If you’re looking for a good book this January that will provide inspiration beyond the usual barrage of inspirational (or irritating) quotes on social media, try this. I do wish MIchael Singer would reconsider the title and the image on the cover though. For a book this helpful and practical for everyday life, it needs a re-brand.
There is one essential point being made:
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realising that you are not the voice of the mind — you are the one who hears it. If you don’t understand this, you will try to figure out which of the many things the voice says is really you. People go through so many changes in the name of “trying to find myself.” They want to discover which of these voices, which of these aspects of their personality, is who they really are. The answer is simple: none of them.”
The point is not new, of course. From the introductory section Singer quotes Shakespeare, Freud and various Eastern and Western texts. Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), a great teacher in the yogic tradition, is quoted as teaching that in order to attain inner freedom one must continuously and sincerely ask the question ‘Who am I?’ and that this is more important than learning mantras or going to holy places. Or in other words, what is this ‘inner monologue’ or ‘voice inside our head?’, why do we have it and, more importantly, why do we let it dominate our thoughts, feelings and actions? Is it us? Can we stand aside and observe it? What might the benefits be of that observation?
The skill of the book is how it guides the reader through these questions using everyday experiences. For example: “Thoughts can stop and they can also get extremely noisy. You may even tell someone, ‘My mind is driving me crazy. Ever since he said those things to me, I can’t even sleep. My mind just won’t shut up.’
Step by step, Singer introduces the concept of consciousness and how, by watching our mind, we notice that it is constantly engaged in the process of trying to make everything safe. The mind is constantly telling us what to do or not do, where to go; an act of constantly worrying that is a form of suffering. It seeks external changes which don’t address the root of the problem which is that we don’t feel whole and complete within ourselves. So we hide behind finances, relationships with people, fame and adoration. We also seek to avoid pain in many ways that includes blaming others for things that we cannot confront in ourselves, or trying to control the world so that it fits with our own mental models and experiences.
The strength of the book lies in the gentle introduction of these questions and the raising of awareness that life might be different if we choose. That:
“The key is to be quiet. It’s not that your mind has to be quiet. You be quiet. You, the one inside watching the neurotic mind, just relax. (…) The minute you stop putting your whole heart and soul into the mind as if it were your saviour and protector, you will find yourself behind the mind watching it.”
It takes a whole book to explain this concept in a way that starts to feel real and applicable but it is a comfortable read. What the book misses, for me, is how you really grasp hold of this new way of thinking that has been presented to you. Perhaps that is the point!
My personal perspective is that it is through a combination of yoga and meditation that I attempt to still my mind and it is a daily challenge. However I do like the simplicity of the practise of stopping yourself as often as you can and quietly saying ‘hello’ to yourself to remind you that you are not a victim of your own inner monologue and constant rush of moods, feelings, anxieties and insecurities.
Singer’s book made number one on the New York Times bestseller list and you will find interviews with Oprah Winfrey and others.
So, hopefully the simple message of the book is resonating with people who might not otherwise have access to it. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a practical explanation of this topic, with a view to further study if you want to learn what to do about it.