Nested in the thicket of North Florida’s wilderness, about a 30 minute drive from the University of Florida, is the Temple of the Universe. The temple is a spiritual sanctuary where ‘men and women of any religion or set of beliefs can come together to experience the love, peace, and bliss which exists within all beings.’ The temple was set up by Michael “Micky” Singer, an ex-entrepreneur who started a company that was acquired by WebMD for over $5 billion to focus fully on writing and spirituality. Micky is an enigmatic figure, rarely appearing in the public eye with the understandable exception made for an interview with Oprah for her Emmy Award winning show, Super Soul Sunday.
His interview with Oprah is phenomenal in its own way and sheds a bit more light on his past to show that he really does practice what he preaches. He talks about how he got caught in the shady underbelly of corporate accounting fraud, and after being framed by a colleague, spent over 6 years in and out of court hearings trying to plead his case. It’s no wonder that he decided to leave the business afterwards and pursue a more enlightened path. Throughout this tumultuous experience, he was able to stay centered and never once faltered on his path towards spiritual unity. There’s also a few other nuggets of wisdom, like the idea that we must ‘remove the thorns within’ and face them head on, if we are ever to truly embody our highest spiritual selves. I’ll let you discover the rest for yourself. 😁
A good friend of mine, Kevin, first told me about temple during my final months as a student at UF. As I was in the enveloped in the warm pre-graduation nostalgia, I decided to partake in this new and unique experience. And so we set off, towards the Temple of the Universe with high hopes and open minds. Unfortunately, the universe conspired against us that day and Kevin’s car broke down a couple of miles away from the temple and we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of UF’s Dairy Unit, surrounded by some indifferent heifers.
Our dairy detour did not deter us however, and Kevin and I found ourselves heading to the temple yet again the following week. This time, there were no notable deterrences and we made it to the temple right on schedule. I was a bit guarded at first because stepping into a nondescript building in the middle of the forest with no cell reception could turn south pretty fast. However, as soon as I entered the temple, my senses were greeted with the comforting embrace of a welcoming spiritual sanctuary. There were 20 or so other intrepid seekers seated on pillows, gathered in a lopsided semicircle around Micky, who sat in the center with a debonair smile on his face and a keyboard on his lap. The temple itself was demure and unpretentious, adorned with iconography from Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. On the walls were images expressing reverence to gurus throughout history who have reached the highest state of enlightenment.
At 8:15pm sharp, the gathering had officially begun and Micky began playing some chords and singing. One by one, everybody joined in and soon we were all singing the trancelike hymn in unison. After about 5 minutes, there was a lull and decrescendo, and the whole room went quiet. Micky readjusted his microphone and began speaking.
“As you become clearer in life, you realize that spiritual growth and personal growth are exactly the same thing. And why is that? Spiritual growth is supposed to be about god, and personal growth is supposed to making something out of yourself. Clearing out yourself, raising yourself. I would prefer that nobody knew anything about god, that they only knew about cleansing themselves. Because, if you’re not there yet, god’s just going to be a concept to you. A belief. Which is of no use. If you work with yourself, you will come to a state where you understand what is meant by god. You don’t have to use the word god, you can use any word you want. It’s just describing a state of being. And so, what does it mean to grow personally? It means to notice that you have issues inside of yourself. You think you have issues outside, no, you have issues inside. There are fears, insecurities, desires, needs, wants, self-consciousness, guilt. These are all words that describe things going on inside of ourselves. The actual experience is inside of you. Those experiences, and facing them is how to experience god. They are the roadmap to achieving spiritual states. But nobody wants to actually do that, right? …”
Throughout his lecture, he wove together science, schools of philosophies, and religions into a surprisingly succinct message regarding the nature of the mind:
We have internal preferences built over years of condition, and most of the suffering in our lives is caused by our resistance to things that do not jive with these preferences.
As a mindfulness junky, Micky’s teachings resonated with me deeply and I found myself on the edge of my pillow, soaking in every last word. At the end of the hour, he took some time to answer specific questions that people had about the lecture, or about life in general. He also made it a point to meet everybody that introduced themselves afterwards, exuding wisdom and groundedness in every single interaction. I have gone back to the temple a handful more times, bringing new friends with me on each pilgrimage (only partially as a rorschach into the deeper compatibility of the friendship).
Since my experience at the temple, I have tried to learn more about Micky’s view of the world and recently read his most renowned book, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. The cheesy naming decisions aside, this book was a delight to read, being meditative and intuitively insightful to its core. The central idea is the duality of self within all of us, which fans out nicely as the self that experiences things — aptly referred to as the ‘monkey mind’, and the self that watches dispassionately from the sidelines, known as the ‘observer’. There is timeless wisdom in the understanding of consciousness as an experience of reconciling the squabbles between these two paradoxical entities within our minds. But how can this be? There is only one of you, so how are there two selves contained within? This dichotomy is something that is quite difficult to grasp empirically and must instead be approached from a more intuitive perspective.
Take for example, the mundane act of having a blood draw for your yearly physical checkup. If you’re anything like me, you dread the thought of needles and try to delay these routine appointments as much as possible. Unfortunately, the doctor catches on and you’re slated for an appointment of stabbed skin. The whole day leading up to the appointment your monkey mind invents narratives of how you could be damaged: maybe the nurse misses and bruises your vein, or they forget to take safety precautions, or maybe you faint. But why? You have not been punctured yet so why do you let the monkey mind inject its misery into your day? Throughout this whole melodrama, the observer is watching intently, and with enough discipline can take the reigns and maneuver you through the situation, mind in tact. It’s as simple as that. You just need to not let the monkey mind get swept up in the worry and fears, but instead let the observer do what it does best: observe without judgement. However, the most simple things are often the most difficult to put into practice.
In his wise and grounded prose, Micky steps us through this idea and slowly peels back the layers of ‘self’, chapter by chapter. At one point, he invites us to visualize the monkey mind self as an irksome roommate. He asks us to consider how long we would tolerate the roommate’s consistently neurotic and damaging behavior, and what steps we would take to make sure that this roommate doesn’t consume our lives. Eventually it becomes clear that we unknowingly live with this damaging roommate in our own heads, but refuse to do anything about it. We go through our lives assuming that whatever thoughts pass through our awareness must mean something, when in reality these thoughts are likely nothing more than manifestations of stimulus fed to the monkey mind roommate. Micky asserts that at the end of the day, we get to choose what we will tolerate in our lives and that this choice includes the relationship we have with our own mind.
The Untethered Soul is a brilliant book that I’ll refer to whenever I get swept up in various machinations of the monkey mind and strive to center myself again. As we are all experiencing some kind of drama or another at any given time, this book will feel like it was written with you and your specific situation in mind. Micky manages to walk the fine line between explaining abstract spiritual concepts and keeping a reader in mind to provide exceptionally relatable examples (like his strange obsession with humdrum traffic and broken hearts). I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is seeking a conduit for a greater level of self-awareness and possibly, a glimpse of eternity.
As I am writing this, the temple has closed down physical operations temporarily for the first time since its inception over 40 years ago, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to this, Micky has decided to post his wisdom online for the benefit of the general public.