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.