Let's start mildly negative with this book review so I can end up strongly positive. I can understand why the author, Michael A. Singer, wanted this blurb prominently displayed on the cover, but I was turned off by it:
"Read this book carefully and you will get more than a glimpse of eternity."
I haven't been impressed by Chopra's own writings, though some of what he says resonates with me. So I was afraid that "The Untethered Soul" was going to be as New Age'y as Chopra's blurb implied.
More than a glimpse of eternity? Gag me with a skeptical spoon.
However, once I started reading the book I didn't find a whole lot else to complain about. Singer stays down to earth for the most part. My first marginal question mark wasn't highlighted in until page 50, after I read:
The heart controls the energy flow by opening and closing.
Singer speaks quite a bit about chakras and subtle energies. He also uses "soul" a lot, which I find equally unnecessary.
HIs book would make just as much sense, but probably appeal to a less extensive readership, if he'd stuck with "mind," "brain," "mental patterns," "thoughts," and such. Singer's central message seems almost unarguable to me, and it doesn't require any non-scientific or metaphysical assumptions.
Our minds chatter away like crazed monkeys. That mostly mindless inner talk screws up our happiness, big time. Singer says:
There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind -- you are the one who hears it. If you don't understand this, you will try to figure out which of the many things the voice says is really you. People go through so many changes in the name of "trying to find myself." They want to discover which of these voices, which of these aspects of their personality, is who they really are. The answer is simple: none of them.
If you watch it objectively, you will come to see that much of what the voice says is meaningless. Most of the talking is just a waste of time and energy. The truth is that most of life will unfold in accordance with forces far outside your control, regardless of what your mind says about it.
It's like sitting down at night and deciding whether you want the sun to come up in the morning. The bottom line is that the sun will come up and the sun will go down. Billions of things are going on in this world. You can think about it all you want, but life is still going to keep on happening.
So for Singer, "spirituality" (another unnecessary word, in my opinion) basically is about shutting down the chatter. Or at least not letting the mind-talk, where, strangely, we're speaking to ourselves inside our own head, upset our psyche's balance.
This brings spirituality, or self-development, right into the here and now -- not a there and then of some fantasized Shangri-La where everything will be perfect, all the time.
On the book's website, there's an excerpt from the chapter on unconditional happiness. This isn't dependent on external conditions, such as rising into some heavenly realm or plopping down on the lap of God, but of realizing that no matter what happens in our life, we're free to be happy.
The key to staying happy is really very simple. Begin by understanding your inner energies. If you look inside, you will see that when you're happy, your heart feels open and the energy rushes up inside of you. When you aren't happy, your heart feels closed and no energy comes up inside. So to stay happy, just don't close your heart. No matter what happens, even if your wife leaves you or your husband dies, you don't close.
...The key is to learn to keep your mind disciplined enough so that it doesn't trick you into thinking that this time it's worth closing. If you slip, get back up. The minute you slip, the minute you open your mouth, the minute you start to close and defend yourself, get back up. Just pick what happens.
Affirm that all you want is to be at peace and to appreciate life. You don't want your happiness to be conditional upon the behavior of other people. It's bad enough that your happiness is conditional upon your own behavior. When you start making it conditional upon other people's behavior, you're in serious trouble.
Today I went to a feed store to get some bales of hay. My goal is to become a fearsome ground squirrel killer. But first I need to become a better shot with my new air rifle. Hence, the bales of hay are going to be a backstop for some practice targets.
I stuck some plastic in the car to cover the upholstery when I laid down the rear seat of our SUV. The not-so-minor flaws in my plan, however, revolved around several aspects of my hay-buying ignorance (this being the first time in my life I'd ever tried to bring home some bales).
(1) A bale of hay is bigger than I thought. Three bales of hay are even bigger than that. They just barely fit, and had to be crammed up against both the front seat and the top of the car.
(2) Bales of hay are tied together with cord. But "tied together" gives a false impression of firm connectivity. There's a reason farmers and ranchers carry bales of hay in pickups rather than the back compartment of their SUV: hay is freaking messy.
I realized this as soon as the feed store hay-loading guy had shoved the bales into our Toyota Highlander and said to me, "Sorry. You're going to need a vacuum."
But having just read the chapter on unconditional happiness this morning before I meditated, while driving home I tried to clear my mind of unnecessary self-talk ("Why didn't you bring a large tarp, you idiot?") and focus on the simple reality of the situation.
I had successfully bought three bales of hay. They smelled good. To passers-by I looked like a hybrid-driving gentleman farmer. I'd learned a lot about hay. Such as, bales are messy. Live and learn. That's what life is all about.
However, just as Singer alluded to above, controlling one's own mental chatter is one thing. Backing your SUV down your driveway, dragging the bales out, and having your wife stare at a whole lot of wheat straw remaining in the car is a whole other thing.
Laurel wasn't as enthusiastic about this being a hay bale-buying learning experience as I was. Her comments were more along the lines of the unnecessary critical self-talk that I'd pretty much managed to stop in my own mind, but in no way could stop coming out of my wife's mouth.
I didn't do a great job on maintaining my unconditional happiness. I got irritated. Mostly at myself, because after Laurel fetched our vacuum, it took quite a while to de-wheat straw the luggage compartment.
(Realization #3: hay bales, when pushed against a car's ceiling or floor liner, embed small pieces of straw in the soft fabric that can't be vacuumed out, because they've worked their way in between threads.)
And also at my wife, because I wanted her to be perfectly accepting of what I'd done, and "perfect" isn't a word that fits a marriage relationship, or any other aspect of life. Singer says:
If you mistreat an animal, it becomes afraid. This is what has happened to your psyche. You have mistreated it by giving it a responsibility that is incomprehensible. Just stop for a moment and see what you have given your mind to do.
You said to your mind, "I want everybody to like me. I don't want anyone to speak badly of me. I want everything I say and do to be acceptable and pleasing to everyone. I don't want anyone to hurt me. I don't want anything to happen that I don't like. And I want everything to happen that I do like."
Then you said, "Now, mind, figure out how to make every one of these things a reality, even if you have to think about it day and night." And of course your mind said, "I'm on the job. I will work on it constantly."
Religious believers expect that eventually they'll enter some sort of paradise where good things happen to good people (namely, them) all of the time. Or if they're in eternity, all of no-time.
Non-religious people expect the same, says Singer, since they also consider that the flow of events in life can be controlled so that only what they want to have happen, will happen.
And of all the things that can happen in life, that, we can be certain, won't happen.
"The Untethered Soul" concludes with a paean to a Taoist view of reality that emphasizes letting go of rigid belief structures and expectations. I'll share more about this in another post.