A couple of weeks ago in a post titled “Who Are You?” I wondered what makes you you? Is there a fundamental, essential you that remains unchanged as your goals, values, beliefs, desires, and emotions change throughout your life?
Author Michael A. Singer provides an answer to those questions and others in his book The Untethered Soul.
So who are you according to Singer?
You are the self that notices you remembering your past, notices what you think and feel and want in the present, and notices you anticipating the future. You are consciousness itself, the thing that is aware that it is aware. “You are not the thinking mind. You are aware of the thinking mind”, according to Singer.
You are the one that notices you asking the question “Who are you?”.
Sitting in the seat of consciousness and watching your mind do what it does is where you are and where peace resides. Try it. Instead of attaching yourself to some feeling, idea, or desire, notice you’re feeling, thinking, desiring.
Imagine the contents of your mind coming and going in a vast open space of awareness, like shooting stars. The feeling tones of experience are just more contents moving through this space. Boundless space surrounds them — dwarfing them, untroubled by them, unaffected by their passing. The space of awareness allow every content of mind to be or not be, to come and to go. Thoughts are just thoughts, sounds are just sounds, situations are just situations, and people are just being themselves. — Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius in The Buddha’s Brain
Well, that answers my question.
Singer actually offers answers to other of life’s most often asked questions in a very succinct manner:
How to be happy:
The simple answer is just decide that you want to be happy more than you want anything else. Oh, no problem. You just have to do it in the face of every irritating thing you encounter. Oh…problem!
Billions of things could happen that you haven’t even thought of yet. The question is not whether they will happen. Things are going to happen. The real question is whether you want to be happy regardless of what happens…
Events don’t determine whether or not you’re going to be happy. They’re just events. You determine whether or not you’re going to be happy. You can be happy just to be alive.
How to deal with pain:
You are not the pain you feel, nor are you the part that periodically stresses out. None of these disturbances have anything to do with you. You are the one who notices these things. Because your consciousness is separate and aware of these things, you can free yourself. To free yourself of your inner thorns, you simply stop playing with them.
How to never have another problem again:
It is actually possible to never have another problem for the rest of your life. This is because events are not problems; they’re just events. Your resistance to them is what causes the problem.
You will be surprised to find that in most situations there’s nothing to deal with except for your own fears and desires. Fear and desire make everything seem so complicated. If you don’t have fear or desire about an event, there’s really nothing to deal with.
How to accept death:
Steve Jobs gave the same advice in his famous commencement speech in 2005 as Singer does in the book: let death be your teacher. Contemplating that this week may be your last week alive really puts things in perspective. Or put another way, contemplating the possibility that this is may be your last week alive makes you laugh at all the meaningless shit you spend time worrying and obsessing about and makes you start focusing on the things you care about.
Think honestly about what you would do with your last week…if that’s really what you would do with your last week, what are you doing with the rest of your time? Wasting it? Throwing it away? Treating it like it’s not something precious? What are you doing with life? That is what death asks you.
Provocative stuff. Deep stuff. And, stuff I’ve read before in better books (like The Buddha’s Brain). Still, reading this stuff in The Untethered Soul was like reading it for the first time because I’ve forgotten it. I keep forgetting it and while it is not the best written or most beautiful written book, it was thought provoking and persuasive. I needed to read it. I needed to be reminded.