gaza, and some of those people are completely unteachable in this moment.

It doesn't mean they'll be unteachable for the rest of their lives, but for this moment, there is no opening with some people. And then with other people, there is. Even people who are only letting a tiny, tiny little crack of light in, that's still a little bit.

And then there's other people who are really questioning and other people who are really learning a lot, like me. I feel like I'm in some undergraduate degree in the occupation right now.

But in any case, there's just a huge spectrum. We have to watch when we are just satisfying our own karmas, getting enjoyment of complaining and yelling and saying the really, really smart thing to really get this person.

I mean, how many times can you call someone a white supremacist? Plus, I felt anyway that there are so many people like that out there, and I could waste my entire life getting my yayas out, telling them what I thought of them.

So the litmus test for me, anyway is, am I serving any purpose here or not?

Can you talk also about how that relates to anger?

Yeah, absolutely. When people are angry because they've been marginalized or oppressed or genocided or whatever's happened, there's a quality of actual anger, pain. There's a quality of energy to that, and it's very, very expressive.

That's really different from the pseudo anger that was being expressed in that conversation. It was just a bunch of rehearsed cliched arguments about the usual stuff that many of us have engaged in and heard a million times before.

It's just grandstanding. There's no actual raw quality of anger energy there. There's a rote, stale quality to it.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.