Stop Rearranging the Deck Chairs
Yesterday evening was the third and last gathering of a group of hardy souls who have been joining me the last three weeks to study Michael Singer’s book The Untethered Soul. It’s been a great series of discussions, largely because it’s a group of people eager to learn how to be in this world sanely, happily, and beneficially. We have all rallied around the notion that we find ourselves in an insane, frustrating, and lack-centered world. Wanting to change those conditions is what brings people to my groups.
But what we are learning from Singer is that we make an error to believe changing something on the outside of us can bring about the sanity, joy, and benefit we so desperately want. In fact, trying to fix the “out there” of your life is something akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Work all you want to get those chairs organized to suit your pleasure—that ship is still going down.
Well that sounds grim, right? Are we doomed to a sinking ship?
Not really. Singer actually offers good news, a good news that has been delivered by many spiritual and psychological traditions over centuries. The only thing you can actually rearrange in life is the inside of your own head. And the good news is that this rearranging is doable and immensely rewarding. It does take a little time, a little effort, and a lot of focus, but we have the capacity to drop limiting beliefs, to identify personal obstacles, and to disarm negative habits of mind, such that our life becomes more open and filled with possibility. Singer says, “The prerequisite to true freedom is to decide that you do not want to suffer anymore.”
This is not such an easy move as it appears. Many of us are actually addicted to our suffering, and most of our suffering is actually self-inflicted. Singer does a masterful job of showing us the process in the mind that induces suffering or dissatisfaction or general malaise. And then after we learn how suffering is generated, he gives us an amazingly simple technique for dropping the suffering. He calls it “relax and release.”
So this is what we are doing in this last book group of the Spring Session. We talk about the myriad ways we induce suffering by wanting the things of the world in a certain order that pleases us perfectly. From the way your son wears his hair, to the way your boss interacts with you, to your attitude about the weather, to where your neighbor puts the trash bin, and on and on. Singer asserts that your suffering is caused by your wanting the world to work in a way that pleases you, that makes you comfortable, and that does not cause you to be fearful or anxious. If this is what you are asking the world to do for you, you are in big trouble, i.e. you are suffering. And most of us have found ourselves in this position at one point or another (maybe even for decades at a time).
In group, we discuss how Singer’s ideas (which seem radical at first but eventually become so, so practical) apply to how we live our lives. We want to make his concepts operational. To do this, participants spend the week in between sessions practicing the “relax and release” technique. Gradually, and with stealth-like skill, the technique begins to re-organize the mind habits that have locked us into destructive thinking and thus caused suffering. The technique shows us a way to unplug a disturbed mind. It’s not magic; it’s a decision to stop suffering.
I’m kind of sad that this group is coming to an end. But I know these participants will join me every so often to discuss their progress and to dive deeper into Singer’s ideas. It’s a rich book, certainly not easily covered in three discussion sessions!
And maybe you have a group of people who would like to make a study of this book and examine how the “suffer mechanism” works in your mind. You’ll never look at your thoughts in the same way. I’ll be accepting new groups in September, so get a few like-minded souls together and let’s read some Michael Singer. It might just be the first step of your decision to end your suffering.