Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender to the Universal Self, self-surrender. I’ve heard Ishvara, often defined as the Universal Self, or God, more specifically translated as ‘the indwelling omnipresence.’ Beautiful and paradoxical, the indwelling omnipresence is like Pascal’s infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, a vastness in which to lose yourself. Self surrender is a more voluntary, less violently conceived ego-death: it’s a recognition of your limits, your small size, the amount you don’t know, and will never know.
If you believe that there is more at work in your mind and body than is accounted for in your conscious self, and if you believe that ethical behavior, physical effort and self-inquiry have helped you line up with this larger, more universal force, then self-surrender is the expression of that faith. You have the right to the labor, but not to the fruits of the labor: fruit may be coming, but it is not up to you. Man proposes, god disposes is another way to express this. Being content with the work you have done and continue to do, being content with partial knowledge, with missing things, with failing, and also without any certainty about a grand plan or a benevolent pilot, that’s self-surrender.
Does it have to contain hope to be faith? Maybe this is a semantic point. Maybe its not a future-hope but the positive sense that comes from knowing you are doing everything you can, that you are lining your fibers up with the larger pattern of grain. We try not to impede or distort the way of nature, and we trust nature, god, a universal force, to move as it will.
The ice is melting. Surrender to reality here: you can’t will it away or pretend it isn’t happening. Neither must you use this observable fact as an excuse to stop practicing, stop laboring. Continue to practice, continue to offer up your work as a gift to the Self of which you are just a tiny part. Honor the past-present-future churning, changing Self that is as much you as everyone else. And pace yourself accordingly. If you recognize your relative size and potential impact to the Self of which you are a part, the strength and unpredictable rhythm of the total force that inhabits the world, it can get easier to cut yourself slack, call it quits for the night, sleep deeply.
The faith we’re cultivating is also this: that we are all a part of the same entity, not special, superior entities charged with halting or changing others. The climate crisis is a test of the phenomenon of human consciousness, and it is only through embracing, joining and surrendering to our role as conscious humans that we’ll live our dharma. By understanding and living what it really means to be conscious humans, we’ll learn whether humans are part of the long term plan. Maybe this sounds like I’m making the case for fossil fuel nihilism, but it’s the opposite: we have to do our best, and see if it’s good enough. Probably we ourselves will never know if it’s good enough. That’s also a matter of faith.