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From Stubborn to
the Joy of Sweet Surrender
by Sarah Porter
Audio version of this article.
Sat Chit Ananda Guru Ki Jay.
Have you ever been called stubborn? Well, I hadn’t!! I had never been called stubborn before in my life. In fact, I had been called the opposite, like a push over and wishy-washy. So, it came as quite a shock to me especially considering the person who said it to me was none other than my highly revered and adored Sadguru Kedarji. I had to ask him if he meant I was inflexible. He said no, that stubborn was refusing to do something that I knew I should do while inflexible was rigid, not wanting to change how I do something. Rigid I recognized. Stubborn I did not. I set about to understand stubborn first at arms- length, that is by googling what others said about it and then by examining my whole life looking for patterns of stubbornness. And finally, I was able to ask myself what is the highest understanding of stubbornness, what is the spiritual significance? Why didn’t I just start with that last question? – because I was being stubborn.
What is Stubborn?
I googled: What does it mean to be stubborn? What is the definition of stubborn? I found this information. Stubborn is being obstinate; refusing; unwilling despite good reason; intractable; controlling; hardheaded; being right at all cost and ‘my way or the highway’ (okay that one I had heard about me but only one time.). I began thinking back about other people I knew whom I considered stubborn. My parents were stubborn about getting themselves into assisted living. My friend is stubborn about her medical needs and tries to figure it all out by herself, even though she knows she usually gets it wrong. I’ve had clients be stubborn about establishing a healthy life-style even though that is what they say they wanted. I worked with someone who had the reputation for always saying no, that won’t work, or you can’t do that. It wasn’t that they were just being stubborn because I wanted them to do something, it was their automatic response.
Waves of Stubbornness
As I examined the ‘stubbornness trends’ in my life I saw that my first dim awareness began when I was in my early 20’s. I was rubber-tube river rafting with my finance. We got knocked off our tube in the turbulent white water. He quickly swam to the river bank. I managed to grab onto a boulder in the middle of the rapids and was hanging on for dear life. He yelled, “let go – what are you waiting for?” I realized that I was foolishly waiting for the river to slow way down, so I could easily swim across. I was waiting for safety and security. There was no hope for it; I had to let go and swim for the river bank. Even then The Divine was with me even though I wasn’t aware of it. What an auspicious beginning!!!!
Root Cause – What Was I Trying to Accomplish?
Six decades later I am now wondering what is being accomplished by being stubborn, hanging onto boulders; what is the purpose? As I contemplated that question, I realized I was using stubbornness to preserve my sense of self, my autonomy – however misguided and mundane that was; I was afraid to let go because I thought I would lose myself and be engulfed/disappear; I wanted to avoid the pain or fear of unpredictable new/novel situation.
Thinking back to myself as a child, my older sibling bullied me mercilessly or so it seemed. My parents were always telling me to stand up for myself, but it seemed I was unable to do that because my sibling would just push me around again, harder. I didn’t learn how to set boundaries, express healthy anger, or know what I wanted. I learned to cower, capitulate, to ingratiate myself, and to please at all costs or just ‘dig in my heels’ and not budge. I was timid, insecure, and fearful. The women’s movement fed into that perception, “look how men have been pushing us around”. As an adult I fought this primitive child-like sense of “you can’t tell me what to do” and the only way to protect myself or to fight back was to dig my heels in (the other definition of stubborn). I thought that was how I could maintain my autonomy and agency. But does stubborn really confer autonomy? Does stubborn protect my true identity or conceal it?
Who Am I or Who Do I Think I Am?
It is impossible to understand stubborn without addressing one’s identity. Who do I think I am? When I think I am just my body, my ideas, my constructed view of who I am in the world, my knowledge-base and skill-set, my roles of mother, nurse, sister, friend, career, etc. then any request to relinquish any of those positions poses a threat to my identity and sense of autonomy. A request to give up my self-made identity in favor of a new one induces fear and I stubbornly cling to my self-made identity.
My Risk-Ratio Comparison – Is It Worth It?
Risk- ratio is a way of examining a situation or behavior to learn what is gained and what is lost if I make particular choice. Am I better off or not? In my examination I found that what I gained was a false sense of control and autonomy. What I lost by being stubborn was the art and practice of being totally committed to something like my marriage and job because part of being stubborn involves half-hearted commitment, leaving doors open for an exit, superficially buying into something and flying under the radar. There was always that private place within my being, my fortress where no one touched – that was my Self that my ego was claiming as its own.
The great Sadguru Swami Muktananda Parmahansa shared this parable: “The river worries, “What will happen to me if I lose myself in the ocean? But the river is deluded; its fears of being obliterated are groundless. If it gives itself up to the ocean it will live forever. The river is afraid it will lose everything, but in fact when it merges into the ocean it will become the ocean. When its limited individuality is erased how joyful it will become. When the banks that bind it and make it small are destroyed, how great it will be! Once its existence as a river has been erased, it will never again know birth or death. But before that happens, it is afraid to give up the banks that hem it in, fearing that is will lose its form, its name, its individual existence and its identity.” (Muktananda, 1980, The Perfect Relationship, p. 138-39). The river is like my ego.
My Way or the Highway – or Surrender. Are Those Really My Only Two Choices?
The more I contemplated this parable the more I realized that it was not possible to grasp the significance of my stubbornness without also looking at the quality of my surrender. The two have the same type of relationship to each other as do love and hate. One cannot be in both states; it is either or. I had to face that, because I tried to have both just to keep my options open – in spiritual life that is having an exit door, an escape clause. And it was my insistence on an escape clause that kept me from complete surrender. Kedarji says, “Surrender is not handing over your free will to someone or something else. Surrender is the act of engaging your will, to align yourself with God, so that you can experience your Oneness with Him. That was what I wanted.
I Also Just Wanted to Feel Good
Autonomy requires capacity to make an informed uncoerced decision, competence to understand options and consequences and ability to evaluate personal values and priorities. Stubbornness precludes that openness and willingness to change behavior based on such reflection. When we base our identity on anything other than the Self, the Divine, the Supreme Intelligence we run the very high risk of becoming attached or addicted to our ideas, way of doing things, opinions, and beliefs – in other words, addicted to the ego. We have centers in the brain that release the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine that rewards the behavior. We seek this reward, this pleasure to avoid pain. I found that the more my mind was restless and agitated the more I was seeking this feel-good reward, but neither was it enough, nor was it sustainable.
The Joylessness of a Restless Mind
My stubbornness was a function of my misunderstanding of who I was, which left me without sufficient experience to engage in risk/ratio comparisons which is a function of autonomy. This left me with an ongoing restless mind that only reinforced my attachment to my ego and my unending stubbornness. Kedarji teaches: Surrender is eliminating, by way of letting go of the notions of ego personality and all associated limitations. To surrender is to have a still mind, to be in the state of Silence where the mind dissolves. Swami Muktananda (1980) goes on to say: “Only when the mind stops wandering can one be certain that one has become absorbed in God. When one achieves this absorption, one feels that one has suddenly fallen into the ocean of God. There is nowhere to go and no sadhana (spiritual practice) left to follow. This is true surrender; it is the gateway to the Truth.” (p. 141). Practicing letting go of the need to be stubborn, surrendering to the Will of my Sadguru is a daily practice, which begins every morning with my prayer of asking that my will be the will of my Sadguru. Calming my restless mind by following the meditation instructions has allowed me to experience the Bliss and Joy of a dissolved mind. Practicing the art of surrender is ongoing moment-to-moment — as I discover layers and layers of subtle attachments to my construction of reality. I could not continue without the Grace of my Sadguru Kedarji.
Om Guru Om.
Sarah Porter, PhD MS MPH RN CHTP/I is a certified healing touch instructor, teaching in Hawaii and Japan. She has over 15 years of Healing Touch practice and 30 years of practice as a psychiatric mental health nurse and clinical specialist with a holistic perspective. She is the co-author of the book, “Women’s Health and Human Wholeness”, emphasizing the necessity of bringing wholeness back into the health care system. She also serves on the Board of Directors for our school