In Mysticism, what is Submission or Surrender?

It is something that is present in nearly every religion, and particularly in their mystical traditions. So what is it? What are we surrendering?

Someone recently asked me what I thought about “submission to God.” Submission or surrender is common in all spiritual traditions it seems, and perhaps even more so in their mystical communities (the very word Islam means “submission”). Here are some of my thoughts about it.

I think submission or surrender is referring to the fact that our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite, that we are limited beings that cannot understand all things, that we emerge from a deeper place than our superficial “self” or ego, that it is impossible for our intellect to truly know anything in an absolute sense.

And so we surrender that “self,” our mind and being, to something more Ultimate than ourselves, a higher Perfection or Infinite, an Absolute, a Real, from which all things are derived and in which they have being. We realize that we are limited creatures embedded in a limitless reality.

The paradox is that when we finally give up our limited finite unknowing being, when we let that identity go, we come to realize and know the deeper One from which we come and in which we are, sometimes called the true Self, the Christ Self, the Buddha-nature, the Atman, or simply God, or Ultimate Reality. We actually can identify ourselves with that, and in mystical terms realize we are One with it, in absolute perfect union with it. It no longer is an “It,” something else over there, but a Me, the “I AM.”

We can actually experience being that One, that Absolute, that Infinite Being, that God. And this I think is what is classically known as theosis, deification, divinization, awakening, salvation, liberation. When total surrender of the finite mortal temporal “self” is complete, even temporarily, then we know our deeper Being directly, the Ultimate Reality that we really are.

We go beyond all appearances, forms, symbols, to the Real. We transcend all limitations and manifestations and perceptions to what Is beyond all of that, to God its Self, the One. Then we know Reality as it is in its Self, and we are that Reality. We are no longer separate from it, in a subject-object relationship, but rather it is nothing other than what we are our Self.

I think it is related to the emotion of reverence, of awe, of something which radically transcends our everyday psychological sense of self and normalcy. It is in the presence of this tremendous awe, this reverence, that our “self” is humbled to the depths, and even suffers “death” in the presence of the immortal One that we actually are.

Where that One is, the ego cannot go, as the two are in a sense opposed to one another, and so the ego-mind must submit itself to be absolute nothingness, emptiness, a void. And when the ego is absolute nothingness, that is when we realize we are absolute everythingness, a fullness, the pleroma, the Most High, the Ground of Being, the One. It is never the ego that is this fullness, this ultimate God, but rather it is the Source of our deepest being, the substructure or foundation of reality itself. Reality knows its Self. God knows its Self.

And when we are everything, we are also Love, a oneness or nonduality which transcends all dualities, all separations, all divisions, all alienation, which brings all things together into One Great Whole. When we are egoless, when we let go of being that finite separate self in duality, we are that Love. The two become One. Every “other” becomes a manifestation of the divine Self, the Holy One.

It’s been said that the last thing you surrender is doubt, and I think that is true. Then you know, and you are the knowing itself. You don’t know some “thing” else. You are the knowing, the experience of being, the consciousness of reality, the energy behind all things that are. Then you know who/what created all things, because you are That fundamental principle, that unmanifest Divine, that hidden mystical ineffable Reality which unfolds itself into all things, that process or creativity through which all Beings are made manifest, and which exists from eternity to eternity.

That is how I interpret it from my experience. How do you interpret submission or surrender? Please share with us in the comments.

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9 thoughts on “In Mysticism, what is Submission or Surrender?

  1. In the meditation classes I teach, we always come to this point because surrender or submission are so important. It works for me when I say this is surrender like surrendering to a lover– like the mystical Bhakti movement, like the Divine as the Beloved. This loving surrender can only happen in total trust. It’s like taking off your clothes and opening your body, knowing that you don’t know and that the Beloved will not hurt you and that ecstasy is part of this. It’s the intimacy where everything is known and there is only love. So then, in that understanding, the word surrender is quite wonderful.

    1. Beautifully put, Jean! Yes, it is a surrender to Love, to the Beloved, which we come to realize we are, and everyone else is also. The Divine is Love, it is the Beloved, it is union, it is oneness, it is Reality. We become totally “naked” in that encounter, completely vulnerable, trusting totally that Love will keep us, that Love will catch us, that Love will save us, that Love will endure. This can be terribly frightening in the beginning, for the ego, until the ego gives itself up, and we come face-to-face with that Love and Peace that surpass all understanding, and we realize we are One with it. For the ego it is perhaps a horror, but for the true Self it is bliss and truth and wonder without end.

  2. In my experience, surrender means self mastery. A alignment of your will with the will of God. If we understand that God is present within us, ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you’, from my point of view surrendering means giving up self sabbotage which is a expression of the element of irreduciable rasquality, or yezer hara as the jewish name it.
    It is about realizing, or understanding, that what you really want is actually what the divine within us wants, and making concious choises.
    I know l’ve used a lot of concepts, but it’s actually pretty simple, as I’ve written on a blog post of mine.
    If you realize what you really want, surrendering means to act based on this realisation.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Sergio. What if what you really want is narcissistic, and ego-driven? Is that the will of God? Is that what the divine within us wants?

      1. The idea is to contemplate on what you want. If you allow yourself to think about it for long enough, that is to think from a deeper level and not superficially, the expression of the divine will becomes clear.
        You arr right, superficial thinking can produce desires which are narcicistic in nature, and that is not the will of the divine.
        One cannot force himself to see what is the will of the divine. All one can do is to let the though process running until the water becomes clear.

  3. Bryce, you know I try to be very practical – to apply even the metaphors of mysticism to the choices I make on a daily basis – the components of my thoughts. I think there are thought processes, assumptions, learned “givens” that form the basis for our relationships – even if those relationships – with other people, with the world, with ourselves – are manifest only in our thoughts – even if we keep them to ourselves. Self-protection, judgment, guilt, fear (of course), the need to control the future, rue the past, (even at the expense of having joy in the now), control, competition, contention, etc. These are all things that are built into what we call the ego. I think surrender is believing that these thought processes are inconsistent with, and resistant to, love. Surrender, for me, is to desire to BECOME love, and surrendering my dependence upon these other paradigms. Surrender is realizing that they are mutually exclusive with love, and since I prefer love, I must surrender my dependence upon them. I want love more. This takes great faith. It takes great courage. This is the proverbial faith in Christ, because Christ (Jesus became the Christ) is love. This is what it means to believe in Him. Only it’s, of course, more than Him, because He is just the manifestation of the principle that we can all become Him – BECOME love. This is the oneness of John chapter 17. This is what it means to KNOW God and Christ (again John 17). This is eternal life. The others are death. So, to surrender, ironically, means to choose life over death.

    Thanks for the invitation to read and share.

    1. Great thoughts, Scott. Thank you. For me, we are already Love, but this has been obscured, veiled, covered over by the ego, hidden within us by this “devil” or shadow we call our typical empirical “self,” the “natural man,” this “enemy of God,” by our dualistic state of consciousness, the inner critic, judge, subject-object thoughts, etc. It’s our default psychological state as an adult human. We cannot realize the Love that we are, the One that we are, until we transcend this state of consciousness, until that “separate self” surrenders itself to the Love that we truly are, the Mystery of being, the Holy (Wholly) One. In my view, we cannot become what we already are, and the ego can’t become it either. All we can do, it seems to me, is to let go of the ego, to surrender this self that we think we are, and realize the Divine Reality that is already present within and in all beings and things.

      I’m reminded of Rumi: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Presumably once we find those barriers, we let them go, we give them up, we surrender them.

  4. Certainty of oneness overcomes most of the uncertainties of this life; liberation from ego and individuality leads to a freedom seldom experienced in worldly existence. Many of the downsides of ordinary living become upsides during divine living.

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