While living in Tampa, Florida, in the early 1990s, our family suffered an all-consuming house fire. Poof. Everything instantly burnt to embers. Even still today, it is hard to reconcile the fact that one’s reality can be dismantled so abruptly. How can a singular incident alter so much of what we know and trust and believe? In the physical sense, in the moment of discovery, I lost my United States military uniform, a testament I hoped to pass down to my children as a heritage and legacy. In the spiritual sense, I gained acceptance and friendship with the transitory. The gift of that fire was in the understanding and knowing that all that ever really lasts, all that really ever matters, is love.
Author Michael Singer would agree. In his 2015 publication, The Surrender Experiment (Harmony Books), Singer speaks of the spiritual liberation of deep inner surrender, especially in the midst of life’s extraordinary events. While I was still reflecting on surrender, out of nowhere, my brother’s ex-wife sent me a copy of Singer’s 2007 seminal work, The Untethered Soul (New Harbinger Publication/Noetic Books). Her gracious gift exemplifies the subtitle: The Journey Beyond Yourself. It is this unhitching, unfastening, and unleashing that speaks especially to creative and spiritual people. “Untethering” represents an intentional and purposeful disconnecting from security for the sake of something grander.
We want to cling to the familiar, as you know. As such, though its application is still valid ten years after initial publication, The Untethered Soul was a bit of a philosophical reach for me. Although I admired the merits of free-flowing yogadic meditation methods, I tended to prefer the directed visio divina (divine seeing) for demystifying life’s questions. Yet, I remained mindful of the words of Lesslie Newbigin in Foolishness to the Greeks: “The fact that Jesus is much more than our culture-bound vision of him can only come home to us through the witness of those who see him through other eyes.” And so as I continued my search as an artist and believer, to find the best methods to tap into the divine and unlock the secret regions of the heart, I worked, played, prayed, and made art.
Artists often enhance our prayer life through creative expression and channel our inspiration into physical products, as a form of witness and communication. Singer would say that even this busy-ness, this work, even this can be a form of attachment. Further our attempts at self-medication, preservation, protection, and insulation are all efforts at not feeling too much at all. Likewise neurosis, self-doubt, worry, and confusion keep us at the center of our own manufactured worlds.
Maybe you have found the slow and intentional practice that leads to true co-creation as a godly artist. Looking with God’s eyes, bringing life to his plan for beauty, submitting to his leadership and will, pursuing a heart of purity, and healing others are proven pathways to intimacy with God. If we ask what it is to create, what is the true meaning of the sacred, and ultimately what is holy, Singer would say the answers can be found only when we relax and release.
The Untethered Soul divides a stream-of-consciousness writing style into five concrete sections. In “Awakening Consciousness,” we’re asked about our internal voices and prompted to truly answer the “Who Are You?” questions. In “Experiencing Energy,” we’re reminded of the Infinite Source and asked not to close our hearts to the undesirable in life. In “Freeing Yourself,” Singer compares a rose’s thorns to our fear of personal pain in moving toward true freedom. “Going Beyond” encourages us to pursue a lifelong practice of dismantling walls and letting go of false solidity. Finally, in “Loving Life,” we are reminded that death is our constant, faithful companion and teacher. By employing a Taoist stance of “finding the center of all experience,” we can be helped in regulating life’s extremes.
After my house fire, everything was a confused uncertainty. Ours was a suspected arson, and I found myself shutting down and turning off with friends and family. Those were dark vertigo days of imbalance and clouded thought. I remember thinking that the only thing I really wanted from life (beyond immediate answers) was to feel joy, enthusiasm, and love again. The details, the paperwork, the investigations all became overwhelming. At a certain point, when I couldn’t stop the speeding train, I just sort of decided to let this situation take place and be there with it because I really had no other choice. Singer would call this approach ‘sitting in the seat of consciousness.’ A thought or emotion emerges, you notice it, and it passes because you allow it, rather than cling to it.
This technique of semi-detachment has facilitated my art practice since, as well. If the spiritual journey is one of constant transformation, so is the artistic one. We wish to give up the struggle of remaining the same, and we seek to embrace change. But the journey is often, if not always, one we must take alone. Singer writes:
“You see, loneliness is just like a thorn. It causes pain and disturbance in all aspects of your life. But in the case of the human heart, we have more than one thorn. We have sensitivities about loneliness, about rejection, about our physical appearance, and about our mental prowess. We are walking around with lots of thorns touching right against the most sensitive parts of our heart. At any moment something can touch them and cause pain inside.”
If we can get to the stage of being okay with everything, that is the time everything will be okay. When we embrace the natural unfolding of life, analytical angst can be transformed into open-hearted observation, where we recognize, acknowledge, and let each moment be, not denying the pain or discomfort, but in recognition that each moment does pass, and that peace and joy may be found on the other side of turmoil. This can only occur when we give up clinging and attachment by untethering.
You might protest that it is hard to let go. Believe me, I know. There can be joy in sailing free in unchartered waters. There is light, love, compassion, joy, and protection in yielding to the Holy Spirit. One way to do that is by remaining quietly in the center of each event, buoyed by the awareness that all is transitory. The free soul is the happy soul, one that accepts it all—good or bad, painful or joyful—embracing a journey beyond oneself.
THE UNTETHERED SOUL IS ACCOMPANIED BY ONLINE RESOURCES INCLUDING A READING GUIDE, VIDEO CLIPS, AND RECORDED TALKS WITH MICHAEL SINGER.
 LESSLIE NEWBIGIN, FOOLISHNESS TO THE GREEKS: THE GOSPEL AND WESTERN CULTURE (GRAND RAPIDS: EERDMANS, 1988)
This article by Shauna Lee Lange was previously published March 20, 2017 in CIVA Journal: Christians in the Visual Arts, and is being reproduced here.