Whenever people talk about Michael Singer’s “The Untethered Soul”, they almost always remember the powerful metaphor he uses of the thorn. Which is your preferred thorn-strategy — build mechanisms around the thorn to stop it hurting, or to simply take the thorn out?
What is the thorn metaphor?
The thorn represents the painful conditioning we’ve collected over the years, and especially as children. Knowing ourselves at that time as all things. Knowing ourselves as love, connection, peace, joy…only to then be confronted with life that says there are limits to these feelings. Limits to something which you’ve only ever known as innate and natural and infinite and limitless.
You’re taught that love is only allowed in certain circumstances, from certain people — and that it’s dangerous, or arrogant, or not polite, or…whatever…to enjoy it too much. That joy must be curtailed and only expressed at certain times, stopping at the time the grown up says so. That peace is something conditional and required in some situations but not others — going from ‘oh give it a break!’ to ‘oh you’re a bit quiet aren’t you?!’ at seemingly unpredictable times.
It all feels very confusing, and upsetting, but it seems to be the name of the game so you start collecting thorns of conditioning that are believed as ‘success strategies’.
Here are Michael’s words about the metaphor:
“Imagine that you have a thorn in your arm that directly touches a nerve. When the thorn is touched, it’s very painful. Because it hurts so much, the thorn is a serious problem. It’s difficult to sleep because you roll over on it. It’s hard to get close to people because they might touch it. It makes your daily life very difficult. You can’t even go for a walk in the wood because you might brush the thorn against the branches. This thorn is a constant source of disturbance, and to solve the problem you only have two choices.
The first choice is to look at your situation and decide that since it’s so disturbing when things touch the thorn, you need to make sure nothing touches it. The second choice is to decide that since it’s so disturbing when things touch the thorn, you need to take it out.”
The first choice
“If you decide you have to keep things from touching the thorn, then that becomes the work of a lifetime.” Michael Singer
All your actions, your words, your behaviours — they’re all designed to stop anything from touching the thorn. you build a whole bunch of strategies and devices and techniques and approaches to avoid the thorn being touched. To avoid the pain.
You might even think your strategy, device, technique or approach is so good that you tell others about it, start a business, build a whole life around it.
With time, you develop and improve the strategy, device, technique or approach so that it allows you to do more and have more freedom. But, to enable that, the strategy, device, technique or approach has to become ever-more complex, and potentially cumbersome and tiring, in order to ‘fix’ all the ways in which you want to live.
Your life — although seemingly free — is entirely run by the thorn. It’s just that instead of avoiding life to avoid the pain, you’ve built a whole fortress of ‘things I need to do or use’ in order to avoid the pain. The feeling of weight increases with the increased responsibility of keeping all these things in place in order to feel OK.
It looks like the absence of pain is has solved the problem — but it has not addressed the root cause.
The second choice
Simply remove the thorn.
“Do not doubt your ability to remove the root cause of the disturbance inside of you. It really can go away. You can look deep within yourself to the core of your being, and decide that you don’t want the weakest part of you running your life. You want to be free of this.” Michael Singer
How do I do that?
You look to who you are that knows the thorn, and knows the experience of pain (or any other experience).
You stop playing with the thorn, or wishing it wasn’t there.
You stop compensating for the thorn by using strategies, devices, techniques or approaches. Not through force — they just stop looking like what’s most helpful.
You stay as who you are — awareness — and you notice it all: The pain being evoked. The response that attempted to get rid of the pain. The fact the attempts to avoid or get rid of the pain have been endless. The quiet mind that returns as the pain subsides.
“Awareness is simply aware while everything in the universe parades before it.” Michael Singer
But it sounds so passive
How can this be enough? How can this remove these thorns collected so long ago?
The mind — which is all about doing and taking action, solving and fixing — thinks this sounds pointless and passive and never going to make a difference.
But check in your own life. Do you have repeating patterns that keep playing out. Have you tried doing and taking action, solving and fixing? Have you tried strategies, devices, techniques and approaches?
If you have, and they’ve not worked, maybe it’s time to look somewhere else.
With love, Helen
If you’d like to immerse into resources that are all designed to support you with simply removing the thorn, become a member here.
I coach and guide smart, passionate, curious people who care about improving the lives of those around them. Often coaches and leaders, they’ve worked hard all their lives to be the ‘best’ them and it doesn’t seem to have delivered the happiness, security or freedom they expected. Now they’re wondering what else is available. I guide you back, prior to stories, to remember the real you because that’s what you, me and the whole world really wants! Find out more here.