The Truth About Surrender.
Surrender is a widely misunderstood word.
The sentence Women need to surrender is pronounced with great authority in both Western Tantra courses and from Southern Baptist pulpits. While the Southern Baptists are upfront about their use of surrender to mean submit, and use both words interchangeably, Western Tantrics tend to avoid the old-fashioned word submit, and stick to using the word surrender.
When you listen to Tantric teachers though, it is often apparent that this vocabulary choice is purely cosmetic. When they say surrender, they often mean submit, and they actually don’t understand the distinction between the two.
What is the difference between surrender and submission?
There are several key distinctions between surrender and submission.
1. Submission requires a power differential.
This power differential may be created consensually, as when a submissive chooses to give control to a dominant in a BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism) relationships, or it may be non-consensual, as when a partner uses physical or emotional violence to intimidate their partner into complying with their wishes.
The power differential may also be situational, as when an employer or a landlord tells an employee or a tenant, If you don’t like it, you can leave.
In all these cases, one party has power over the other, and the submitting party is complying with their wishes because they are exercising that power.
While we would use the word surrender to describe what an army does when surrounded, outnumbered, and out of ammunition, if a person were in an analogous situation in an intimate relationship, we would not call it surrender, we would call it submission, because there is a clear power imbalance.
‘Surrender’ is an energetic movement which can only take place in the dance between two equal beings.
2. Submission is a change of state, from autonomous to dependent.
While we always have a choice in life, sometimes the consequences of defying someone are more terrible than we are willing to endure, so we do submit. When we do something because another person has power over us, there are biological, emotional, and mental changes which occur.
Both internally and externally, we cease to exist as a fully autonomous human being, and start to be energetically and emotionally entwined with the person who holds the power. The part of the psyche that defends our boundaries is suppressed.
Submissives in consensual relationships enjoy these changes, and trust their dominant to make decisions with the best interests of the submissive in mind. People in abusive relationships can take years to regain their sense of self after they leave the relationship, and can feel horrified, and even ashamed, that they changed so much while they were with their abuser.
‘Surrender’ increases autonomy and self-awareness.
3. Submission is an energetic contraction of attention, to focus in on the person with power.
In consensual relationships, submissives enjoy the sensation of their mental world narrowing to a single focus on what will please their dominant. There is a sense of security analogous to the comfort infants feel when they are tightly swaddled.
In abusive relationships, this narrowing of the attention is a survival mechanism, and is accompanied by intense fear.
‘Surrender’ is an expansion, an opening in which we can focus more on exploring and expressing our true self.
Surrender and gender
Because we live in a patriarchal society, in which men hold power simply because they are male, submission is seen as naturally occurring in personal relationships, where women naturally defer to men.
Of course, in truth, in a patriarchal society, women defer to men for the same reasons employees defer to employers, tenants defer to landlords, and students defer to their gurus: the situation they are in gives that person power.
Tantra originally arose in a culture very different from our own, in which women were seen as more powerful and closer to God than men, because of their ability to bring forth life from their bodies. A woman’s body was seen as a bridge between this world and the world of Spirit, and therefore, quite literally, a temple. Sacred. Holy.
For people raised in a patriarchal and puritanical culture, it can be almost impossible to imagine what relationships between the sexes would be like when women were seen as more Divine than men.
In this culture, men would surrender to the Divine by surrendering to women. Women worked within their sisterhood to maintain a deep connection with their Divine nature, and men connected with women to receive a direct, personal transmission of that wisdom.
The men would not submit to the women; there was no notion of giving up their autonomy. In matters of material life, men had important responsibilities, which they would continue to perform without needing direction or advice from women. They would, however, worship the Divinity in the women, and allow the influence of the women to bring them into closer contact with their own Divine essence.
In our patriarchal culture, the sisterhood, which kept women in close contact with their core selves and the Divine, has been dismantled. Women are being forced to operate as separate individuals, drawing on their yang qualities of focus, direction, and efficiency to survive in a world which doesn’t value connection, nurturing, and receptivity.
In our culture, both men and women suffer from a fundamental disconnection from the Divine. Both men and women need to be led back to their Divine essence. Both men and women yearn for a direct, personal transmission of profound, connected wisdom, which will make them deeply aware of the boundless Divine which lies within them, yet beyond the realm of their limited ego.
Both men and women desperately need to surrender, but not to just anyone. It used to be the case that women were trained from childhood to provide this connection to the Divine, but that doesn’t happen in our culture today. Surrendering to a random woman will rarely result in a profound spiritual experience.
Modern Tantrics have reversed the prescription, training men to provide women with a gateway to the Divine, with mixed results. Surrendering to a random Tantra-trained man will also rarely result in a profound spiritual experience.
We don’t have many dakas and dakinis (Tantric initiators) these days.
Fortunately, we still have the Divine.
While it may take some practice when your partner hasn’t trained for a lifetime to take you on this journey, you can learn to connect to the Divine within yourself by surrendering to the Divine within your partner.
Remember, surrender is an energetic movement which can only take place in the dance between two equal beings.
By surrendering to the Divine within your partner, you are automatically, inescapably, acknowledging the Divine within yourself. Only the Divine can surrender to the Divine.
The more you see your partner as an embodiment of the Divine, the more you experience yourself as the same embodiment of the Divine. Ultimately, the distinction between self and other disappears, and there is only the Divine.
This, and only this, is true surrender.
And it is an essential part of the Tantric spiritual path for both women and men.
Jenny Hale has an Honors Degree in Psychology, and had a successful career in academia, consulting, and executive coaching, before leaving the corporate world to pursue her passion — empowering people in non-traditional relationships. She has over 15 years of experience building community in polyamorous, D/s, and sacred sexuality communities, and providing support to people to negotiate the relationship structures that serve their highest selves. She runs discussion groups, workshops, and one-on-one sessions, focusing on relationships as a pathway for personal and spiritual growth. Read more of Jenny’s articles on Omooni.