This Indian life by Shoba Narayan: Zen and the art of self surrender

Hindustan Times | By
Aug 17, 2019 07:58 PM IST

Living with faith sounds easy, but can be incredibly hard

There is a phrase that lovers use at the tail end of a long bruising fight.

The once hurt condor steps off the cliff and flies after it’s been nursed back to health(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)
The once hurt condor steps off the cliff and flies after it’s been nursed back to health(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)

“Why are we getting so emotional about such a small thing?” one might say. “Other than health, everything in life can be managed.”

The statement reflects the hubris and humility of the human condition. Yes, you can “manage” everything in life except health. When you get abused by a boss or spouse, you can walk away. When your friends betray you, it hurts, but you can get new friends. When your parents, siblings or children mock you in the guise of a joke, you can confront them and tell them to stop it. 

So yes, a lover’s fight, no matter how serious, can be “solved” if both parties agree to set aside differences and let things drop. You know the easiest way to do this? To gain perspective on your life and how lucky you are? The easiest, and hardest way is to have a cancer scare, or have your child break bones and be crippled. There is nothing like a health scare to give people perspective.

Health is the ultimate wild card in the human condition, the one thing that even the wealthiest cannot buy. And most of us, when we are sick and vulnerable, turn to God to help heal us. There is a beautiful word that my friend, Sujatha Suresh uses in her approach to God. She says that a seeker has to experience self-surrender or sharanagathi in order to access Godliness.

There is nothing like a health scare to give people perspective. Health is the one thing that even the wealthiest cannot buy.

So today, I want to talk about surrender. Surrendering to life, love, grace and God. In my 20s, I professed that I was an atheist. In my 30s, I said I was agnostic. It was only after I turned 40 that I admitted to God. I come from a religious family but I am not very religious. I am, however, trying to figure out how faith can help me live my life. So far, I have come up with the concept but am discovering that the execution is incredibly hard.

Surrendering to a higher power is a way of life that involves trust and belief. It involves acknowledging that you are not in control. Perhaps you were never in control. Then what? Do you act? How do you act? When do you stop and give up? It turns out that surrendering to God is not as simple as doing nothing. That doing nothing is harder than it looks.

My daughter broke her ankle bone quite seriously. She needs crutches and requires surgery. Watching a child in intense pain is hard for any parent. Modern medicine has figured out protocols for every condition, so we know the road ahead. We know that she will recover. But each patient is different, and as a parent, you want to stack the odds for your child to recover quickly, to get back on her feet quickly.  

Any parent who has seen a child through surgery knows that there are frightening twists and turns on this road. You think all is going well and then it isn’t. There are setbacks, conditions crop out seemingly out of the blue. Doctors don’t have an answer, let alone a cure. It is around this time, when all seems bleak and life seems to be an insurmountable obstacle, that you come upon the concept of surrender. What to do when you have exercised all options? When you cannot “manage” the situation to your advantage? You have no choice but to surrender to a higher power and pray – try to align yourself towards it. That is the position I am in now.

Place all your burdens in the hands of God and let Her take care of you, a friend would say. I am trying to figure out how to do this.  

There is a lovely YouTube video of a hurt condor. A majestic bird with wings like Jatayu. It has been nursed back to health. There it stands at the edge of a cliff, fluttering its once-broken wings. There is a chasm out in front. The inner voice says, “If I step off, I will fall.” The Condor steps off the cliff. And it flies. Is that surrender? I don’t know. I haven’t stepped off the cliff yet.

(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents and other unique facets of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)

This Indian Life appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, August 18, 2019

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    Shoba Narayan is Bangalore-based award-winning author. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications.

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