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

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What is the nature of the true self? And how can you know whether a thought or an emotion belongs to your true self?

According to Michael A. Singer, the author of The Untethered Soul, your true self has nothing to do with the incessant voice you hear in your head. Your true self is the awareness behind this voice or the phenomenon that listens to this voice but doesn’t identify with it.

Keep reading to learn about the nature of your true self in opposition to your inner roommate.

Do You Know Your True Self?

Most people are fragmented and unhappy. They lead conflicted lives, driven by a variety of competing motivations and impulses. They would love to follow the advice of Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet to be true to themselves, but they just can’t do it, because Polonius’s advice only works if you really know the self to which you’re supposed to be true. 

Fortunately, there’s an infallible expert on the subject of who you really are: you. You’re the only one with direct, firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be you.

The Problem: You Believe Your Inner Roommate

The reason you feel out of touch with your true self is that you believe, what Michael Singer calls your “inner roommate.” The first step in spiritual awakening is to recognize the voice of this roommate in your head. Because this voice speaks to you as the voice of your own mind, you’ve mistakenly come to believe that it is you.

Your inner roommate hijacks your experience by narrating the world for you. You “hear” it as the endless flow and flux of your thoughts.

  • The voice chatters randomly: “Did I turn off the coffee maker? I need to call Walter. What’s on TV tonight?”
  • The voice argues with itself. “I should get married. No, I’m not ready. But I love him! But it might ruin our relationship.”
  • When you walk, drive, meet people, eat, work, or just sit, your inner roommate narrates it all: “Look, a poodle! Oh, no, here comes Rita. I don’t want to talk to her. Look, a restaurant. I want a taco.”

Your inner roommate’s narration of your life is a defense mechanism. Your roommate fears and hates the world because of the world’s unpredictability, so it generates an illusion of security to provide a sense of control. It invites you to live in your head instead of the full flow of reality itself by giving you a mentally interpreted model of the world to experience. However, this illusion isn’t satisfying, and ultimately it’s pathological. Your roommate is always liable to find something wrong with any situation and decide it doesn’t want to be there. It finds fault, lack, and offense at your wedding, at your job, at home—everywhere and all the time.

If you give it free rein, your inner roommate will ruin your life.

The Solution: Disidentify From Your Inner Roommate 

Recognize Your Mental Voice

Your inner roommate’s voice is so close that it can be hard to notice. However, you can choose to “step back” and pay attention to it. The very act of noticing the voice is the beginning of freedom from it. Don’t try to stop the voice through willpower. Such attempts will only encourage it. By simply noticing it instead of fighting it, you disidentify from it and recognize that you are not it. This breaks its hypnotic spell. 

The one inside you who is aware of the voice is the doorway to your true identity. Through your awareness of it, the very mental voice that worries and distracts can become the thing that launches you into spiritual awakening/ You can also take charge temporarily by “speaking” to yourself with this mental voice. Try it now: Mentally shout “Hello!” and “hear” it in your mind. This is a useful centering technique whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed by racing thoughts.

Witness Your Inner Melodrama

Building on the above, know that in your inner being, there are two distinct aspects. One is awareness, the witness, the center of what you will and intend. The other is everything else, all the stuff the witness watches.

Rest in this subject-object relationship. Whenever you’re emotionally bothered by anything—jealousy, anger, anxiety—ask yourself, “Who sees this? Who’s witnessing this inner disturbance?” Notice that you aren’t the problem, you’re the witness of it, which means you don’t have to get lost in it. Chapter 2 will teach you more about this subject-object distinction.

Learn Your Roommate’s Personality

Having learned to hear your inner roommate and witness its melodrama, now take some time getting to know this inner companion by listening to it—not to believe what it says, but to learn more about its personality so that you’ll be more savvy about its tendencies. Be warned that when you first try this, your roommate will ask you skeptical questions about why you would do such a thing. It wants to remain hidden by your unconscious identification with it. It’s crafty that way.

Consider personifying your inner roommate. Imagine it talking to you from the outside. Spend a day with that person. What does it say? How does it make you feel? Imagine sitting down to watch your favorite television show with this person. Your roommate decides it wants a snack but then agonizes over what to eat. It remembers unfulfilled responsibilities and feels guilty. It sees a redhead on the screen and launches into an angry story about its ex-spouse. Its thoughts and emotions are random, out of control. Notice that this unstable person tries to control your life. It continually dispenses neurotic advice about everything from your work to your health to your relationships.

Refuse to Believe Your Inner Roommate 

Through inner observation, you learn the important lesson that you don’t have to believe, and that you should not believe, what your inner roommate tells you. In fact, your true spiritual growth depends on not believing it. Your inner roommate is obsessed with meaningless things. Most of what it says is a waste of time and energy, or worse, positively harmful. If someone chattered out loud the way your roommate does, you’d think they were crazy. Take a clue from this.

Always remember that the voice isn’t your true self nor is it an accurate reflection of reality. Life will happen as it will happen, regardless of what your mind says about it. The voice is merely a mental commotion about life, not life itself. Even if the voice says nominally “spiritual” things, these are just more empty chatter. Real spiritual growth lies beyond the voice. Until you recognize your inner roommate and decide to free yourself from its drama, you’re not ready for teachings about liberation. But once you’ve recognized it, you can make real use of such teachings.

The Elusive Nature of Your True Self

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  • How to find your true self instead of your false identities
  • Why getting lost in the moment is important
  • Why death is the greatest spiritual teacher about life

darya

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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