The Art of Surrender

By Acharya Samvitti Devi

surrenderIn the visual arts there is the theory of "negative space." Negative space surrounds the subject of the art, the object one is observing. The negative space is the atmosphere that brushes up in an intimate but often unnoticed border with the art object itself. When it creates a provocative dialogue, shape, or juxtaposition with the perceived piece of art, it becomes relevant in and of itself, creating a third aspect between the viewer, the viewed, and the larger atmosphere within which both the viewer of the art and the art itself is being held.

So what might the art of negative space have to do with the spiritual art of surrender? To start, we might consider what we habitually observe. We can be fairly certain the object of our internal observation takes the form of mental thought patterns or emotional states or attachments. Externally the object we observe may appear as a physical manifestation that represents and reinforces either an internal thought or emotional narrative of need. Need is a belief that there is some kind of lack in our life or ourselves. But what if we considered that the perceived lack is actually an indication that we are not seeing the bigger picture, the negative space, the larger field that is simply and always present? Then surrendering is an act expanding our vision into a larger wholeness.

In our Western culture surrender is a loaded word, often signifying weakness and defeat. But let's look at the etymology surrounding this word. The root origin of the word is "render," and in Old French, "surrendre," meaning to give up, but also to deliver over. The original word surrender implied giving back, but also to restore. In this sense, when we give up an attachment or an emotional clinging to a thing or outcome, we are restoring that energy to its original source; we are giving it back. But this begs the question, what are we giving it back to? Does it just go into a void?

Let's entertain for a moment the possibility that there is no void. No vacuum. But there is boundlessness. There is unlimited freedom. The experience of the void is a temporary state, but the experience of true freedom is eternal. The art of surrender confronts us first with the fear of letting go, the feeling of "oh my god there is nothing here," to the realization that "oh my god, all potentiality is here." The negative space is holding you as the observer, and anything--in fact everything--that you have ever observed, is held within that space. And that space is also you.

This brings us back to the notion of negative space in art, and the art of spiritual surrender. When we begin to soften the boundaries around who we think we are and what we are capable of perceiving, and widen our lens of perception, we may notice a subtle shift in our awareness. In Tantra, pure consciousness is this field underlying, surrounding and permeating all objects, similar to the metaphor of negative space. Our capacity to be conscious of consciousness itself is called vimarśa. The art of surrender is to use our power of self-reflection to give back to the divine our sense of limitation, so that we may know ourselves as perceiver, and even the field in which our perception arises. Both positive space and negative space dissolve into one space, and that space is pure consciousness. Doing this takes practice, but it is a joyous practice of restoration, of surrendering our limitations so that we may experience ourselves as unlimited, boundless joy.