Category Archives: Bookmarks
“Most of us make at least three important decisions in our lives: where to live, what to do, and with whom to do it…”
The second book in the Year of Transformation series for September is Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness.
This book was also mentioned in the TED Talk series “Talks to watch when you don’t know what to do with your life”. It’s an easy-to-read overview of all the little quirks and psychological tricks that your mind plays on you when interpreting reality around you.
Engaging and thought-provoking, it’s “a fascinating new book that explores our sometimes misguided attempts to find happiness.” – Time
Michael A. Singer’s book, The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection, blew my mind wide open when I first read it. Having been recommended to me by a similarly wonderful TED Talk in the series TED Talks to Watch When You Don’t Know What to Do with Your Life, I had high hopes. In this memoir of sorts, Michael talks us through his journey to self-realization (an admirable endeavor, although still an ongoing, evolving, and challenging process for most of us).
To break decades of self-discovery and learning down into a digestible format, he divides the book into nine sections: I: Waking Up, II: The Great Experiment Begins, III: From Solitude to Service, IV: The Business of Surrender, V: Something Priceless Is Born, VI: The Forces of Natural Growth, VII: When Dark Clouds Become Rainbows, VIII: Embracing Explosive Expansion, and IX: Total Surrender. As you might guess from such titles, the road to self-realization was not paved or immediately obvious to Michael along the way.
In the first section, he introduces us to why and how exactly he decided to start this course of moving beyond “mental chatter” and surrendering to “life’s perfection”:
“I was gradually learning that life was not as fragile as that voice in my head would have me believe” (pg. 28).
He began this journey “not with a shout – but with a whisper” (pg. 7). One evening, he was sitting with his wife’s brother, Ronnie. They had been chatting when Michael noticed that there was a lull in conversation. He immediately started to worry about what to say next, trying to think up topics for conversation, when he stopped himself and actually observed himself being uncomfortable:
“For the first time in my life, my mind and emotions were something I was watching instead of being” (pg. 8).
This simple realization soon blossomed into a constant and vivid awareness of the voice inside his head – what it was saying, how it was feeling, and how it affected every decision and every moment of his life. He started exploring meditation and yoga as methods of quieting the voice inside and, slowly but surely, he was learning how to disconnect “the panic button” (pg. 30) – he was learning how to be completely at peace with any outcome.
In section two, he thus begins the “experiment of a lifetime” (pg. 53). An experiment in which he was attempting to free himself from “all the mental chatter”:
“I clearly remember deciding that from now on if life was unfolding in a certain way, and the only reason I was resisting it was because of a personal preference, I would let go of my preference and let life be in charge…
The rules of the experiment were very simple: If life brought events in front of me, I would treat them as if they came to take me beyond myself” (pg. 54).
Throughout this process of surrendering, he ends up (through no intention of his own) completing his doctorate, founding a construction company, building a world-renown meditation center, creating “the first Buddhist group in the history of a North Florida prison” (pg. 79), and developing a billion-dollar public software company – all by refusing to let his personal preferences of like and dislike determine the course of his life.
“Time and time again” he saw that if he “could handle the winds of the current storm, they would end up blowing in some great gift”:
“I was beginning to view these storms as a harbinger to transformation. Perhaps change only takes place when there is sufficient reason to overcome the inertia of everyday life. Challenging situations create the force needed to bring about change. The problem is that we generally use all the stirred-up energy intended to bring about change, to resist change. I was learning to sit quietly in the midst of the howling winds and wait to see what constructive action was being asked of me” (pg. 160).
This journey of Michael’s is utterly inspiring, thought-provoking, and existentially challenging from start to finish (if anyone ever really “finishes” this type of journey). The reader experiences a rollercoaster of emotions as they follow him on this path – between sadness and elation to stress and absolute peace. As a result, this book is a great read for everyone in a wide variety of life stages.
Whether you’re having a quarter-, mid-, or finale-crisis – or whether you’re just searching for a fascinating, influential read – I think you’ll enjoy Michael’s odyssey as much as I have.
“In a bold attempt to free myself from all that [mental chatter], I decided to stop listening to all the chatter about my personal preferences…”
“If the natural unfolding of the process of life can create and take care of the entire universe, is it reasonable for us to assume that nothing good will happen unless we force it to?”
The first book in the Year of Transformation series is Michael A. Singer’s The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection.
I first came across this book in the TED Talk series “Talks to watch when you don’t know what to do with your life” and I was instantly hooked.
This book truly blew my mind wide open to the intoxicating possibilities of looking at my life, and my experience of the world around me, in a radically different way – a way in which my own personal assumptions and judgments of the world are irrelevant, unnecessary, and suffocatingly limiting.
So stay tuned to have your mind blown!
I started 2016 thoroughly and utterly entrenched in a rut – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Life had kicked the shit out of me and here I sat battered and bruised, trying to catch my breath and make some sense of what was swirling around me. I was at (what I thought to be) the end of my Life’s Venture. Things had not turned out the way I thought they would, in fact, nowhere near it.
I had managed to battle my way through the ups and downs of starting my very own First Business and now, as I flew back to Seattle after spending a week with my family for the holidays in the Midwest, my mind was clear and calm for the first time in months. As we soared over clouds and blue sky, I pulled out a notebook and started writing. Writing about what to do next, who to be next, what got me to where I was, and what will get me to where I want to be – I asked myself, “Hey Claire, how’s it going? …So what do you want to do?”
I had come to realize that I had been naive, under-funded, and pretty much entirely on my own (for better or for worse) in the business venture – not the best situation to be in but I sure did learn a lot. And now I had to decide what my next steps were going to look like. I came to the answer as I wrote on; “Put your health and happiness first.” But what exactly did that mean?
“Put your health and happiness first.”
I threw out some suggestions like cooking school, travel, reading, art, knitting – finally opening up that Etsy shop with my mom that we’d been talking about for ages. I had watched some interesting TED Talks while I was home for the holidays, listlessly posted up on my parent’s couch. The playlist had been titled, “Talks to watch when you don’t know what to do with your life”. How appropriate.
The last video in the list was Stefan Sagmeister’s The Power of Time Off. In it, he talks about how he’s created a life in which he takes a few years off of his retirement years and intersperses them into his working years. Every 7 years or so, he says adios to work and takes a year off – a “sabbatical year.” He reads, writes, travels, and dreams. He gives himself mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual space to explore old and new ideas, thoughts, and emotions. Navel-gazing, as some would call it.
I told myself as I wrote, “You don’t need to do anything revolutionary.” Funny thing is, though, it wasn’t until recently did I realize that giving myself the gift of time, the gift of self-attention, and the gift of “navel-gazing” was actually a revolutionary act in itself.
“You don’t need to do anything revolutionary.”
We live in a culture in which it is expected that you embrace and fulfill the expectations of those around you. Especially for those who are coming from poorer backgrounds, we represent the culmination of our parents’ (and our parents’ parents’) hopes, dreams, and struggles. “We went through hell to give you this life of opportunity,” they say. “You better be glad that I’m not my mother,” they insist. “I’ve worked hard to give you this life, so you need to move away, go to a good school, and get a good job to show that all my effort has not been in vain.”
I had never taken a year off, hell, I had not even had a summer off since age 15. I started working that summer between 9th and 10th grade because that was, of course, what was expected of me. I once joked to a friend in college that my time during the school year was my “time off,” not my summers. My summers were when I worked my ass off. One summer in college, I remember working 3 different jobs while also going to German classes at the University of Cincinnati. So much for summer “breaks.”
The question on my mind as I sat writing was, “What do I have to prove?” Why couldn’t I put my health and happiness first? So that’s just what I did: I decided to cleanse and purify my life, reducing it down to the essentials. I needed to consolidate and de-clutter my life. I wanted to get rid of all of the physical, intangible, and emotional baggage that was weighing me down and getting in the way of me being the best version of me.
And so I set out on the journey of a lifetime; learning, reading, and absorbing everything on the way to becoming mindful, self-reliant, and self-sufficient. We are human becomings, not just human beings. I now see everything as a learning opportunity and I am constantly on the look out for new books, people, and ideas. And I would like to share what I’ve found out with you guys.
“We are human becomings, not just human beings.”
I’ve decided to start writing about my journey and the process of becoming self-aware. I’ve come across so many good books, articles, TED Talks, and the like that I can’t seem to stop talking about with everyone that I run into nowadays. I find myself continually recommending this book or that book, sharing articles on Facebook, or sending emails with links.
I will try to focus on one book (or topic) a month, so please stay tuned for some mind-blowing content. I sincerely hope you enjoy the ride as much as I have.