Spiritual garbage

I read Michael A. Singer’s The Untethered Soul because Kelly Brogan, M.D., recommended it. I’ve been so touched by Brogan’s writings, I felt compelled to see if I, too, would be moved by Singer’s books.

The short answer is, nope. The longer answer is that I could appreciate aspects of The Untethered Soul, which was written as if a general reflection on the state of the universe. I was soothed enough by it that I decided to read The Surrender Experience, which was a thousand times the “no” to the mild “yes” I felt reading The Untethered Soul.

The premise of The Surrender Experiment was that Singer decided to surrender to whatever life threw at him. Because he surrendered, he fell into mad money wherever he rolled. People, property, and dollars were just things that happened to fall into his lap because he’d opened himself enough to the universe.

So, hear that, people who are being bombed in Afghanistan? The problem is that you’re not opening your heart enough to the gifts of the universe! Open harder, and you’ll survive, even if your village, your close family, and your extended family bite it while you watch! (Should’ve opened your heart harder, eh?!)

And, hey, teenager caring for your two kid siblings in a decrepit area long bereft of training and employment opportunities? If you don’t have solid employment despite the obstacles in your neighborhood, it’s because you didn’t open your heart enough to the awe and wonder of the universe!

Mom who just lost her child to suicide, as one of my neighbors once did: You know what would have helped? Opening yourself to the universe! Letting it flow through you, so your daughter wouldn’t be molested by her uncle and kill herself! If only you’d just, y’know, embraced the universe more, all your material needs would have been met. And isn’t overflowing in material wealth really the sign you’ve made it, after all?! Doesn’t that make up for losing one of the great loves of your life?!

I try not to get this overtly cranky when I write about books, but The Surrender Experiment is basically a noxious variant of The Secret: if you’re not winning, it’s because you’re not attracting hard enough. If you were doing it right, you’d be affirming daily, “I’m smart, I’m open to the universe, I’m listening, and, most of all, I’m sure my success had nothing to do with the fact my dad was a banker and I had done most the work for a Ph.D. before I had my miraculous epiphanies.”

The converse of Singer’s claims that the universe opened to him because he opened to the universe is that the universe closed to others because they didn’t open to it. This is an easy claim for someone who’s known little genuine adversity to make, but a much more difficult claim for anyone who’s seen just how hard it is simply to climb from the rubbish heap into the sunshine when you’ve started in the rubbish.

The good news is that I listened to a few Jon Kabat-Zinn podcasts as I was struggling with The Surrender Experiment. Unlike Singer, Kabat-Zinn is genuinely concerned with your well being, no matter where you are. He’s not concerned with proving how opening yourself to the universe brought him and will bring you material riches. He’s interested in showing you how mindfulness can enrich your experience of the universe, no matter where and how you’re living within it.

So, spiritual garbage of Springer? No, thanks, though I’m glad he’s part of what inspired Brogan to care as she does.

The spiritual uplift of Kabat-Zinn, on the other hand? That, concerned with internal well being of many as opposed to the material wealth of one, I can and will so get behind.

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Deeper than the weather

A few weeks ago, a meticulously coiffed older woman rang up my newest order of books. “You always buy the most eclectic books!” she exclaimed, beaming.

Yesterday, I looked at the cover of one of my  newer-still books while the same woman rang up others. “Oh, that’s the image from a podcast I just subscribed to!” I exclaimed at the peculiar image.

The woman glanced at the cover, smiled, and said, “I wouldn’t expect anything ordinary from you!” She quickly added, “I mean that in a good way.”

“That’s how I took it,” I said, returning her smile.

Before I’d even reached the register yesterday, I’d already had a couple of delightful conversations with bookstore folk. One older man was especially, fabulously delighted I’d bought a book called The Rainbow Goblins when my first child was a baby.

Last night, I got the chance to recommend two books to a woman at a Long Beach Progressive Revolution meeting. It was such a joy talking politics, books, and hope!

This morning, I stood in a coffee shop line (for a decaf; none more caf for me, ever) and pulled out of my purse one of yesterday’s books. Another woman in line saw its cover and asked me if I’d mind describing it. She was intrigued by the title and the image of a lone horse galloping through waves.

I told her I’d never usually read this kind of stuff, making a face when I said “this kind.” I said that I’d picked up The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself because it came recommended by someone I admire, and that I was glad I’d bought it. Just reading one page in line, I explained, had eased my heart immensely. It left me feeling better prepared for the day.

She thanked me for sharing and said she needed something just like to ease her heart.

Then, walking into my office building a few minutes later, I shifted my book and coffee to hold a door open for someone just behind me. “You’re my superhero!” he exclaimed. “Always reading so many things while you walk.”

I laughed and said my current book is rejuvenating compared to the depressing material I usually read. He smiled and wished me a good day.

Not too many hours later, I spotted my manager walking back from lunch with a book in his hands. I grinned, delighted to see someone else too caught up in reading to stop reading one second too early.

Once again, I assert that reading isn’t always a lonely thing. Sometimes, in the right time and place, it can be an invitation to connect at a level deeper than the weather.