This article is the last 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 VIII : Living a Life of Acceptance”.
In Chapter 35 “Dealing with Blocked Energies”, Mr. Singer expresses a few misconceptions regarding suffering and compassion. The first relates to the human bias towards negativity. This bias exists because it is more evolutionarily advantageous to learn from bad experiences than from good experiences. If a person doesn’t learn quickly and thoroughly about the negative consequences of burning oneself or encountering a predator, for instance, that person is far less likely to survive long enough to have and raise children. In contrast, if a person doesn’t learn quickly and thoroughly when having positive experiences, that person is no less likely to survive long enough to have and raise children. This human survivability bias towards negativity over positivity is the basis for much of human suffering and not merely an odd hobby, as Mr. Singer suggests.
When Mr. Singer writes that “compassion means you understand the root cause of people’s behavior”, he offers a misunderstanding of the term. The word “compassion” comes from Latin. Whereas the prefix “com” means “with”, the word “passion” is derived from the Latin word “pati”, meaning “suffering”. As such, the word “compassion” refers to one’s being present with suffering. So, to have compassion for others means to be present with their suffering, rather than to understand, ignore, or try to “fix” their suffering. And, the same is true of having compassion for yourself.
In Chapter 38 “Exploring the Higher States”, Mr. Singer attempts to explain higher states of feeling as a form of energy that is felt beyond emotion. Yet, higher states of feeling are far clearer and less ambiguous than how he describes them. When your nervous system is in a contracted state, it causes a “lower” state of feeling by reducing the flow of information in your nervous system. The lower the state of feeling, the more survival- and self-oriented the information, due to how the mammalian nervous system evolved. The more expanded your nervous system is, the more loving information you feel flowing within you and the “higher” the state of feeling you experience. These higher states of feeling are how flows of love within your nervous system feel. It is the flow of love within you which constitutes the energy and enthusiasm that Mr. Singer writes of.
Lastly, in Chapter 39 “In the World but Not of It”, Mr. Singer completes his book with a misunderstanding of enlightenment. In claiming “enlightenment is not a spiritual experience — it is a permanent spiritual state”, he suggests that one is either enlightened or unenlightened. Yet, rather than being a static spiritual state, enlightenment is actually a process of enlightening, a process of spiritually shining more light into the world.
Spiritual light is the light of love and truth. Spiritual enlightenment is the never-ending process of shining that light more brightly. While a person may be more or less enlightened relative to others, there is no definitive threshold for considering someone to be enlightened. Instead of viewing enlightenment as a goal, know it to be a journey, a journey lasting many lifetimes. While on this journey, I urge you to never stop learning to embody the light of love and truth. Instead, may you shine ever more brightly upon this world.