Book Club: The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer is a Can of Mixed Nuts


The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer is a can of mixed nuts: there's some really great stuff in there, but every once in a while you find yourself with a handful of weird crap you'd never want to eat.

It should be stated that I started reading this book with very little idea of what it was about. I knew it was some kind of self-help book about setting your mind (or rather, soul) free. That's it. What I realized upon reading it is that it's very much a spiritual teaching regarding mindfulness and meditation. It's all about learning to separate your identity/soul from the chatter in your head.

This is all well and good, but Singer seems to take it a little far for my tastes. In the end, he seems to be advocating for a total disengagement from everything and this is not how I want to live my life.

But before we get into that, here is some of the good stuff:

"If you're willing to be objective and watch all your thoughts, you will see that the vast majority of them have no relevance... They are simply making you feel better or worse about what's going on now."

I can definitely get on board with this idea in a general sense. The chatter of our brains never stops and changes allegiances in the snap of a finger. It can flip from telling us we are wild successes to terrible failures, and should feel great or terrible accordingly, with no real evidence either way.

A reminder of my brain's flip-floppy attempts to dictate my feelings is super helpful.

"The only way to find inner peace and contentment is to stop thinking about yourself."

Oooh boy, this is a wise word that can stand all on its own.

"You are living on a planet spinning around the middle of outer space, and you're either worrying about your blemishes, the scratch on your new car, or the fact that you burped in public."

This little extra bit of perspective - imagining myself spinning around on a tiny little dot hurtling through space - does seem to help shrink those worries down a bit. (Although it could ramp other ones up significantly if I let it.)

"Stop expecting the mind that to fix what's wrong inside you... if you feel insecurity, it's just a feeling. you can handle a feeling."

I do love the reminder that feelings are simply passing sensations and I can probably handle them, as well as this idea of letting my mind off the hook from trying to solve everything. (Although if some of my problems were created by my mind and how it interprets everything, is that not something I can task my mind with solving? It is, after all, its fault in the first place.)

"Experience the life that is happening to you, not the one you wish was happening."

Another brilliant reminder that can stand all on its own.

"You're just going to die anyways."

I am one of those weirdos who is comforted by the fact that life eventually ends. I like knowing that I will not be around forever. This serves as a perfect reminder that everything really is temporary.

Okay, now here's the stuff that feels like malarky to me:

"Unending inspiration, unending love, and unending openness. That is the natural state of the healthy heart."

I wrote this quote down and underneath just said, "Really???" in large letters. Because... really??? That seems a little extreme to me. First of all, I don't think anything natural or healthy is also unending. That's just not how things work. In fact, I am pretty sure that the pursuit of constant growth is what got our world into our current, untenable environmental and social state.

Then there was this whole chapter on just choosing to be happy and never letting anything make you not happy:

"Unconditional happiness is a very high path and a very high technique because it solves everything."

So the point here, I gather, is that you can choose to be happy by letting go of whatever is making you unhappy, and you can do this all the time. Including, he says, during a personal tragedy like your partner leaving you or a loved one dying. So basically, according to Michael Singer, it's good to go through life totally unaffected by any circumstance around you, creating a bubble of happiness around you.

It sounds a bit like the teaching of non-attachment, except super extreme. In non-attachment, as I understand it, you simply recognize that your true identity and sense of self is not wrapped up in the things and people around you. This brings an element of peace, of course, as you are less likely to identify yourself entirely with a feeling or situation, but it's not constant happiness. (Note: if you follow these spiritual practices and I'm way off base, drop a comment!)

Always being happy, no matter what, however, seems wildly isolationist. Imagine being so non-attached that you are still happy following the death of a loved one?

Here's the thing: happiness is an emotion and emotions are, as we stated earlier, temporary. They come and they go and we can survive all of them. I don't know about you, but I really don't want to live my life clinging incessantly to something that is, by its very nature, temporary. In my experience, that is a recipe for anxiety, depression, loneliness, and a whole bunch of other issues. I would much rather let the emotions exist for the period of time that they are with me, knowing all along that I am ultimately okay, even if I feel terrible right now.

Just to rub this whole "happiness as ultimate virtue" thing in, there's this:

"Do you imagine God wants to hang with someone who is happy or miserable?"

UMMMMM... If you believe in a God who will avoid and hate on you because you are unhappy, then what the heck kind of God is that? God (if you believe in one) is not happiness or bliss. God is love, and love is just as willing to sit with someone who is deep in despair as that same person when they are full of joy.

Honestly, I shouldn't be surprised that there was some weird crap in here. On Michael A. Singer's website, the tag line for his two books is "two extraordinary journeys into perfection." PERFECTION. Nope.

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