This book is the modern day guide to getting in touch with your inner self. While reading it, I came to recognize two different entities inside of myself. One does the talking and one does the listening. The talker (my ego) talks a big game. He is unabashedly bold and thinks his shit don’t stink. The listener (what I have come to understand as my true self) is bad at pushing back against my ego when it goes too far. Reading this book brought the relationship between these two aspects of my inner self into a realm of greater personal understanding.
This book also really made me appreciate the tremendous power of the mind. Singer uses the allegory of a house in a beautiful field to describe how many of us live our mental lives. The house is “all your past experiences; all your thoughts and emotions; all the concepts, views, opinions, beliefs, hopes, and dreams that you have collected around yourself.” We stay inside our houses because they are safe. But, if we manage to open a window, or break down a wall, we would be faced with the beauty of the outside world. This of course goes hand in hand with change. Breaking down the walls of our conceived houses is equivalent to embracing change and facing our fears. In practice, it is very difficult to do because fear is scary. If we can manage to get to the other side of it, however, and see our fears in a different way and change our thoughts and perceptions that surround it, the field of view is truly breathtaking.
The theme of succumbing to our fears comes up a few times, as Singer notes that “if you have a lot of fear, you won’t like change. You’ll try to create a world around you that is predictable, controllable, and definable.” He goes on to say how in reality, “fear is the cause of every problem. It’s the root of all prejudices and the negative emotions of anger, jealousy, and possessiveness.” Anybody familiar with Star Wars should be hearing Yoda in their heads right now telling young Anakin Skywalker how “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” (and ultimately to the dark side.) Singer and Yoda are saying the same thing: If you let fear be in the drivers seat, you will spend your life perpetually unhappy, always trying to shape external events to fit your internal narrative and soothe your psyche. The way through this is to embrace change and recognize that “if you really want to break through, you have to be willing to just watch the fear without protecting yourself from it. You must be willing to see that this need to protect yourself is where the entire personality comes from.” Fear is what builds the allegorical house. If you want to step outside and feel the warm sunshine on your skin, you must accept that life is full of scary things and you can realistically do very little (oftentimes nothing) about it.
I have noticed this in my dating life. When I’m dating somebody who I really like a lot, and I get scared of losing out on a potentially great relationship with them, I act in ways that often encourage that very outcome. When I date with an ‘I’m going to be my best self and let the chips fall where they may’ attitude, I am always comfortable with the result, regardless of whether it is successful or it doesn’t pan out. I have noticed it in my professional life as well. When I was a younger artist, I used to have tremendous fear that people would never listen to my music or read my writing, and so I sat on it. Eventually I couldn’t anymore and I started putting my creative self our there into the world and the results have been inspiring and encouraging. I now have no fears about how my art will be received because I create it for myself first and foremost. I have also noticed fear in the political actions of friends and relatives. A lot of my family members are Democrats and support the Democratic Party here in the United States. The media uses fear to make them scared of the big bad Republicans and what they might do if they gain too much power. It leads them to hate members of the other political party. My own sister thinks all Republicans are racist, sexist, and homophobic. How many Republicans does she actually know in real life? Not many, most likely none at all. Republicans are the same way, stoking fears of Socialism in order to strengthen their party, which, although effective, also causes their constituents to hate liberals. Everybody is building houses in order to protect themselves from things they are scared of, when it seems to me that we should be breaking the walls down and embracing change.
This book taught me to take notice of my internal energy and gave me confidence that dealing with it is always the better route to take instead of hiding it and letting it fester. Last year, when I turned 30, I booked a flight to Atlanta, Georgia, to visit an old friend from childhood. He turns 30 about two weeks after me and we hadn’t seen each other in years. Sadly, our relationship wasn’t quite what I expected, and we were not as emotionally available with each other as I had hoped. He said some things and acted in some ways that didn’t sit right with me and instead of talking about it, I buried it in an effort to make the short trip as fun as possible. When I got home, I told myself I would wait a week or two and then call him up to talk about it. I ended up waiting 8 months! We communicated many times over those 8 months and I never brought it up. It chewed at my psyche for the entirety of that time, and now that the experience is in my past, I feel downright stupid for letting it sit within me for so long. This man was my best friend for the first 18 years of my life (before college sent us in different directions) and even though we were not as close as we once had been, I was scared to talk openly and honestly with him about my feelings. Because of this, my inner monologue kept me up late on many occasions and bothered me constantly. Once I got the courage to speak with him he was open and receptive to my thoughts and we shared a lovely two hour conversation about the birthday trip and moved past it. I came to this book much later, but the ideas Singer proposes struck this chord with fervor. If you harbor energy that you know is making you emotionally unhappy or unstable, the best strategy is to find a way to release it. Usually this means sharing it with a loved one and finding strength in empathy. It also means finding empathy for yourself. I now make a practice of approaching uncomfortable topics as soon as I recognize them within myself because “stress only happens when you resist life’s events.” My life is infinitely better because of it.
The way forward for me in overcoming my external fears and soothing my internal stressors has been about recognizing when my ego is talking and when my listener isn’t talking back enough. This, I believe, is the essence of this book. Getting in touch with yourself is the pathway forward through the trials of life because life will be stormy no matter what you do. Who you are in relation to the storm is what counts.