Surrender may be one of the most misunderstood terms of the spiritual path. It is often understood as giving up or being passive. But actually, spiritual surrender is acceptance. It’s acceptance of what is your present reality. From that space, taking action becomes far more rational.

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Clinging to the Illusion of Control

Most of us don’t want to let go until we’re smashed to pieces. Good news. A car-wreck is coming for you. Something traumatic or tragic is often the only thing powerful enough to get our attention and to show us that for how ever hard we’ve been trying, we’re really not in control. 

But even in a car-wreck, many of us still cling to that idea of control. Mentally, we’ll deny the situation. We’ll blame the other person. We’ll wish it had never happened. We’ll threaten to sue somebody–anybody or everybody involved. We’ll do ten to fifteen things before we surrender to the reality of it, which is: we’re in a world of hurt. Only when we fully accept this smoking, steaming, burning rubble that is our life can we make changes to effectively put out the fire and fix things. And of course, because we’ve been so busy fighting through life and trying to control everything, when we surrender to that reality, we quickly figure out that we have no f’ing clue what to do.

The Illusion that Life Is Going Well

That first paragraph is jarring for many people. The immediate objection is, “No. My life is great.” Maybe. Maybe not. We’re usually so ignorant that we have no context at all for what a great life looks like. We just do what we’re told, and surprisingly it is the ones with the car wreck or the heart attack who are the lucky ones because they’re shaken up enough to see that there are problems. Then they can surrender to them, and from there, they can transform.

But if the cage of the ego is too comfortable, the person thinks s/he is still in control and is succeeding. So they don’t escape the trap, and they suffer comfortably. That may sound okay, but is living in a comfortable cage really living?

Finding out You’re Wrong About Yourself

Phone a Friend or the God Hotline

If someone does begin to wake up to the suffering they’re in, then this may be one of the first times they have to ask for help. And depending on how bad things are, they may even start talking to God. Here’s how the call to God’s Hotline goes:

“Dear God. I’m in deep sh*t. Please help!”
“Oh, hey Tom. How’s it hanging? I’ve been working with these people starving in Rwanda. What have you been doing?”
“Ummm, well, I’ve been trying to make a lot of money and buy this really big house in this really expensive area.”
“Oh yeah. I heard you praying for that. How’s that working out?”
“Not so hot. Hey, but I really need you to help me out on something out.”
“Oh yeah?”
“I think my back’s broken.”
“In two places.”
“I promise if you save me, I’ll do whatever you want.”

God, of course, knows that is likely to be a temporary plea, but we often get the help we need. Everyone’s life path is different, so I can’t really generalize. But you also get the idea about what it usually takes before anyone lets go and surrenders.

Profound Acceptance and Opening to Life

As I said, spiritual surrender to our lives is a profound space of acceptance. We stop putting our filter of what we want onto life, and we fully accept what Is. This is amazing because it can transform our lives almost instantaneously. Some of you will wonder if this is a spiritual awakening. It’s more like a teaser, although for some it can be the spark for awakening your energy. But you will start to see clearly what’s right in your life for you and what needs to change. This isn’t being thought of in the same ego judgment way. There’s always ego in saying something is “right” or “wrong,” but that’s not a bad thing when it comes from a deeper acceptance of what Is. You say to yourself, “Oh this really is a crime-ridden neighborhood, and it isn’t good for me. I need to move.” You say this now instead of deluding yourself with the idea that it will improve or is improving. You see what things really are the more you surrender your ideas about what you want.

In turn, you also can open to the deeper connections that are available to you in this life. A woman or man whom you really wanted to date may transform into an amazing business colleague, mentor, or student when you surrender to what is actually present in the relationship instead of trying to force it into something else. A lot of things can flow to you when you surrender to the reality that is actually before you. 

And once again surrender isn’t passive. You can see where you need to take action. It becomes increasingly clear where you need to change and do things. The spiritual path is never one that simply allows itself to be run over by everyone else–although it can look that way to a lot of egos at first. Actually, surrendering to reality is immensely powerful.

How to Embrace True Power

Surrendering Control

Let go of what you cannot control. There’s a deeper flow in life. When we surrender to that flow, to the Divine flow, we can be pulled along. It can make life so much easier, but we still need our paddle. We still must steer our little boats so we don’t run aground or hit rocks in the river bottom. It is, however, far easier than trying to avoid the flow (sitting on the riverbank wondering why we never get anywhere) or trying to paddle against it (Are you tired of that yet?). So we learn to accept how things are and surrender to these currents.

So don’t think of surrender as giving up. Think of surrender as a call to see life clearly and a call to the most profound and sacred action possible.

5 Misunderstandings About Surrender

Surrender, Surrender, and Keep Surrendering


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.


  1. I'm having trouble understanding the active part of surrender. I feel like when I surrender, I see my bad habits take over. I end up watching myself succumb to my lower nature and give up on fighting it. It really doesn't seem to end well. If we really should give and surrender, how can we be active and reinstate our thoughts and actions? It seems contradictory.

  2. If you are acting out your old bad habits, that isn't surrender. Observing the ego and the impulses to behave poorly is surrender. When you observe, you now have a choice to act differently than you once did.

    However, you will also have to learn to do inner work. In doing inner work, you learn to observe your old thought patterns and habits and get to the root experiences that caused you to learn to act and think that way. In the process, you'll learn how to let go of those initial experiences. In so doing, the habits start to dissolve, and you feel less inclination to act them out.

    There's plenty more for me to say, and I have said it. Be sure to check out my Starting Out section to find more tools to use to work on your ego.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Thank you Jim – great article. Been wrestling with surrendering to God vs the ego's desired way.

  4. "Oh, hey Tom. How's it hanging? I've been working with these people starving in Rwanda. What have you been doing?"

    Thank you. I laughed my ass off at this.

  5. Hahaha yes thank you, an old lady told me “It’s better to laugh than cry.” This re reminded me of that (:

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