Book Report: Untethered Soul

I just finished reading The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer. I don’t typically read contemporary spirituality-themed books but I happened to see someone talking about it on YouTube and their description and reaction to the book struck a chord. After reading it, I’d say the premise aligns well with my current understanding of existence. What follows is my interpretation and summation of the book.

1
An internal dialog plays constantly in our mind. Yet this voice is not who we are, it simply exists as a spectacle to be observed. Our life is much improved when we don’t identify as this voice, but merely watch it as an interested audience member. We are the one listening, not the one talking.

The words are essentially meaningless-chatter that drift to whatever titillates most. This gossip, this chatterbox, does not speak truth, only what evokes excitement of some sort. And due to the constant complaining and disparagement, life can seem a dismal place. As a result, our physical-world problems aren’t really the root of our dissatisfaction, it’s this faultfinder.

The way out of this state of dissatisfaction is to identify with the observer, not the voice.

2
The inner dialog always seeks a conundrum to mull over. If one is solved, another need fill its place. But it’s best to realize that the mind simply seeks something to do, these problems are not ours — we’re simply the watcher.

We become dissatisfied when we allow our awareness to get lost amongst these problems. It’s more enjoyable to pull-back a bit where we can comfortably observe. Our inner dialog is a reliable source for drama, not discernment — so creating distance allows us to appreciate this predicament.

3
Everything changes, yet there’s a continuity of awareness — the part that watches keeps on watching. The cavalcade of thoughts, emotions, and outer objects compete for the attention of this experiencer. Remove this awareness and there’s nothingness, thus we are the perpetual observer.

4
Lucid living, is remaining aware of our own awareness. Full and complete immersion is traded for a farther focus. Instead of getting lost in the action, believing we’re the character on stage, we maintain our perspective as an audience member enjoying the show.

So instead of directly focusing on the fleeting things before us, we can focus on a singular thing: our awareness itself. This is what it means to be awakened. The show goes on while we watch it — yet now we’re aware of being the watcher.

And as we keep zooming out, we realize we’re not as limited as our tight focus led us to believe.

5
As dramatic episodes throughout our life demonstrate, motivation and energy do not derive from food or sleep. Energy is always available, we simply refuse to use it, closing ourself off instead.

To utilize this endless energy, we must remain open, always. We can’t set conditions and close when they aren’t met. Total enjoyment requires complete openness.

No matter what happens, embrace it with an accepting attitude. Make it a game if you must. We define limits that when crossed, cause us to shut down. We need only stop setting these traps.

Fostering this energy is of the utmost importance, as ethusiasm can make every experience more enjoyable and can heal what ails us. We encourage this energy by never closing. Whenever we feel the urge to shut down, we simply relax and release to remain open.

6
Inspiration, enthusiasm, confidence, and strength arise from a source deep within. We restrict the flow of these resources by closing ourself off in response to life’s ongoings.

Life’s ongoings are simply scenes meant to be experienced in the the brief instance they’re presented. They stimulate and delight as they parade by, one after another. Our only response should be to appreciatively watch whatever is in front of us.

It is in error to get stuck on a particular detail and shun the oncoming scenes. Obsessing on a passing part causes problems, creating a persistent blockage. Eventually new events start passing but accumulating obstructions serve to restrict flow.

Whether delightful or disturbing, we mustn’t cling onto scenes that are meant to be momentary. We mustn’t fight the narrative before us, but rather let the spectacle play out unimpeded. Our role is to relax, laugh, and feel whatever’s called for in the moment — this is how we enjoy the show.

7
When we perceive life as unpleasant or even dangerous, we pitifully attempt to protect ourself. In doing so, we avoid engaging with life. We recoil with horror anytime life upsets our delicate bubble of minimal participation.

Yet there always seems to be something attempting to break through this defensive shield. This predicament leaves us feeling anxious, as if life is out to get us. Our goal therefore, is to stop maintaining a blockade. And once we stop being defensive, we’re free to roam without a care.

Whenever we sense a disturbance, we should refuse to follow. Instead, watch and let it pass. Attempting to defend only delays its journey. We must refrain from focusing on these disturbances lest we invite them to stay. The more attention we give them, the more their power to disturb increases.

As soon as we feel bothered, we must “relax and release”. For this simple little practice, we’re rewarded with an ability to enjoy our experiences. We no longer follow the melodramatic mind down dreary pathways. We make our fun by refusing the pull, letting go instead.

Over and over we’ll feel a tug or a pull, but each and every time we must “relax and release”. We always have that ability, we need only apply it. No matter the picture painted in the mind, it’s best to let go – remain open and aware.

8
When we fear life, we see potential calamity everywhere. We then struggle against this perceived danger, plotting the safest course through a perilous landscape. We attempt to run from the wild beast that is life.

But why do we believe life is a precarious predicament that must be battled under constant threat of doom? Why did we so willingly accept that premise? Is our fear even valid? Perhaps life would unfold just fine without our caution-based intervention.

Why should our entire existence be based on the assumptions of a scaredy-cat? Of course everything will appear frightening from that perspective. If we would only dismiss the fear, the world would not appear so bleak and hostile.

Life is simply surrounding us with stimulation. If we willingly accept and appreciate the scenes flickering by, allowing them to pass through without pausing, life is easy. Whenever a scene upsets us, we must immediately let go — outrage is not the option we want.

If we follow the upsetness, getting distracted by the disturbance, we get lost again. Our perception becomes tainted and the world looks repulsive. But conveniently, we can use this irritation as a trigger, reminding us to “relax and release”.

The worst thing to do, is listen to the disturbed mind’s opinion on the matter — it’s in no position to fix anything. We especially don’t want to express this negativity externally, polluting our surroundings, where it will eventually come back to bite us.

To avoid these complications, we need only let go when we notice the initial negativity. Focusing on negativity feeds it. Instead, use these disturbances as triggers to open and release, letting them pass through without delay.

9
When we attempt to hide from what hurts us, we’re letting fear direct our life. We think we’re protecting ourself from the hurt but we’re actually focusing on it, allowing the fear to thrive. And by avoiding so much in our surroundings, we limit the life we live.

Our most incapable component should not be leading the way. To stop this, we must focus on who we are: we are not the hurt, we are the observer. When we stop fiddling with it, the hurt goes away. Poking at the pain exacerbates it.

We must understand that we’re the one observing the drama. They’re just feelings and ideas floating by, we simply watch. Emotional experiences occur, we just don’t get lost in them. Enjoy the spectacle, and it’ll pass.

It’s much easier to identify as the audience instead of a character riddled with problems. Things get simple, comfortable, and energy just flows. We merely watch and appreciate the parade passing before us.

10
We must choose: do we want to enjoy life, or not? Do we want to keep imagining life is a horrific experience? Do we want to keep believing that we don’t deserve the goodness of life, that we need to be punished for some reason?

For dissatisfaction to end, we must admit the absurdity we accepted as a way of life. We unwittingly asked our mind to solve our existential angst through worldly means. The poor mind is worn out. Any output provided by this weary mind is inevitably defective.

We’re always bothered by something. Whether by lingering problems or by new ones that regularly spring up, we always have a problem with something. Yet, our actual problem is not with these particular problems.

Our problem is that we’ve been fearfully fighting life. Yet life has been on our side the entire time, there’s no struggle to be had. We don’t have to figure out how to live life correctly, the answers just come when we trust in life’s benevolence.

All we have to do is stop being afraid, trust, and know that nothing needs fixing. Stop worrying, and the need for worry stops. We shouldn’t engage with anxious thoughts, just watch them and they go away.

We are the watcher of thoughts, not the thoughts themselves. Thoughts can’t protect us and they can’t fix our problems, we should simply stay aware as they pass. As we lose focus, we become free of their influence.

We can’t get lost while we’re aware. We can use the drama as a reminder to remain seated in awareness. Just watch the mind. With everything that stirs our clinging or closing: “relax and release”.

11
We run too often from the fear of pain. All this pain avoidance makes us overly sensitive. Our over sensitivity makes us even more afraid of pain, which creates a horrible cycle of suffering.

Without the fear of pain, we’d roam around in a relaxed state, accepting life’s circumstances and enjoying ourself. To get there, we must change our perspective about pain. When things get intense or don’t go as planned, we shouldn’t label that experience as painful. As an audience member, we can simply sit back and be amused by it.

We mustn’t be afraid of this world, but trust in its goodness. Anytime negativity manifests within, we must release the feeling, not follow it, open and allow it to pass. When we freely allow these disturbances to come and go, no longer focusing on them, we’ll find our greatness.

12
There’s a brilliant world outside of our mind. Yet we’ve been locked up so long we can’t fathom it. We’ve been living inside of a self-constructed artificial inner-world in which happiness depends on meager handmade scraps.

We’re aware of nothing beyond this confined space, a tiny structure formed from our thoughts. Life in its benevolence regularly attempts to tear down these walls, yet we stand ready to ceaselessly defend them.

We can break free of this self-imposed prison and move into the brilliance beyond, becoming enlightened. We simply allow life to break down the barriers. Life will reclaim whatever we don’t maintain.

13
We must stop defining life in limited ways. We’ve only ever looked at life with our nearsighted perspective, making everything appear cramped. We then struggle to understand our situation based on this underdeveloped model of reality.

Our task is to shed these self-imposed limits. Whenever they’re reached, dismiss them and keep going. We must trust in the goodness of life to carry us through (just as it always has, even though we’ve so far failed to appreciate it).

14
Everything that surrounds us is fleeting. Whenever we attempt to hold onto these flickering images, we suffer from frustration as the mirage slips through our fingers. We cannot cling to what is temporary.

The one constant among these fading moments, is our awareness. We are not thoughts, emotions, or sensory data — we are what’s aware of these experiences. Yet if we focus too much on these things, we lose ourself in them.

Just as we get absorbed in books and movies, our awareness gets absorbed in existence. But when our concentration focuses too intensely, and we pause on the passing scene, we bind ourself to it. All these recorded scenes remain with us, skewing our perspective for what comes next.

We replay these recorded scenes over and over until they become the basis of our understanding. We imagine that this is who we are, but it’s not, it’s just a mishmash of clips that caught our attention. We must delete this stored data and allow life to pass by un-archived.

If we just let life play out without getting lost to it, the struggle ends. One scene after another parades before us as we sit comfortably in the audience watching it all fly by, an amazing spectacle of light and sound. All we have to do is react lightheartedly to the ongoing amusement.

We are not in charge of directing our life. We’ll lose that struggle. The passing scenes aren’t ours to capture. We don’t want to live as a character of our own confusion-based creation. There’s nothing to do but watch: sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

15
We don’t achieve happiness by grasping, but by letting go. In other words, we can’t impose a set of requirements on life that must be met before we’re willing to be happy. We have to accept everything as it is, right now — that’s what happiness is: inexhaustible acceptance.

Circumstances don’t matter, perspective does. If we don’t want to be afflicted by drama, then we mustn’t let anything bother us, we mustn’t cling to a set of expectations about life. Life always presents events that challenge our preconceived notions.

When we feel discomfort developing, we have to let go and just enjoy the experience of life as it’s happening. This is how we win the game of life: just stay open and accepting no matter what. Happiness then becomes our path to true spiritual enlightenment — meditation becomes a practice to reseat our awareness.

With a habit of happiness, we gain purpose and a path. We align with creation itself as we appreciate our existence to the fullest. We no longer criticize life or apply limits that limit our happiness. We come to know the infinite, we come to know true joy.

16
Strain and anxiety are not essential ingredients of existence. We need not live a life riddled with dilemmas. Life doesn’t need to be interpreted as a tragedy. When we simply watch and appreciate, we can know contentment.

Our awareness can refuse to accept the scene happening before it. But by doing so, we give the scene significance and make it memorable, we aren’t stopping it from occurring in the first place.

Our underlying problem is with our reaction to the scenes we see inside our head. Worrying about the past, present, or future is just wasting energy. We should be ready in every moment to receive the continuous stream of life as it flows through us, providing to it our full attention.

To fix this, we have to cease our outrage and calm our overreaction. We mustn’t bring a frame from the previous scene into the next scene. Leave whatever happens where it happens.

Essentially, we have to trust in life’s benevolence. Our negative reactions stem from our fear and unmet expectations. If we’re not scared and we perceive all outcomes as positive, there’s no problem. Life happens and we naturally react in a comfortable way.

When we’re no longer criticizing and complaining, life looks decent after all. People and places change for the better before our eyes. And the way to perceive this improvement, is to “relax and release” whenever we sense discomfort or dissatisfaction. We should relentlessly remain an appreciative audience.

17
A trick we can use to broaden our perspective and enhance our appreciation, is to think about death. When we contemplate impermanence, we’re thankful for the time we have. When we contemplate the brevity of lifespans, the little-things lose their importance.

We can notice how instantaneously our perspective shifts when faced with the nearness of death, showing the superficiality of those things we thought significant moments ago. Through a familiarity with death we can also lose our fear of life.

Our task here is living life, it’s to experience humanness. And what death provides, is the limited-supply that makes existence more valuable. Death isn’t a negative, it’s actually adding worth to the things currently existing.

18
It takes effort to push ourself out of balance — so to achieve balance, we simply stop pushing. And when we’re no longer expending all this energy, we’ll find we have plenty left for experiencing the moment we’re in.

We don’t want to maintain preferences, we simply want life to keep providing for us, like always. Life supplies the entertaining content and we appreciatively consume it — that’s the balance we seek to achieve.

Life takes care of everything, there’s nothing we need do but watch. There’s no hardship to endure, no strain to be had. Life doesn’t come with instructions because we don’t need them — we simply wake up and follow along.

19
When we identify with the observer rather than the character, we move beyond our worldly worries. The intensity of the spectacle lessens as we’re no longer jumping up and yelling at the presentation.

We develop this distance by accepting the scenes as they come, patiently observing the narrative as it unfolds, giving the author the benefit of the doubt, believing it’ll be a good show, and appreciating the effort involved with creating such a grand production — like any good audience would.

When we become the audience, we see everyone as part of the production. Our character is not more or less important than any other, we lose the intense focus we had on our character and see the entire stage.

The magic of the live performance hits us and we’re electrified. We love everything about it. All this, and we get to be part of it? Amazing. The lights, the sounds, the laughs, the action, the drama, the mystery, the suspense — it’s all there.

We stop criticizing and start appreciating. We see nothing but the love and care put into the production known as life. It was merely a misunderstanding for us to ever think life was anything but a delightful adventure in which we’re an integral part.

In conclusion: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Advertisements

Spectrum of Engagement

I think people are at different levels of engagement with life.

For instance, there’s those that are completely lost to life, fully immersed while believing this is all there is. What they see is what they get. They’re taking the game super seriously and typically have behaviors reflecting it. For instance, they might have high-anxiety or frustration or sadness and they’re likely to have a selfish/self-centered attitude, too tuned for self-preservation.

Then on the other end of the spectrum, there’s those that don’t take life seriously at all. They’re probably always talking about some spiritual mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t make sense to anyone but themselves. They’re super-easy going, so much so that they’re unreliable since they’re barely there.

Then there’s people in the middle who have some balance in their perspective. To effectively play a game, any game, players need a certain perspective — not too close and not too far. To be too serious, is to suck out the fun and replace it with a fear of losing. And to be too aloof, is to have no structure and thus no game — games require structure and active participation.

People in the middle aren’t lost, they use their moderate perspective to maintain a healthy and wholesome view of life and the game they’re playing. They have a sense of humor that allows them to laugh at life and at themselves.

For reference, I started out in the super-serious camp and am trying to get into the middle camp by introducing myself to topics popular among the aloof bunch. There’s a balance to achieve and maintain. I have a friend that pretty much defaulted to the middle path, and I’ve used her as a model to aid in altering my perspective.

She leans towards taking life too seriously at times whereas nowadays I often lean towards not taking it seriously at all — but I think it fluctuates. For instance, I was on the toilet last night, and something I had eaten earlier didn’t agree with me. Let’s just say I was uncomfortable. But then I said “AHA! I caught you life! You’re trying to engage my senses, making me think I’m a biological being on the bowl!”

Well that put an end to my discomfort and I went along my merry way. Life is always trying to engage my senses and I really appreciate the entertainment value. But, I have to watch out so that I don’t allow the cheap-thrills to serve as a means of excitement lest more come wandering in. Only high-quality entertainment for me thanks! Like laughing with companions, celebrating life’s bounty — just the lighthearted stuff.

Middle Path

What are we looking for when we begin an activity? We’re looking to get lost in the activity. We’re looking to become so captivated that we forget everything but the task at hand — and so focused that we block out everything except what’s in front of us. That’s pretty much true with existence too. Life ensnares our attention to keep us constantly engaged. And if we step back a bit we can recognize the artificial process powering the spectacle — we can see there’s an underlying narrative to life.

Ordinarily we don’t need to think about the mechanics of a game, we just play it. But what happens when we become too overwhelmed by the intensity of a game, when we take it too seriously? Typically, we’ll fail to enjoy ourselves. The game will become a burden, perhaps even a torturous experience. At that point we could rage-quit, or we could step back a bit, perhaps take some time to understand the fundamentals of the game better and most importantly take a more lighthearted approach.

This is where the path to enlightenment comes in. It’s not some beam that sucks us up into the heavens upon attainment, it’s simply the way in which we learn to better engage with existence. When we develop problems with life itself, it shows we’re taking things much too seriously — we’re spoiling our own gameplay. Enlightenment is what allows us to reset ourselves to the middle, where life is not too somber or too silly (a game played too frivolously is no fun either).

Enlightenment alters our perspective of the world, allowing us to understand the game-like nature of it all. Fears and frustrations melt away as we see the fiction before us. And we like games and stories of all sorts, so no fun is lost along the way — only enhanced. There’s no pressure to perform anymore, the past doesn’t matter, there’s nothing in the future to lose, and we realize that the point of every game is simply the enjoyment we receive from engaging.

Purposeful Path

I would say the purpose of pursing enlightenment is to improve our experience of existing.

For instance, very early this morning I had an unpleasant dream — it woke me up enough to become the beginning of my day. Upon waking though, I said “Aha! Caught you! Trying to captivate me by my dreams again I see! Well it won’t work! I know your tricks….” Then not long after breakfast I watched someone vomit right before my feet. I was briefly captivated once again, but it didn’t take long for me to say, “Aha! Again!? Really!? Well it didn’t work before and it’s not going to work now….”

In other words, I’m not perturbed by things that would have otherwise perturbed me. I see the fiction before me. My question though, is why does life regularly attempt to captivate me in the most unsettling ways? Why can’t it be fun stuff? Why can’t I be enticed to participate by the most fanciful adventures and wondrous delights? Instead, it’s nightmares and puke. I figure my character just isn’t stimulated enough by the cheery stuff.

But I think life is just being lazy though, going for the easy scares instead of the refined amusements. For earthly entertainment, I always select funny or fantasy and stay away from the sad or scary. Perhaps life just isn’t that funny or maybe life’s sense-of-humor is different than mine. I mean who am I to judge, I’m not exactly a ball of laughs to be around. Or maybe the stimuli I receive is simply fulfilling the expectations I harbor about this world.

And it’s true you know, I have pessimistic tendencies. I tend to focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. But based on counter-examples, I know my outlook is not fact-based, it’s merely a gloomy perspective. Yet whether I entered existence with a negative attitude or developed one from early circumstances doesn’t matter, it’s time to change it either way. And it’s the pursuit of enlightenment that allows me to do so.

Staying Lit

If you want to be good at something, you do a lot of it, right? You practice. So if you wonder about the difference between enlightened and not-enlightened, just think of the time invested. Enlightenment is not about one-time epiphanies, it’s about constant realizations of who we really are. Enlightenment requires consistency. The path is carved by reframing the world in such a way that circumstances regularly remind us of life’s illusionary nature.

For instance, I spend time detached from daily life contemplating existence, oftentimes noticing the unreality of reality. I spend time fitting life’s dramas into the context of virtuality. I spend time setting traps, noticing when my automatic reactions set them off, reminding me to refocus into mindfulness. I spend time observing myself react to stimuli, purposefully readjusting my perspective when emotions intensify. I spend time connected to my higher self, transcribing words flowing from my thought-stream.

If you want to be enlightened, then you do it, it’s not something you wait for. While alive we’re in constant motion, so wind blows the flame out every time we light it. We must keep it lit. And we do that by constantly engaging with the boundaries of reality. It takes no great mystery-solving skills to perceive the dreamlike nature of existence, it just takes focus. Within the quiet of the mind, the answers tend to pour in — so the first step is to regularly meditate until thoughts are adequately stilled.

Then you listen. But listening isn’t enough as ideas flow in and out while moving throughout the day. Write the ideas down — re-reading them over and over, noticing the overlapping themes. Once they become well-known, apply them to the spectacle taking place before you — use these ethereal ideas to set a new perspective from which to define the world. And once this foundation is established, notice how the world before you brightens.

Fictional Foundation

Enlightenment is the realization of life’s illusionary nature. But the trick of course, is maintaining that realization in the forefront of our thoughts. Despite our occasional epiphanies, we tend to go back to living our daily life, lost to life’s little dramas. But really, why would we want to contemplate the unreality of existence in every moment? We’d rather live life, not just think about living life, right?

And that’s true even after we fully conceptualize life’s virtuality. After we attain enlightenment and maintain it, we simply go back to living life. What changes though, is the foundation on which our perceptions are built. For instance, our baseline anxiety drops to zero, our fear fades away, we trust in life’s benevolence.

Life changes from a somber affair filled with dire consequences to a funhouse built to thrill and amuse. Existence becomes an experience in which we gladly engage while appreciating its many facets. But first, the funhouse foundation must be constructed within our minds. And construction is a repetitive process.

A simple epiphany is never enough, we must hammer and drill the idea of virtuality into our heads until it becomes the underlying reason for everything. And once established, then we once again go about our daily business — but this time we walk a lighthearted path, seeing the things before us lit by a resplendent glow.

Short-term Solution

If you’re on the path, you might be wondering what to do in the short-term. The answer is to create a merry atmosphere for those in your immediate surroundings, including yourself. Think of it this way, how can you receive the grandness of life’s bounty if you’re not prepared to receive it? So begin the preparations — ready the room and hang the decorations.

There’s an ambiguity as to whether life proceeds as a pre-set narrative or you directly influence your progression. Yet at the very least you feel as though you have a tiny bit of local influence, so start there — realizing that eventually your sphere of influence might increase. If your own attitude is all you can adjust, do that.

Radiate outwards, spreading cheer and hopefulness. There will be plenty of practice as dark clouds and shadows attempt to supress this lightheartedness. Shine nonetheless. Again and again, drilling day and night, trading dour for delight. There is no mystery on this part of the path, simply keep your little light lit.

Whatever it is you do throughout the day, maintain the playfulness. Pick anything to do and do it, the activity doesn’t matter, it’s the mood that matters. Despite any surrounding storm, keep the beacon blazing. Should it ever dim or extinguish, look within to relight. In the still of the mind, an everlasting light burns bright.