We listen to it all day, every day. The voice in our head that interprets, judges, thinks and basically talks to us about everything. Aside from getting quiet in meditation, this voice never really shuts off – and even during meditation it can be a challenge.
In the early 1970s, as an economic student studying for his doctorate, author of the book “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself,” Michael Singer had a realization about this voice, which literally changed the way he viewed it and everything else in his life. He realized it wasn’t really him that was talking. He was the observer of the voice, which was his “psyche and not his soul,” according to Oprah Winfrey, who interviewed him on a recent episode of Super Soul Sunday on the OWN Network.
“There is something we listen to on a regular basis. The problem is we think it’s us. For example you look at a vase and you say, ‘That is a very interesting shape, but I don’t like the color very much. It reminds me of my grandmother’s vase,’ and all of the sudden we have somebody narrating and talking inside your head. That’s not you,” he told Oprah. “You are not the thought. You are the one watching it.”
In the book, Singer encourages the reader to ask themselves two questions – “Who m I?” and “What is that voice in my head?” He believes this is a key step toward spiritual development.
The answer is, we are the one who notices our thoughts and emotions, or whatever is in front of our senses. “I am the seer. I am the one who sees,” he told Oprah, explaining what he calls “the lucid self.” Similar to a lucid dream, where we are dreaming, but are aware we are in a dream.
“You are more conscious in that dream then you normally would be. In a sense you are awake within the dream. That is what the lucid self is,” he explained. “Now do that in your real life … your mind is continuing, life is following in front of you, and you are aware that your mind is moving. the world is unfolding but your seat of consciousness is transcendent to that – its centered at a deeper level, and all of it just goes right by and you don’t have the same relationship with it that you used to have. It’s something your watching not something you are.”
So how do we handle problems in our life as they arise? We can do one of two things – lean into the problem and get involved or lean away from it, Singer said.
“The moment it starts with that chitter chatter in the mind, my first reaction inside is to relax and lean away from that,” he told Oprah. “What you will start to do is get some space, and you will learn over time that’s the smartest thing your ever did. Why? Because you gave it room to pass through, and it will pass right through.”
In doing this, we are operating from what he calls “the seat of the self.” We begin to realize we are causing the majority of our problems due to our own mental reactions to life. We have the right to choose not do this, he said.
“Still go to work. Still take care of the kids. But lean away from this mess that the mind is doing to amplify and overemphasis or over exaggerate whatever is going on … what will happen is when you let go of the noisy mind, you end up in the seat of quiet – because what is back there is quiet. My experience is that now you can look at reality and you will know what to do,” Singer noted.
Dealing With Fear
One of the biggest things many people fear is change. This is because we have gone to the mind and said to ourselves, “I’m not OK. How does everything need to be for me to be OK?” Singer said. Then we devote ourselves to creating the situations we need in order to be OK. When things start changing around us that don’t match what we believe let’s us be OK, then we get scared.
“People don’t realize fear is a thing. You can either push it away and avoid it and be scared of it, or you can let it go and let it pass right through,” Singer said. “Fear comes up out of your heart. It’s a very natural thing. It’s human. You’re watching and you see it. You have the right to relax and let it pass right through you. If you don’t do that, you’re going to try and fix it. You’re going to try and control situations outside so you don’t ever feel the fear, and it all starts to bother you.”
The alternative is to not fight with life by learning “how to interface and interact with life in a wholesome, participatory way. Fear doesn’t let you do that,” he said.
Removing Your Inner Thorn
In a chapter with the above title, Singer explains how to let go or remove what he calls inner thorns. These are triggers or situations that cause us pain. Comparing these to actual thorns, he asked if we had a thorn directly on a nerve, where anything that touched it caused pain, what would we do?
“You have two choices. One is you could try to avoid everything thing in your life that touches that thorn, or you could take it out,” he said. “That is the game that we play. ‘How do I build a life that avoids touching all this stuff that happened to me that I can’t handle. When it happened to me I couldn’t handle it and now its caused all these soft spots inside of me – thorns – so now I have to train everybody around me so they don’t ever touch it.’”
But we can choose instead to remove these thorns the same way we would remove an actual thorn from our body. This is the spiritual journey, said Singer. When we are disturbed by something in life, we can become aware of our thorns.
“Just like pain happens when you hit the thron outside, disturbance happens inside,” he said. “When something hits it, you will feel a disturbance pop up inside of you. Ask yourself, “Do I want to be disturbed? Do I like being disturbed?’ No, so you have a choice. An event happened outside and [you] can deal with it without being disturbed. In fact I can promise you that [you] can deal with it better without being disturbed. Disturbance isn’t helping you. Disturbance is hurting you. And so you are way better off learning how to deal with the disturbance. That is also how you remove the throne. They are directly related. The fact that the situation outside stimulated this disturbance inside of you means that you’ve uncovered something stored inside of you that needs to come out.”
It is our problems in life that help us on our spiritual path, the same way pain in the body alerts us to an issue that something needs attention, he told Oprah.
“It’s like if your body started to hurt, you don’t say ‘shut up,’ you say ‘I wonder what’s wrong.’ It’s trying to talk to you,” he noted. That is your heart trying to tell you something is wrong inside of you. How do you get it out? You relax and it will work itself out. That is my experience. Relax and don’t touch it. Relax behind it, and it will come up and push its own way out. It’s almost as if your heart doesn’t want that inside, and so just like the body pushes splinters out, it will try to push itself out but you won’t let it because the moment it tries to push it out, you push it back down.”
When we lean back and relax enough times, eventually the spirit or soul within us begins to grow and take over that voice in our head. This spirit is God, and we grow closer to it each time. Then our issues will begin to fall away, he explains.
Singer learned this first-hand when, as the founder of a multi-million dollar software company, he found himself in a corporate scandal and being investigated by the government. He was the CEO, and the entire executive team was accused of fraud because of one employee who was guilty.
“From the moment that took place, peace came over me, and I just rested back into it and my attitude was, ‘My god this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to let go of anything that is left of me.’ There was a part of me that would never want to be in that situation because I didn’t do anything. [But] I let go of the whole personality of Michael Singer. I felt that God was reaching down to pull whatever was left of me ego out.”
His executive team and he defended themselves, and the charges were dropped before a trial, but it dragged on for six years, he told Oprah. It was during this time that he wrote the book “The Untethered Soul.”
“You must die to be reborn. You must be willing to let go of your personal self, of your psychological self, of the complaining voice … in order to be who you are. You must let go of who you think you are. That is what is meant by that [quote]. You meditate so that you will have the center so you can let go of what life is doing. The real growth is letting go,” he said.