Review of "The Untethered Soul"

Michael Singer’s book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself is basically old wine in a new skin. It offers up various aspects of Vedic philosophies without the terminology so that this old knowledge on how to live a life liberated from needless suffering can be easily digested and propagated for a new generation. These relatively simple answers on how to live a better life by gaining increased control over your thoughts, releasing the identities that have latched onto you and were mistaken for immutable truths and gives practical advice on how to achieve such freedom. Singer uses metaphors that are often quite compelling and while at times redundant, this does the effect of really driving the material home to the reader.

Singer first encourages us to examine our the manner in which our thoughts and emotions affect the structure of our inner energy. The are in a near constant state of vacillation, moving around from one thing to another depending upon what it is that we decide to lay our attention on at that moment. Some of the effects of this lack of disciplined thinking include fear, jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, and a sense of disconnection from one’s self and one’s environment. By putting faith into the illusion that we can have control over the events of our lives, we become disillusioned with the world.

One of the practices that Singer promotes is the immediate release of any sort of energy caused that may be evoked by other people’s words or actions. Such energy patterns, which might also be called reactive emotional states, which fail to process themselves within and stay rather than flowing through will create inner conflict. An analogy of the denial of it’s flowing through via resistance can be found in the plugging of a dam. The force continues to push, leading to increased stress upon the structure, which will cause it to eventually burst. Instead, after recognizing the energy that is created, one should immediately let it go through and if there are still traces of resistance return to the position of Watcher. Once there these impressions, called Samskara in the Vedic tradition, will dissipate. If we are able to choose and successfully practice staying always open to our experiences then we will, in essence, never be closed off from a limitless source of enthusiasm and high energy. No longer having to maintain the extreme physical and psychic state of judgment and fear of a situation, out happiness, joy and presence increases markedly.

As simple as this practice sounds, the ego has devised many a complex means of avoiding just such a practice. Instead of removing the source of their pain, people will often instead struggle to be the same. They don’t want to change, the just want the discomfort associated with their actions to be nullified. This can become quite a problem as the denial and avoidance of these samskaras will often lead you to use people as, places and things as protective shields from your awareness of this issue. Thus what was claimed to be done in order to avoid certain patterns of thoughts and behavior actually results in one devoting a constant aspect of their life to it. By letting our awareness alight onto something we find disquieting and then simply let it go back to whence it came we find a true freedom. Doing otherwise merely puts a veneer on our consciousness which hides the true inside that’s been made more fetid and abominable due to our false claims that these issues have been genuinely dealt with.

While I’m supportive of a majority of the analysis and proscriptions which Singer lays out in order to obtain increased peace of mind and spiritual wellbeing, I do find his chapter 15 and 16 to be problematic for reasons that I’ve written about in my response to Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. While it is eminently practicable to generally withhold from making judgements based upon preferences lest they upset your internal bearings on an individual level of abstraction and to refrain from resisting certain experiences outside of one’s control, on the societal level I find such a position to be criminally permissive. In quasi-democratic societies that allot for a certain amount of citizen’s input to social, economic and political policy proscriptions, such detachment from the political process disempowers the individual while claiming it to be a “higher” form of spiritual empowerment. A simple rejoinder to such a criticism that could have been pre-empted would have been that one can engage in action designed to fix perceived injustices as long as it does not upset one personally, however this seems to go against the spirit of Singer’s previous exposition that all non-currently existent in the world social relations that are held up as a source for comparison should be ejected from consciousness. Reality to Singer is just something that “is” and we should “Learn to stop resisting reality, and what used to look like stressful problems will begin to look like the stepping stones of your spiritual journey.” I say reality “to Singer” as, like Tolle in A New Earth, the book is seriously lacking any interlocution with materialist considerations and as he ends up conflating the Tao Te Ching, the Christian Bible, Freud, various Buddhist texts and Ramana Maharshi. This misprision of these texts ends up providing a false conception of those work and indeed of “reality”. Despite what Singer wants to convey, reality doesn’t go away because you stop believing in it and even the most cursory examinations of the Tao, the text which he grants the authority to close the book, shows that such the notions of categorical disconnection of individual action from the world is neither implicit or explicit within the text.