You have to break the habit of thinking that the solution to your problems is to rearrange things outside. The only permanent solution to your problems is to go inside and let go of the part of you that seems to have so many problems with reality.
– Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer is a heart-opening, soul-awakening guide to freeing yourself from the boundaries and limitations your habitual thoughts, emotions, and energy patterns build inside of you. Drawing from awareness-creating techniques like meditation and mindfulness, Singer explores the path to consciousness, happiness, and inner peace through the practices of letting go, staying present, and pushing out of your comfort zone.
As a continuing explorer of the inner self and someone deep in the throes of battling her own fears, anxieties, negative thoughts, and sometimes skewed mindset, I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through this book. I found so many nuggets of wisdom and gentle reminders of what life can be like when I let go of that which does not serve, stay present, eschew judgement, and live outside of my comfort zone.
As much as I enjoyed The Untethered Soul, I did struggle with a few aspects of the book:
Fluffy Mantras Disguised as Advice
While Singer’s thoughts and teachings are both inspiring and motivating, his advice isn’t always actionable. Some of it is quite vague, what some may call “fluff.” This fluff advice comes in phrases like “just open” or “just do it.” Even in regards to challenges like letting go of fear. But letting go of fear and worries or pushing out of one’s comfort zone isn’t as simple as “just do it.” I wish it was, but I know from experience that it’s not. It takes courage and hard word. I think the “work” is what I was hoping for in The Untethered Soul.
This is not to say that Singer doesn’t offer any useful, actionable advice for gaining the awareness, openness, and courage needed to overcome fears and boundaries. For example, he offers up a meditative exercise for being present and aware of your thoughts and emotions. He refers to this exercise as spending time with your “inner roommate”—that inner voice responsible for the millions of thoughts that run through your head every day. Singer also advises readers to sit with those thoughts, emotions, and memories that are painful and feel whatever they make you feel. That, he says, is the key to letting them go—feeling them allows them to pass through you while avoiding them buries them deep inside you. I found these exercises to be both actionable and useful.
It’s definitely a mixed bag of advice. Some of Singer’s advice is straightforward, some is fluff. But is it even possible to give actionable advice for finding inner peace? Beyond meditation and other tools that help get you there? Probably not.
Repetitive Writing Style
The Untethered Soul is an easy read. It’s conversational and accessible, making it ideal for a wide audience. However, Singer’s writing does feel repetitive and long-winded at times. He often says the same thing in multiple ways, resurfacing the same ideas over and over throughout the book. It’s almost like he came up with five ways of expressing one thought, couldn’t decide which one to go with, and ended up using them all.
This bothered me at times—only when I sat down to read while in a critical mindset. I felt that expressing a thought in one solid way would be simpler. It also would have made for a shorter, even more accessible read.
On the other hand, when I read The Untethered Soul with an open mind instead of a critical one, I actually appreciated Singer’s repetitive writing style because it really drove his points home. It was almost like repeating a mantra over and over. The first time—or even the second, third, and so on—doesn’t always click. Say it enough, and it drills into you. You’re not just saying it but you truly feel it and understand it.
For a book that doesn’t or can’t offer actionable advice, repetitive mantra-style writing actually seems like the best course of action. People learn self-love and self-acceptance by repeating phrases like “I accept exactly who I am and where I’m at today” in the mirror every day. People can meditate every day for years before finding awareness. Learning self-love, becoming aware, overcoming fear, becoming confident… sometimes there’s no step-by-step guide for these types of goals. Sometimes it just takes practice and repetition. Sometimes you just have to read something a hundred times before it sticks.
The Final Chapter
I could have done without the final chapter, which speaks heavily of God. This is the only chapter that does so. I began the book under the impression that the author draws on all religions, not any one in particular. Which he does. So I found it odd that there is a whole chapter dedicated to God. I’m curious to know why the author made that choice. Is he merely using God as a symbol for any higher power? This seems evident in the opening paragraphs:
“We have so many teachings, so many concepts, and so many views about God.”
“…deep within us, there is a direct connection to the Divine. There is a part of our being that is beyond the personal self.”
“Over time, as you observe this transformation, you will see what it’s like to be coming toward God. You actually begin to know what it feels like to be moving in the direction of Spirit. The changes you see within you are reflective of the force you’re approaching.”
He does seem to use words like “God,” “Spirit,” “the force,” “Divine Force,” and “The Being” interchangeably. So perhaps God is just another word here for some higher power. Then again, he also quotes Bible verses throughout the chapter.
My other theory is that he is specifically appealing to those religious groups who preach of a fearful, judging God. In the final chapter, Singer emphasizes that to move towards God is to live without judgement, guilt, or fear. To experience, appreciate, honor, respect, love, and cherish life and everyone and everything in it.
Despite its religious specificity, the final chapter did bring up a lot of good points about dropping judgments and loving, respecting, and accepting all things and beings. This was especially impactful to read during our current political and social climate, which is so full of hate, fear, exclusion, and “us vs. them” mentality. Perhaps I am reading too much into what could merely be a word choice and should just appreciate the meat of what Singer is trying to say.
Flaws aside, The Untethered Soul really resonated with me, especially since I read it at a time in my life when I am fully open to picking up what Singer is putting down. I’d recommend The Untethered Soul to new explorers of the inner self and continuing explorers who may need a reminder to let go and stay present. But I’d tag on this disclaimer:
Reading The Untethered Soul is like repeating a mantra to remind yourself to be mindful, aware, and let go of that which doesn’t serve you. If you like that kind of reminder—a repetitive mantra that drills deep into your mind, heart, and soul—you’ll probably enjoy this book. If you’re looking for an actionable guide on practicing mindfulness, letting go of fears and the disturbances within you that cause them, and unveiling the Self, you may still get something out of this book—if you keep an open mind and remember that there is no step-by-step guide for finding the Self.
All in all, I think Singer does the best that he possibly can with guiding his readers toward finding inner peace, and I look forward to revisiting his book again and again.
*Featured image by Carlos Urreta.