I have been a seeker and I still am,
But I have stopped asking the books and the stars,
And I started listening to the teaching of my soul.—Rumi
Who do you look to for spiritual guidance and comfort?
In the wake of global tragedies triggered by religious extremists acting as suicide bombers, I have been contemplating how one achieves the appropriate balance between spiritual surrender and self-empowerment. Both are necessary elements along the spiritual path, and they require a healthy dose of discernment.
My deep desire for spiritual liberation and peace, and a childlike openness, brought me to some amazing master teachers—but also drew me into some situations that were inherently disempowering. However, these experiences offered fertile ground for me to acknowledge that allowing my own students to give over their power in any form, including their critical thinking, is not the path I wish to emulate.
If I am to be brutally honest, there was an aspect within me that must have allowed this to occur during my own journey…the part of me that wanted to feel safe, secure, and perhaps not totally responsible for my path and choices. The part of me that was feeling small and immature spiritually, feeling that others had more awareness than I, more seniority and detachment to see the bigger picture. I took great comfort in this and willingly followed advice and choices that, though very difficult at times, felt really right. Until they didn’t…
Two stories I heard early on really spoke to me of this dilemma. In the first, one aspirant asked of his teacher, “What do you do when the outer guru says one thing and the inner guru says another?” He answered: “You follow the outer guru, who is in the flesh; he is wiser and more detached.” When I read this, it didn’t feel like the whole story. Of note was the timing. It was in the early 1970s, and many of the seekers were of the hippie persuasion, so perhaps this new spiritual path was requiring them to balance out their fierce independence, drug explorations, and lack of discipline.
The second story that my teacher shared some 20 years later was the exact opposite teaching. As she was leaving India, a man wanted to come to the main ashram in the United States and she said flat out, “No.” Two weeks later she saw him in her New York ashram and queried, “Why are you here?” The devotee replied, “While the outer guru said no, the inner guru said ‘come to America.’” My teacher beamed, and said: “Ahhh, very good!” Somehow I knew this was going to be one of my biggest teachings—to learn to trust the inner guru, even if the outer guru is disagreeing.
But how do we know the difference? Let’s explore some of the concepts that arise when balancing the need to surrender spiritually in order to open to new and ultimately liberating practices and ideas and releasing the egoic dictate that we must always be in control. The challenge here is knowing when to empower ourselves and listen to our inner knowing.
What is Spiritual Surrender?
There is a solution to our disappointments, our anxieties, and our struggles. The solution we crave is spiritual surrender. For most of us, the word surrender has a negative connotation. We think surrendering means waving the white flag and giving up.
Our dictionaries give the word the same negative spin. Webster defines surrender as: “To give (oneself) up to the power of another, especially as a prisoner.” A further definition begins more positively, even passionately: “Abandon or devote (as oneself) entirely to something without restraint, reservation, or further resistance.” But it quickly adds the cautionary example: “The individual has surrendered himself to destructive ideologies.”
True surrender is about ending the struggle in our lives and beginning our journey on a path more amazing than we could imagine. Surrender teaches us to live in love instead of fear, and advises us to surrender to God rather than pursue the path of our own misguided egos.
Spiritual surrender is not about defeat; it is about true acceptance, joy, and faith. Surrender means making the decision to stop fighting and resisting the world and what is, and to start consciously loving it instead. This state of allowing brings great peace.
Simple Steps to Surrender
You don’t even have to believe in God to experience spiritual surrender. You must only believe that there is some Higher Power or Consciousness than your rational mind, and trust that this power only reflects or mirrors your own conscious and unconscious creations. You can call that power your intuition, the Universe, the vortex, quantum field, the Divine Essence—whatever makes you feel comfortable.
You don’t have to go through these steps to experience spiritual surrender, but they can streamline the process and help you avoid a lot of pain and struggle. The steps are:
Every time you think something negative or are in fear, surrender or release that thought or feeling consciously. Find a positive perspective to reference what is going on. There is always something beneficial to your growth and understanding, even if it is to decide what you really don’t wish to experience.
Believe in a positive outcome until you can really feel it. Ask others to envision the positive outcome as well. Intend for the outcome you want, not the outcome you fear. Expect a miracle.
Let go of any attachment to the how, why, where, or when. Surrender to the infinite wisdom of the Universe to match your vibration of the positive outcome. Let go of effort.
Become quiet and listen to any guidance, action steps, or awareness that will support your process. Surrender is not just a passive state, waiting for God to bless you. It is more a releasing of your resistance to what is, then shifting your vibration to a better feeling state. Once you find the flow, move with it.
Pitfalls of Surrender: Is Devotion Disempowering?
I understand that one path of enlightenment is devotion, and I have certainly experienced the beauty of that path. I’m not saying that it is wrong for someone to be devoted to his or her teacher. But at this stage of my life, devotion or worshiping another person seems disempowering.
This can be true for any powerful influence in our lives—teachers, mentors, coaches, healers, therapists, even bosses and spouses. We give over power in so many ways and, conversely, we refuse to surrender when that is the path to peace.
On some paths, a powerful teacher insists that the devotees must constantly worship his name, form, and directives as the fastest and safest way to salvation and liberation from the pain and suffering of life now and in the hereafter. But when seekers can only project divinity onto the spiritual teacher, how can they retain or discover their own worth? In these scenarios, even though one of the main teachings is that we are all God, and all One, it is consequently incredibly difficult and contrary to find or recognize any “God within.”
Very simply put, I have noticed two types of ego responses to surrender:
The tough piece for some is surrendering their will. They are so used to controlling every aspect of their life that they fear that if they don’t attempt to control things their life will be total chaos.
Then there are those who are oh so happy NOT to be in charge of their lives—to relinquish control so that someone else is navigating and responsible.
Although I have both types of responses myself, I lean toward the second category. I longed to get out of my incessant mental chatter and self-doubt and sincerely find peace. And I received, appropriately, an extremely harrowing teaching to help me redefine my personal definition of what it meant to surrender to God.
“Take your hands off the steering wheel. Be able to say to the universe, ‘Thy will be done’ . . . and allow your life to go into the hands of the universe completely. “—Gary Zukov, The Seat of the Soul
Zukov echoes my deeply held belief that this was the way to achieve the highest spiritual state. Apparently, I had to learn some discernment here. At the beginning of my spiritual journey, I had a really hairy encounter that is pretty embarrassing to admit. I was experiencing some unusually ecstatic states, which included an opening up to what I call “divine wisdom” downloads. It felt like I was having conversations with God or at the very least a very high-level emissary. I was able to tap into wisdom and information that I clearly did not have any prior access to, and when I shared this with others they were clearly having some wondrous experiences as well, smelling scents of roses and incense, visions, etc.
I was at times being asked to share things with others that felt like a test of my faith. (CAUTION: Do not attempt this yourself!) One day, while driving on the Washington, D.C. beltway, I was in the left lane and I was instructed to let go of the steering wheel. I obeyed, nervously. Then I was asked to shut my eyes. Mind you I was going nearly 80 mph in heavy traffic! I broke out in an instant sweat and I made it about a minute or two till I couldn’t take it. I pulled over in the shoulder in the left lane, my whole body shaking in fear that I would hurt someone.
I blurted out between sobs: “If I am to follow orders, I will not take the risk that if I fail to do it right, I could kill someone, myself included. This is too much!”
Then came the revelation that these rigid beliefs of testing my faith were within me, and I had to mature in my relationship to God/Spirit. I did not have to act like a child waiting for directives from a judging parent; I had a keen mind and healthy sense of morals and would participate as a conscious co-creative partner with the Divine from that point on. I was no longer “tested” or asked to do reckless and dangerous tasks to prove my worthiness and loyalty, which had been my limited perception and deepest fear.
Toxic Religious Beliefs: Don’t think—Don’t Feel
Some people who desperately need to be under protective guidance are ready to surrender their critical thinking and moral autonomy to gain inner peace. This is escapism in a spiritual guise.
There are destructive theologies that damage intellectual and emotional development in that they explicitly warn against trusting one’s own mind and heart. Believers are not allowed to question dogma without endangering themselves. Critical thinking skills are under-valued. Emotions and intuitions are also considered suspect, so people learn not to trust their own feelings.
With external authority as the only permissible guide, children grow up losing touch with inner instincts necessary for decision-making and moral development. To act otherwise would mean independent thought or dissent, and that is a highly punishable sin. Add to that the idea that the material world is fraught with suffering and temptation, and the only way to salvation is via heaven and an afterlife, you begin to see that this disconnection from material world values in the extreme promotes the suicide bomber mentality where responsibility for this life is diminished; only the rewards in the afterlife are valued.
When we consider what someone with critical thinking skills is able to do:
- identify, construct, and evaluate arguments;
- detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning; and
- reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values;
there is no wonder why independent thought is discouraged by those who wish to control others with destructive ideologies!
What is Self-Empowerment?
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do…”
—Bible, John 14:12
Being self-empowered means that you can derive the strength to do something through your own thoughts, and it is based on the belief that, ultimately, you know what is best for yourself. Even Jesus said in the Bible that the miracles he performed were available to us.
At one of my retreats, a student, tears streaming down her cheeks, passionately announced to the group: “If I had only one word to describe Kumari and how she has helped me, I would say it is “Empowerment.” For me, this was the highest praise, as I have not only committed to use my spiritual healing and intuitive skills to support others, but I am dedicated to empower my students, as I am certain that they too can develop these “spiritual gifts” of energy healing, intuition, and co-creating a happier and more abundant life.
This has been a hard-won journey for me. Steeped in strict Catholicism during my youth, I had embedded deeply within me that a “good” Catholic follows the rules of obedience to church. When I met my first spiritual teacher, I immersed myself in Eastern lineage and guru traditions, which opened me up to a lot of grace and amazing transmissions of spiritual energy, and also opened a can of worms.
While the promise of the guru to the devotees was to take us to the experience of God-realization the fastest way—through the presence of an enlightened master—there were also teachings in the lineage of service and obedience to the guru as the highest path, and even that the guru took on your bad karma.
While I am not opposed to these paths per se, and I cherish the gifts I received, they did illuminate some of my tendencies to give over my power at times to others who seemed wiser and perhaps “more connected” to God or Source.
We Can Alter Our Destiny
Early on in my healing career, I worked with a young woman with end-stage cancer. She reported that another “well-meaning” friend said that we create our reality. This thought created tremendous pain and guilt for her as she cried: “How could I possibly do this to myself and family?”
While at first blush this can be how it feels when in an extreme situation, the knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes should not be discouraging because it also means that we can alter our destiny. This can even include at times our physical state of health, which is impacted immensely by our dominant emotions and thoughts.
What we call our destiny is often really our character, and that character can be changed. We are not bound only by the past, which has shaped our feelings toward society, religion, race, and our own backgrounds. All this can be transformed if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can shift the outcomes provided we have the courage to dissect the elements that created the underlying patterns, and re-choose.
Choosing a Spiritual Teacher or Guide
“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”—Rumi
Finding a true spiritual guide for this life is one of the most amazing gifts that can be given to you. Knowing when you are complete, when to move on, or just when it is time to graduate and live the teachings is the greatest gift you can give yourself. It takes a great deal of discernment for either to occur.
It is said that there is nothing greater than being in the presence of a true spiritual master; lifetimes of karma can be dissolved. What a blessing that the rare and extraordinary gifts of higher consciousness and supreme awareness and bliss can be transmitted from One to a devotee. I have certainly experienced this.
Just as parental love and protection should not enslave—but empower—a child, a spiritual teacher’s love and blessings, in my belief, should do the same for us if we choose to engage in the relationship. Rather than employing guilt, shame, blame, manipulative behaviors, and outright lying to coerce compliance with the party line, I believe spiritual teachers should, in general, demonstrate the qualities of loving kindness, gratitude, compassion, wisdom, joy, patience, and detachment.
That means this love and protection should let a child/student mature and become independent enough to be a responsible person from a moral point of view, and from a spiritual perspective, to ultimately learn to trust their own inner guru.
Supporting vs. Supplanting Empowerment
When I decided to leave my spiritual community, I had a day of total panic: If I no longer had my teacher to intercede on my behalf, would I lose my connection to God/Goddess? Then I dug into the underlying beliefs and fears, and I realized that it was I who recognized my teacher, and chose that path, and trusted myself when to move. I still had that within…the knowing was first and foremost mine. The outer teachings also supported this throughout…that the teacher’s job is to awaken the inner guru. That we are all One, and that God dwells within each of us.
However, some of the ancient teachings and present day messaging was quite contrary, as there was so much focus on destroying the ego, or that the guru was always right, or that one wrong choice could send you back on the karmic wheel for many more lifetimes, and on and on. In the end, it set up an inherent distrust of self.
There comes a point where you have to know this beyond shadow of a doubt. This is true for anything, spiritual path or teacher, minister, spouse, parent…we all have to choose to be responsible for our connection to our own inner knowing. No one can give you empowerment. No one can make you take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is a choice only you can make, in any and every situation.
Of course, someone in a mentoring role can either be supportive of your empowerment or attempt to supplant it. That is the trick to sort out. Are you surrounding yourself with people who genuinely want nothing more from you than for you to excel, be happy, and fully responsible for your life, your thoughts, and choices and the consequent outcomes?
Or do you tend to blame everyone else for your circumstances: the bad economy, the unloving parent, the competitive sibling, the unappreciative boss, the angry spouse.
Take a serious inventory of your world. Do you really desire empowerment? Or are you playing victim to others’ abusive or unkind behaviors? The latter is a form of dis-empowerment and it comes first from your perspective of the situation, and your choice of response. Do you truly want to free yourself from limitations and pain? When you go to the doctor, do you just want a pill, or do you want to learn to meditate to relieve stress, or change your diet? Dig deep here because I am here to tell you that sometimes parts of you are very embedded in the old painful stories, as continuing them means YOU don’t have to change.
“If we dive deeply into our body, we will find nothing but energy, light, and consciousness dancing within vast expanses of space. Our body is a shimmering web of vibrating energy. Mystics have long known this, and Western science is catching on fast.”—Jalaja Bonheim, Embracing Aphrodite
Empowerment has little to do with outer realities. Take inventory of yourself. Do the inner work that gently takes you home to yourself as you learn to consciously create. Most of the things we need to surrender are creations of our own minds—our own perceptions and resistance that make our life miserable.
When you realize the truth of who you are, an unlimited being, in an infinite field of unfolding possibilities, you will no longer surrender anything other than your own limited beliefs and disempowering feelings.
As my favorite mystic poet Rumi writes:
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop.”
Kumari is an internationally acclaimed intuitive coach, master healer, best-selling author, spiritual evolutionary, and animal mystic. Her deepest joy is empowering others to unwrap their innate intuitive, manifesting, and healing gifts. Kumari hosted “Co-Creation Activations” radio show on World Puja Network and the Internet TV program “How to Heal Anything Live.” She is coauthor of the bestselling book Empowering Transformations for Womenand just released her new eBook Animal Communication Magic & Miracles: 13 Keys to Deepen Your Bond with Your Pets, Improve Health & Change Behavior Immediately.Kumari is a catalyst for spiritual evolution. Through energy alchemy and unveiling the human/animal spiritual interconnectedness, she has helped thousands around the globe experience bliss, our true divinity and Oneness. For more information visit www.kumarihealing.com.