Living a Life of Service: Lessons From Michael Singer

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Surrender Experiment" by Michael A. Singer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is living a life of service important? How can you make your life an act of service?

The Surrender Experiment tells the extraordinary story of Michael Singer’s 40-year commitment to saying yes to the opportunities life presented him. In this book, Singer imparts the spiritual lessons he’s learned about living a wholehearted life that’s free of judgment and devoted to service.

Read on to learn what Michael Singer learned from living a life of service by surrendering to the universe.

Living a Life of Service, According to Singer

In The Surrender Experiment, Michael Singer shows us what can happen when you let life, or the “universe,” do what it wants to do rather than you trying to make it do what you want. This is what he calls “surrender.” He explains that the universe is imbued with an intelligence that’s far beyond the limits of human understanding. Life has been evolving for billions of years. From the smallest embryonic cells to the vast planetary systems, the forces of life do exactly what they’re meant to do without our intervention. In the book, Singer explains the lessons he learned from living a life of service—his ego had drawn him toward meditation and yoga because of what it could do for him—but truly surrendering to life would mean acting in service of something greater than himself.

Since a regular community was now practicing meditation and yoga on his property, with him as the leading figure, Singer began seeking out spiritual gurus for their wisdom. By 1974, a young woman named Donna had moved into Sandy’s house; Donna urged Singer to contact a popular Indian guru named Baba Muktananda to ask him to visit Gainesville. Reluctantly, Singer surrendered and said yes. In the winter of 1975, he and Donna organized a weekend retreat for spiritual seekers to come to hear Baba speak. It was wildly successful. The venue was filled to capacity. Ultimately, as a result of this surrender, Baba Muktananda became Singer’s guru, and Donna eventually became his wife.

One of the most profound lessons Singer would learn from Baba was about the importance of living a life of service. Observing how Baba devoted his life to serving others inspired Singer to embrace all the events that had transpired to change his life, because he had allowed life to do what it wanted, in the service of others. He realized he must view his whole life as an act of service. 

The Servant’s Heart 

In The Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren gives a Christian perspective on the concept of living a life of service. He says everyone has a God-given purpose in life, and your life should be centered on discovering and living that purpose intended for you. 

Warren describes the five characteristics of a servant’s heart. Although they’re derived from a different faith tradition, these characteristics and principles align well with what Singer learned about service from his guru.

1) Availability: A life of service requires you to keep your daily schedule as flexible as possible, in case an opportunity for service should arise. When you are needed for something that serves your purpose, you should be able to put down other things and attend to that act of service.

2) Perceptiveness: A servant stays open to the needs of others at all times and notices moments when they can be of service. Pay attention to the little things around you, and look for opportunities to help others.

3) Dedication: Always put your whole heart and effort into your service and do the best you can. Remember that no act of service is too small.

4) Reliability: A servant is always dependable and trustworthy. People who know you should always know they can count on you.

5) Humility: The true servant doesn’t serve for their own glory or gain. Remember, you are doing this in service to a higher power, not for your own benefit. 

Put Your Whole Heart and Soul Into Everything

After his lessons in living a life of service, life would teach Singer about wholeheartedness. A new interest in computer programming would teach him that if he dove into something with his whole heart and soul, life would reward him accordingly. 

On a fall day in 1978, Singer’s life took an unexpected turn in a Radio Shack store. He was making a purchase when something caught his eye: It was one of the first computers made for personal use, and he was instantly fascinated by it. As he began playing around with the computer, he had an intense feeling that he needed to learn more about this technology. A few days later he bought the computer, having no idea what he was going to do with it, but knowing he needed to listen to that feeling.

When Singer got the computer home, he became completely absorbed in it, almost as if it were another form of meditation. This new fascination led to him learning everything he could about computer programming, and he taught himself how to write programs to help him with some of his business tasks. He spent every spare minute of his day diving into programming. He then showed some of his programs to the manager at Radio Shack, and from there he began getting requests from others who wanted programs for a variety of tasks. Of course, he had to say yes to them. 

Before long, Singer had a new business called Personalized Programming. This was Singer’s first experience with significant financial success, and it allowed for the expansion of his most important endeavor, the Temple. And he realized it happened because he had put his whole heart and soul into pursuing what the universe presented. 

Keep Your Spiritual Heart Open

In his previous book, The Untethered Soul, Singer discusses how we all have an inner spiritual energy we can channel to give us motivation, drive, and inspiration. If we’re connected to that, we can put our whole heart and soul into anything we do. But we have to remain open to it and work through any blockages we have.

Singer says this universal energy is like a force field that permeates you and everything in life. Everyone has access to it, but we have bad habits and negative patterns, largely from past life experiences, that impede the flow of this energy through us. As you pursue a life of service, keep in mind Singer’s advice for keeping your spiritual heart open

– Observe shifts in your energy toward tightness or negativity. Notice when anger, jealousy, and other negative emotions come up. 

– When you feel this happening, allow yourself to feel those emotions, then relax, breathe through them, and let them go.

– Remind yourself that those disturbances are not you. You are the one noticing the disturbances.

– Practice this regularly, and notice how it shifts your energy to a feeling of lightness and openness. 

By becoming more adept at keeping your spiritual heart open, you’ll feel more motivation and inspiration in your life and will be better equipped for putting your heart and soul into your life’s work.

As the programming business grew and became more financially lucrative, Singer was able to buy pieces of property adjacent to his current plot and expand the grounds and buildings for the Temple. Each time he was able to amass some savings, another plot would coincidentally come up for sale. In this way, he was able to support the Temple with his programming business

By 1980, as the result of a request that he surrendered to, Singer had designed a specialty software called The Medical Manager that ended up being used by medical offices nationwide.

Singer began hiring employees and creating office space on his expanded land, and by the end of the 1980s, The Medical Manager Corporation was a multimillion-dollar business. Its offices, the Temple, and Singer’s new house now sat on his 170-acres property. Throughout all of this, Singer maintained his firm commitment to daily meditation practice and the Temple. He never relented on his commitment to surrender, a life of service, and wholeheartedness. 

(Shortform note: Although Singer’s business led him to financial abundance and high social status, these weren’t necessarily his goals. Rather, they were byproducts of his devotion to service and surrender. In his book, The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav distinguishes between the pursuit of external vs. internal (or authentic) power. He says you can only experience authentic, internal power when you let go of materialistic pursuits. In order to move in the direction of authentic power, Zukav says you should embrace prayer and faith, and listen to the spiritual guidance that comes to you in prayer.)

The expansion and growth of his business and land continued throughout the next decade. By early 2000, The Medical Manager was valued at $3.5 billion when it merged with WebMD. This was beyond anything Singer had ever dreamed of. But life would have one more important lesson for him.

Align Your Soul With a Universal Purpose 

In The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav describes the “universe” as the divine loving consciousness that makes up everything in existence. Like many spiritual teachers, he uses “the universe” in the way that some would use the word “God.” Similar to Singer’s idea of surrender, Zukav believes our souls must become aligned with the will of the universe in order to achieve our highest purpose in life. And he says we do this by developing our intuition and listening to our inner voice. If you’re contemplating living a life of service, you can make use of some of the strategies he gives for developing this intuitive wisdom:  

  • Eat a clean and healthy diet and tune in to the feelings of your body. Doing this will put you more in touch with your “gut feelings.” Learn to trust those.
  • Set intentions regularly. Always consciously think about the intentions of your actions before doing anything.
  • Stay open and receptive to signs and messages from the universe. Take them seriously and believe that everything the universe presents you with is for a reason.
Living a Life of Service: Lessons From Michael Singer

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  • The story of how a hippie college kid became a wealthy CEO
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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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