The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer is a fantastic book that really digs into the spiritual aspect of purpose, specifically the aspect of knowing yourself.
Because if you don’t understand who you are at your core, you will not be able to understand what you are supposed to do in life.
This is a very popular book, a bestseller on Amazon, and definitely one that I recommend for those really looking to explore their own psyche.
So with that in mind, let’s look at some of the key takeaways from this book.
Why Do You Talk To Yourself?
So what does it mean to have an “untethered soul”?
This refers to the ability to see outside yourself, understand who you are from a proper perspective on the universe, to the point where certain things matter less.
The first step on this journey is to understand the little voice inside your head.
Michael Singer points out that we all have a mental dialogue going in our head all the time. And if you’re thinking, “well I don’t have any such thing going on in my head,” that’s the voice right there.
In a sense, there are actually two people in our head. This is something a little difficult for some people to wrap their minds around, and yet we all have a tendency to talk to ourselves all the time.
So who are we really? Are we the voice or are we the person the voice is talking to?
The truth is, you are not that voice in your head. Learning to understand this is the first step of freeing yourself, and disconnecting yourself from the chaos that is our brains. If we can master this, our emotions will have no more control over us, and we will be able to focus on that which is most important.
Which One Are You?
Michael Singer calls us the “witness”. We are the observer, not only of the world around us, but also of the happenings inside our brain.
As Singer puts it: “The very fact that you can see the disturbance means that you are not it.”
One of the important ways that we can gain control over our lives is to train ourselves to observe rather than to react. Since we are observers of our own emotions and that little voice inside our head, we can choose not to react to it, but to simply be aware of it.
We often assume that the solutions to our problems exist outside ourselves. If only our coworker would stop being so annoying. If only the traffic improved. If only our toddler wouldn’t try to eat everything in sight (I’m looking at my 1 year old daughter as I type this).
But the spiritually minded person understands that none of these things are good or bad, they are simply circumstances. It is only our perception of the thing that makes a good or bad.
There’s a quote from Shakespeare that is particularly pertinent here: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
So the important take away here is that we learn to recognize the voice in our head as someone other than ourselves, so we can remain observers and not react to external, or even internal, stimuli.
To help us do this, there are a number of spiritual practices that you can implement.
One technique that Singer gives us is to think of the voice in our head as a roommate. And this isn’t any old roommate. They’re noisy, they’re obnoxious, they’re constantly narrating every part of our lives, and they can’t stay focused on anything.
Imagine if you really had a roommate who was as loud and obnoxious as your inner dialogue is. How would you feel if they actually started talking to you in that way?
I’m guessing you wouldn’t enjoy it that much, you would try to remove yourself from situations where you were with that person.
And that is exactly the technique to use here.
When that internal roommate starts talking up a storm, practice removing yourself from the inner dialogue, taking a few deep breaths, and metaphorically walking out of the room.
The basic idea here is that you can’t free yourself without first becoming conscious of your predicament. As Singer puts it: “As it is right now, your life is not your own; it belongs to your inner roommate, the psyche. You have to take it back. Stand firm in the seat of the witness and release the hold that the habitual mind has on you. This is your life—reclaim it.”
Having a Universal Perspective
One of the things that Michael Singer emphasizes is that we have to keep a universal perspective if we want to understand what is truly valuable in our lives.
Not only does this help us put our own lives into perspective, but it helps us to “get some distance from [pain].”
Singer encourages us to look out at the night sky and try to comprehend the hundreds of billions of stars that exist in just our galaxy. And not only that, but there are billions more galaxies in the universe, and the Spiral Galaxy alone is estimated to have over a trillion stars.
When you think about that, does it really matter what people think of your clothes, or what you look like, or what kind of car you drive?
The answer is, of course, no. And yet we carry these pains with us wherever we go.
By choosing to take on a more universal perspective, we can learn to distance ourselves from that pain, to realize that such things matter little. And if these things are meaningless, how can they cause us pain?
Singer spends a whole chapter on the subject, and it’s one of the most important. Because it’s not only helping us gain a new perspective, but the author is actively giving us a technique that we can use to reduce pain.
Because ultimately we are just tiny creatures on a tiny speck in our universe, a universe that is unfathomably huge, so huge that we can’t even comprehend it fully.
But if this is true, then what does matter in life? Let’s address that in the next section…
One of our purposes is to change for the better.
How do we change? We look at our problems as “agents for growth.” We need to get to a place where our problems don’t break us, but make us stronger.
If we can do this, that we can make a real difference in the world. Because even though the universe is huge, the universe of our mind is an important microcosm of its own. If we can master that, we can achieve anything.
Now if any of this is making you feel overwhelmed, don’t worry. You don’t have to start with any big thing. Michael Singer impresses upon the reader that you should start with small things, take baby steps.
The Buddha is quoted as saying this, “Little by little a person become evil, as a water pot is filled by drops of water… Little by little a person becomes good, as a water pot is filled by drops of water.”
There are two important points here. First, we need to watch that we are not taking steps, “little by little,” to become evil. Second, these little steps are what will enable us to become good.
A lot of what this book talks about is mindset. A mindset is not something that you can just change. It is something that needs to be practiced.
Once again, see James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, for more information on how to take these baby steps. But the long and short of it is: you need to create small habits that will compound over time.
If we can do this, if we can avoid the moments of irritation that lead to road rage, if we can begin to take a deep breath every time something negative happens to us and choose to push on anyway, then we are on the right path towards becoming an untethered soul.
You Can Be Happy
Michael Singer talks a lot about what it means to be happy. And he refers to “unconditional happiness, as being the highest technique that there is.
Happiness is a choice, whether we think so or not. Our minds can control all. Even when there are biological forces at work in our body to counteract this, all scientific evidence supports the idea that our minds can be trained to be happy. Whether this starts as a gratitude journal, or meditation, or taking care of your body, the end result is the same.
Hard things are going to happen to us regardless of what we believe, regardless of our circumstances. But we will always have the choice, as Viktor Frankl also describes, of choosing our attitudes towards those circumstances.
If we can do this, nothing will be able to stop us from being happy.