J. Randall Stewart
14 - The Autonomous Self and Surrender - Part Two
Updated: May 23, 2020
It might not seem true to say that most of our truth systems are built primarily to enforce self-referential truth. Doesn’t religion, science, phycology, biology, actually speak to real truth about the real world? Actually, I don’t think so. These are not systems of truth. They are systems of organizing data. The term “science” actually means to organize information into categories. Therefore, the “science” of any field is merely the accepted facts about that particular field. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that facts don’t equal truth. Truth is something else entirely. Truth is what we do with those facts in order to create meaning. To say that my wife’s hair is red is a biological fact. To say she is more beautiful to me because of that red hair is a self-referential truth. To say she has intrinsic value regardless the color of her hair is actual truth. Using science to prove scientific facts is fine. Using science to say, for example, that the Arian race is more “pure” than the Jewish race is using science as a truth system, and thus arriving at the wrong truth. Truth systems are different than fields of science. Science presents raw data. It is simply “seeing” the world that is, but not seeing it for all it is. To see the world for all it is we must see the world through the eyes of God, because we must understand the innate purpose and meaning of the world. When we understand the data, but not the meaning, then we do not truly understand the world. When we do not understand the world, then we will abuse it. I know that a tree is a tree, but if I do not know that a tree is also the energy of God expressing itself through beauty, then I may only see a tree I can cut down and use for my own purposes. When I do not understand the meaning of the tree according to God, I will give it my own meaning, and end up using it with no consideration for what it means apart from me. This can also be understood as subject to object instead of subject to subject, or an "I-it" verses an “I-Thou” relationship. A subject to object, or “I-It” relationship is one where I am the subject and all else is just an “it” object I can use for my own purposes. But when I allow all other things the same status as myself (subject to subject and “I-Thou”), I elevate all things to a place of equal value to myself. When I allow all things an intrinsic dignity as bestowed from outside of me, then I must submit to a value and meaning higher than what I could give all things. And that is how surrender is the remedy to the distortion of self-autonomy.
As a thinking, feeling, creative human being, I have a choice. I can approach the world self-referentially, and only allow for the meaning I give to all things, including myself. Or, I can choose to surrender to a meaning that exists entirely outside myself, which even defines me. But make no mistake, to give a self-referential meaning to all things is to destroy them. It will even destroy me. If I cannot see a value in anything except that which I give it, I will eventually destroy everything by attempting to bend it to a purpose for which it was not made. This is how we destroy ourselves. This is how we destroy the world. When I cannot understand how the world could be something apart from me, then I will only understand it as something for me, and I will think all things should be or become what I want. Then I will never be able to know, experience, or value anything in and of itself, for its own sake. Everything will literally become only what I want it to be, and thus I will destroy whatever it was apart from me, and everything exists apart from me. Nothing, in fact, exists for me. I exist as a part of all things, and even for all things. This is a hard and humbling truth to accept. The ego-centric self will not easily accept this. I am never the center of anything. Self-centeredness is self-delusion, and the source of our greatest unhappiness, because it rests our claim of happiness on the need for all things to be what makes me happy, instead of finding true happiness in enjoying things for what they are apart from me. Nothing in the universe exists for my happiness. Happiness is understanding how all things exist for each other, to fulfill each other by simply being what they are. So, to be happy, I must understand how I exist to bring joy to others, which will also in turn bring joy to me. This is why the goal of personal transformation is selflessness. To pursue self-fulfillment as the goal would be self-centered, which would defeat the purpose. But isn't fulfillment the goal? It is, but chasing fulfillment won’t get you there. It will leave you back where you started, simply out to get everything for yourself, as unhappily self-centered as ever. A "me"-centered universe is a lonely place. Only those who have learned how to step out of a self-referential orientation are on the way to learning how to enter the flow of connectedness with the God energy in all things. It is only through this connection that we begin to find the joy of belonging to all things, as all things also then belong to us in a new way. This is what surrender is about. As I open up and surrender to the universe, it also opens up and surrenders to me. But as I attempt to control all things for my own selfish purpose, I lose all things in that pursuit, including myself. Jesus once put it like this when he said, “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Do you begin to see how surrender is the key that unlocks the door to the universe, as I gain all things by no longer trying to get them? It reminds me of that scene in the first Harry Potter book, where Quirinus Quirrell is trying to get the sorcerer’s stone which Dumbledore has trapped in the Mirror of Erised. He see’s the stone in the mirror, but cannot take hold of it, and cannot figure out why. Harry, on the other hand, is able to get the stone out of the mirror, but only because he did not want it. That is also how we are able to take hold of the world in a whole new way, by giving it up to get it.
Does that sound anything like what you consider the path to true happiness and fulfillment? I’d wager, probably not. Surrender is pretty much the opposite of everything we value in the over-industrialized first world. It is actually a dirty word to most of us, a word of weakness, a word to be feared. Surrender, we suppose, is what happens when you fail, give up, and are not good enough or strong enough to "make it". Surrender is for fools and losers. We prefer a much different “S” word. We prefer success. But the truth is, in God’s view, surrender equals success, and the kind of self-reliant, self-made hero’s we more easily identify with are those who God finds the most difficult to heal. No one who thinks themselves good enough and strong enough would ever surrender themselves in order to find themselves. So, the allure of the ego-centric self tends to win out in most peoples lives, especially in first world countries where everything comes more easily, and true struggle for the basic things is harder to find. The industrialized world works much like a clock. Everything is overly managed, and things like risk and uncertainty are greatly minimized, at least in a material sense. Little do we realize how such certainty feeds the ego but shrivels the soul. In a mechanized world, we too become just a part of the machine, where life becomes safe and predictable, but less and less fulfilling. We are certainly entertained and well pacified, but not truly alive and thriving, because we do not know how to step outside ourselves and risk losing everything in order to find ourselves. Instead, we risk losing ourselves to find the kind of security that kills us slowly, so slowly we hardly even realize it. But the ego-centric self doesn’t even know how to see such things. As long as it is pacified by the illusion of its own control, it is fine. That is, it is fine until things start going wrong. It’s not usually until things go wrong that we ever even stop to think that there may be another way to live. Thus, the kind of surrender that could save us gets traded for the kind of certainty that’s killing us. Luckily, it’s the very act of dying that saves us in the end. So, we all must face surrender sooner or later. Those who benefit from it most are those who come to understand the need for it sooner. The sooner we let go of our own control and fall freely into the hands of our eternal Lover, the sooner we will experience the kind of fulfillment found in God's tender embrace.
As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, I was blessed enough to struggle earlier than most. Depression and loneliness drove me to connect with God at a young age, in a culture which normally would have assured me I was fine pursuing the development of my young, ego-centric self. Isn’t the mantra for the youth, “you can be whatever you want.” From an early age we’re taught, not to surrender to the greater reality of God, but to take reality by the horns and make it our own. Even our very identity is ours for the making, so we’re taught. Not even most western religions teach children to seek their identity in the One who has already determined what that should be. So, we spend much of life building what will eventually be torn down, which makes surrender all the harder. The more we’ve built ourselves around the ego-centric self, the harder it will be to consider laying it down in order to find our truest self through surrender. I can tell you how hard it’s been for me to quiet my insides and stop feeling like I’m constantly failing if I’m not getting something done. I’m still a hyper kid, even at 47, with an ADHD brain and stamina. I do not like to sit still, or feel stagnant. God has taken me through some very hard lessons in stillness in order to begin teaching me that my value doesn’t come through what I can do or produce, but in simply being who I am. And that’s been hard for me to learn. It’s taken a lot of surrender, and it still is. It’s come with a lot of disappointment, from me and others, because I’ve not really succeeded at life according to the dominate definition of my own culture. For the most part, I’ve been busy at all the wrong things. I’ve spent more than twenty years in pursuit of knowing God more than building a career. And having a good career with good pay is the defining quality for the value of any person in the industrialized world. If you don’t believe me, just ask a homeless person. They are at the quintessential bottom of society for that very reason, because they are the opposite image from our ideal of success. We are capitalists, for goodness sake. We’ve even figured out how to sell grass, dirt, air, and water. What we didn’t realize is that we’ve sold our souls in the process. We found only failure in our attempt at success, because we didn’t realize the goal in the first place. What is the goal? To be a human being, not a human doing.
There is a dangerous desperation created by the need to define our own truth, not only because we have to make it, but because we have to keep reinforcing its place in the world. We must produce and solidify it, or it will not continue to exist. We literally have to learn how to fight for our truth, which also pits us against everyone else fighting for their truth, which creates a great conflict in the world. War, abuse, and oppression abound when this is our mode of truth. Human born truth systems always create conflict. That’s why the two greatest sources of all human misery in the world are religion and government, because for these people will kill and die. But truth that is real and right produces life, not death. When we enter the flow of a truth beyond ourselves, it does not have to be established or maintained by us, and therefore we do not have to fight to create or keep it. This is the truth of God. This is not the truth of man-made religion, built around the idea of God. This is the human soul coming into contact with true reality. It grounds us in something much bigger, and so much beyond ourselves, that we know and see it as something we never could control. It is only something we can choose to resist or surrender to. And when we choose to surrender to the truth that is God, it brings us peace. Truth that is real and right anchors us to that which requires nothing from us, and allows us to settle down into an energy that brings freedom from the conflict created by self-autonomy. But what does that look like in practical terms. We’ll address that as we conclude this discussion in the third and last post.