Found in Translation: Surrender

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Osaka, Japan. More than one month down, less than one month to go.

Being in Japan, wandering the streets, unable to access the overabundance of information, which translates into–for a foreigner like myself, anyway–white noise, reminds me of Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation.” How he navigates Tokyo with a charming sort of disconnect.

Despite the language barrier, teaching here, reminds me how universal the language of yoga is. And thank goodness, because my embarrassingly rudimentary Japanese just barely includes instructions on breath and straightening knees.

My moments of Lost In Translation, well, they’re not too bad. If anything, they’ve been great opportunities for greater understanding .

Two weeks ago, during Satsang, we looked at the word “surrender”–quite possibly one of the most overused and often misunderstood words that pours forth from the mouths of yoga teachers. I admit, I am a fan of this word! It works so well at capturing the spirit of letting go, of relaxing into the moment.

In Japan, however, the word doesn’t translate so well.

Telling a Japanese student to surrender can be a little confusing, especially when it translates to “kofuku” or “to give up fighting.” Translated thus, surrendering seems like a strange suggestion. Give up?! But why?!

Another word, I’ve been told, that fits better is “yutaneru,” which means “to let it go.” In the yoga context it is the letting go of our tension and of our expectations and attachments; it is allowing for flow.

In Satsang that Friday, I explained that surrendering is letting go of the ideas and the patterns that do not serve us–that we give up, not a fight, but all the things that limit us, that keep us from expanding.

Truth: understanding surrender isn’t easy for any culture, for any person. We all have our holding patterns. It hasn’t been easy for me personally either. Surrendering is a constant challenge; and learning it has been at the core of my own yoga practice and life journey. Maybe that’s why student/teachers like myself keep going back to it. We know that’s what needs to be done, we also know that it’s pretty damn hard to really do it. We are all just learning.

I always remind myself that surrendering (like yoga) is a process. It’s not about achieving an end goal, but just allowing ourselves to embody the action, allowing ourselves to let go little by little and to flow more and more. Like Guruji said, “Practice, practice all is coming.”


Grateful for the lessons in surrender here in Japan. Thank you to teacher and fab assistant Tomomi Takeuchi for sharing her spot-on translation of “surrender” in Japanese. 

PHOTO: Gion Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan.

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