This article is the third in a series of 8, intended to offer corrections to Michael A. Singer’s latest book, Living Untethered: Beyond the Human Predicament, for the benefit of his readers. Each article in the series is dedicated to addressing one of the book’s parts, with this article addressing “Part III : The Mind”.
A common misconception that Mr. Singer expresses in Part III is that influences are equivalent to effects. When he writes that, “sometimes when the world comes in, it makes you feel good. Other times, it makes you feel bad” he implies that the world is creating the effect of your feeling a certain way. In fact, the world is merely influencing you such that you are identifying parts of the world as good or bad in relation to yourself. This distinction is important because it means that you are not a helpless victim of your own life, regardless of whatever hardships you may have experienced. Whereas changing your entire world is not feasible, changing your perspective on and attitude towards your world most certainly is.
When Mr. Singer writes that, “your consciousness has the ability to be aware of things that machines can’t detect: thoughts and emotions,” he is half right. Your consciousness is indeed able to be aware of thoughts and emotions with far more accuracy and precision than any machine currently available. However, both thoughts and emotions can be detected by machines, albeit rather imprecisely at this time. This is because your thoughts are patterns of information maintained by your nervous system whereas your emotions are how your consciousness perceives the overall state of your nervous system.
Machines are able to accurately detect your thoughts and emotions to the degree that they can accurately detect the functional state of your nervous system. Whereas our current level of technology only affords the equivalent of looking at the stars with a pair of binoculars, technological improvements are yielding increasingly detailed measurements of the nervous system. This consequence of technological development is similar to how more detailed images of the stars become possible with the use of bigger and better telescopes.
When Mr. Singer writes about the mind and thoughts, it is clear that he doesn’t know what they are. In writing, “... what are thoughts and where do they come from? Since scientists don’t have direct access to your thoughts, only you can answer these questions”, he places the burden of research on his readers rather than bearing it himself. Mind is not merely “... the field of energy in which thoughts are capable of existing”, as Mr. Singer claims. Rather, your mind is the interfacing of your nervous system with your environment. Our minds evolved with our bodies in order to solve the problems posed by being alive. To answer the question that Mr. Singer posed regarding thoughts, thoughts are patterns of information used to solve life’s problems. Thoughts come from the functioning of the mind, much like icons on your mobile phone’s screen come from the functioning of your phone. When Mr. Singer writes of “empty mind”, he is actually referring to a state of being in which one is conscious of one’s nervous system being at rest.
Glossing over a number of minor inaccuracies, a notable misconception that Mr. Singer repeatedly engages in is the notion that “something went very wrong” for us not to be living in a perpetually ecstatic state of single-pointed consciousness. In fact, what Mr. Singer views as being so wrong is merely the process of maturing from a highly unconscious living being to a highly conscious living being. This process is quite necessary for the development of your soul and therefore something to be grateful for, rather than made wrong.
Another misconception that Mr. Singer engages in is the assumption that being comfortable with something is equivalent to liking it — and that being uncomfortable with something is equivalent to disliking it. If you have ever enjoyed an exhausting activity, such as hiking up a mountain or competing in a sports competition, it is probably quite apparent to you that comfort and likeability are not equivalent. In fact, comfort and discomfort are tied to ease and familiarity, whereas liking and disliking are tied to judgement and valuation.
When Mr. Singer writes of samskaras as being lasting mental impressions that impede one’s clarity of consciousness, he is quite correct. However, the formation of samskaras does not occur on the basis of discomfort or dislike, as Mr. Singer claims. Rather, samskaras result from reinforcing one's thoughts of potential threats and/or potential opportunities. Such thoughts, as described in Part I of this series, come from our subconscious survival mechanisms. You are very familiar with these thoughts because they form your fears and wants. Thus, the more you think about what you fear and want, the more difficult it is for you to be present to the gift of each present moment.
Mr. Singer expresses a related misconception when he writes that samskaras form the basis of identity, psyche, or personal self. In fact, identity is formed and reformed on the basis of values and preferences, your likes and dislikes, not on the basis of samskaras. No matter how holy a person may be, everyone has an identity. What distinguishes holy men and holy women from the less than holy among us is that the holy ones no longer live their lives solely at the behest of their individual preferences. Instead, they choose in each moment to live their lives at the behest of love. Jesus the Christ offered himself as a classic example of this.
To truly practice acceptance or nonresistance, you must accept your resistance. It is not the actions of clinging or resisting that impede your consciousness but rather the reinforcing of your wants and fears. By no longer reinforcing either your wants or your fears, you are then able to begin the process of releasing your samskaras, your emotional tethers. Deprived of your attention, the intensity of your samskaras (the tension in your tethers) naturally subsides. Later, as your samskaras arise with less intensity, simply offer them your love and gratitude to allow them to open and release entirely. As they do, you will feel an energetic release in your nervous system, the kind that sometimes results in physical shuddering. That is when you know that you have let go of a samskara and made progress in living your life “untethered”.