The Surrender Experiment

Michael Singer’s biography. When he was young he secluded himself to practice yoga and meditation. Later he decided he wanted to be free from making big decisions for his life and started what he called “The Surrender Experiment”:

If my personal self complained, I would use each opportunity to simply let him go and surrender to what life was presenting me.

From that point on, his life became less and less secluded: he worked as a builder, as a medical software programmer, CEO, etc.

I stopped reading after about 60% of the book because it became mostly about material world achievements and less about spiritual growth. I also became increasingly skeptical about material world claims because of all the hyperbole (paraphrasing: “we found the perfect person for the job”, “it as the perfect house”, “we wrote the absolute best software”).

Michael seemed to put in the same box big career-decisions like accepting requests to build houses or writing medical software, which I would call surrendering, but also decisions like fighting back against a company who wanted to destroy a forest he loved (“I felt a deep obligation to do what I could to protect the beautiful woods on that land."), where surrendering, to me, would mean to let go of the attachment and let them cut it.

I also find it quite jarring to read “Foo was a real asset to the company.”, especially from someone with Michael’s spiritual background.

Most interesting:

  • The powerful samadhi experience during a trip with his friends.
  • The habits he developed to center himself (reminding himself every time he crossed a door that he’s a tiny thing in a planet moving at colossal speeds through space). It’s something I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to do myself for a while.
  • His life example of how to “grow from everything.” What I think he calls “life doing things for him” to me is really him approaching many situations with true open-mindedness.

Michael didn’t want to decide what to do with his life, he wanted to free himself from that, and his approach gave him increasing material success. He also said that the energy he felt during meditation was similar to the energy he felt building houses, programming or leading a large company. It’s hard to comment on something as subjective as “energy”, but when you talk of people as if they’re assets, I find it hard to believe that you’re running on the same “energy” as when you’re meditating.

If you follow yogic logic, what happens to you today isn’t the design of some entity who knows better (life), it’s the result of past actions (karma).

what life throws at you is, at least in many cases, the result of past actions. Accepting someone’s request to build them a house might be the result of being overly active in the past. Your mind might resist it because it’s current goals are different, but if your goal is to be free, I don’t see why simply doing what pisses your mind off the most is the best decision to reach your goal.

From a yogic perspective, I think the author started off his life in a disciplined path but later got side-tracked by distractions.

Highlights

Samadhi experience:

I immediately took a deep breath in and with great intention slowly exhaled through my nostrils. It was as though the outgoing breath pushing against the magnetic force fields created upward lift. That upward and inward propulsion began to drive me to an even deeper place, beyond any sense of self-awareness. One more breath in and out, and I was completely gone. Perhaps you would like to ask where I went. That’s reasonable, but I’m unable to answer that question. I only know that each time I came back, I was in a more elevated state than when I left. When I came back from nowhere the next time, everything was very different. There was no subtle resistance to having returned. There was no sense of urgency to hold on to the elevated state. There was only peace—deep, deep peace. And there was absolute silence, a silence that nothing could possibly disturb. It was so still that perhaps there had never ever been any sound here for all eternity. It was like outer space where there is no atmosphere, so there can be no sound. Sound requires a medium in which to travel. In the place I returned to, there was no such medium. I was truly experiencing the sound of silence. Most important, there was no voice. There was not even the memory of what it would be like to have chatter in that sacred place. It was gone. All gone. All that was left was awareness of being. I simply existed, nothing more. This time no stern beckoning entreated me to go beyond. It was time to come back.

I had to learn to go to classes and take tests while remaining perfectly centered.

I had to learn to use my intellectual mind without disturbing the peace that I now loved more than life itself.

Note that focusing on the energy flow was not something I was doing; it was something that was happening by itself. I was just aware that the flow had never been there before, and now it was always there.

eventually realized that if I didn’t want to listen to the mental chatter, all I had to do was slightly increase my concentration on the energy flow to my brow.

Letting the thoughts go became a game to me.

It was not just a way of escaping the pain; meditation gave meaning to my life.

All I needed in my life was solitude, the discipline of my ever-increasing practices, and a minimal amount of food.

Nothing was left in me that wanted to be an economics professor. I wanted to explore inside, deep inside. The depths of my meditations were all I cared about.

At first, no thoughts were involved. It was more of a feeling, just a definitive knowing that I now knew where the paper was going and how to get there. Then the thoughts began to form. They came slowly at first, then they poured into my mind. I still had to pull them together into a logical flow, but the seeds were all there. It was an amazing process to watch.

I knew where thoughts came from, but where did inspiration come from? It came from a much deeper place than where I witnessed the thoughts. It came spontaneously, in total silence, with no effort or commotion. No matter how hard I might have tried, I could never have written that paper based solely on the efforts of my logical mind.

[…] but I didn’t feel a sense of joy. What I felt was a sense of resolute determination. What lay ahead of me was not going to be easy. I had already committed so much of myself to exploring what was beyond me—now I was going to commit everything.

It didn’t take long before I noticed that food had a major effect on my practices. The less I ate, the easier it was to fall into a meditative state. So I tested the limits of how far I could go without eating. The balance I reached was to eat a small dinner salad every other day and fast in between.

I remember trying to start this book the evening Bob had given it to me, but after a few pages I had to put it down. Not because I didn’t like it, but because each word I read kept drawing me into such a deep meditative state that I couldn’t continue reading. I tried again the next night. The same thing happened. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was certainly intrigued by the experience.

perhaps I’d been going about this in the wrong way. Instead of trying to free myself by constantly quieting the mind, perhaps I should be asking why the mind is so active. What is the motivation behind all the mental chatter? If that motivation were to be removed, the struggle would be over.

If my mind had a preference toward or against something, it actively talked about it. I could see that it was these mental preferences that were creating much of the ongoing dialogue about how to control everything in my life.

If my preferences were not leading me, what would happen to me? These questions did not scare me; they fascinated me. I didn’t want to be in charge of my life; I wanted to be free to soar far beyond myself. I began to see this as a great experiment. What would happen to me if I just inwardly surrendered my resistance and let the flow of life be in charge?

If my personal self complained, I would use each opportunity to simply let him go and surrender to what life was presenting me. This was the birth of what I came to call “the surrender experiment,” and I was totally prepared to see where it would take me.

I had gone through most of my life thinking I knew what was good for me, but life itself seemed to know better. I was now going to test that presumption of nonrandomness to the max. I was willing to roll the dice and let the flow of life be in charge.

[…] see whether I could drive into town, teach the class, and return home while keeping my mind reasonably still. To do that I had to practice maintaining a meditative state at many points throughout the day. I would do yoga on the field before I left and do some controlled breathing exercises in my van before going to class. I would even pause to quiet my mind while standing in front of the class before I started and completed a lecture. On this particular day, I drove in, did some breathing, and walked into a large lecture hall full of students. For some reason they started whistling catcalls when I walked in. It took me a moment to come down to earth enough to realize that when I had gotten off the yoga mat out at my place, I had slipped into my jeans but had forgotten to put on a shirt. I was standing there barefooted and half naked.

Later that morning, I parked outside the business school and meditated for a while before going in. I still felt very quiet inside. There was just a sense of peaceful resignation. I remember feeling I had passed the real test—I had proven that I was capable of deeply surrendering if life presented me with something I really did not want to do.

In my meditations, the deeper I went, the more my breath would slow down—until, eventually, it would naturally stop flowing. I don’t know how long I would stay in that breathless state, but I would come back and gasp for air. At some point, my walk through this cave felt just like that stage of my meditations.

the Bhagavad Gita says that one should raise the self with Self, not trample down the self. I had been trampling down my personal self in the name of getting free from his humanness. I now needed to learn how to raise those energies up to assist me on the journey.

I had built a mental concept of absolute discipline that was actually holding me back.

The energy I experienced while teaching my classes at Santa Fe was the same energy I was dealing with in my yoga and meditations. In meditation, that energy would flow upward and lift me away from my everyday self. When I stood in front of a class, the very same energy would explode into a passionate, heartfelt lecture.

How do I grow from this book?

  • I will refer to the samadhi experience description when I need motivation.
  • I will refer to the various examples of how someone successfully installed habits for mundane actions (connected with Peace is Every Breath’s gathas). If Michael could install them, I can.
  • Reference of someone who reacted to aversions by following the most painful and ego-burning path of doing what the mind doesn’t want. Connected with Tim Ferriss’s “do what you fear most” and using fear as your guide.
  • Reaching samadhi isn’t a guarantee that you will keep growing in the spiritual path.
  • I have mixed feelings about his insight that trying to raise the higher self by crushing the lower self by being too disciplined doesn’t work.

ISBN: 9780804141109, read: August 2021.