Awareness Without Evaluating Everything
The following is the 13th chapter in AWARENESS: A de Mellow Spirituality Conference in His Own Words
by Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. edited by J. Francis Stroud, S.J., Copyright © 1990 by the Center for Spiritual Exchange
“Do you want to change the world? How about beginning with yourself? How about being transformed yourself first? But how do you achieve that? Through observation. Through understanding. With no interference or judgment on your part. Because what you judge you cannot understand.
When you say of someone, ‘He’s a communist,’ understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on him. ‘She’s a capitalist.’ Understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on her, and if the label carries undertones of approval or disapproval, so much the worse! How are you going to understand what you disapprove of, or what you approve of, for that matter? All of this sounds like a new world, doesn’t it? No judgment, no commentary, no attitude: one simply observes, one studies, one watches, without the desire to change what is. Because if you desire to change what is into what you think should be, you no longer understand. A dog trainer attempts to understand a dog so that he can train the dog to perform certain tricks. A scientist observes the behavior of ants with no further end in view than to study ants, to learn as much as possible about them. He has no other aim. He’s not attempting to train them or get anything out of them. He’s interested in ants, he wants to learn as much as possible about them. That’s his attitude. The day you attain a posture like that, you will experience a miracle. You will change—effortlessly, correctly. Change will happen, you will not have to bring it about. As the life of awareness settles on your darkness, whatever is evil will disappear. Whatever is good will be fostered. You will have to experience that for yourself.
But this calls for a disciplined mind. And when I say disciplined, I’m not talking about effort. I’m talking about something else. Have you ever studied an athlete. His or her whole life is sports, but what a disciplined life he or she leads. And look at a river as it moves toward the sea. It creates its own banks that contain it. When there’s something within you that moves in the right direction, it creates its own discipline. The moment you get bitten by the bug of awareness. Oh, it’s so delightful! It’s the most delightful thing in the world; the most important, the most delightful. There’s nothing so important in the world as awakening. Nothing! And, of course, it is also discipline in its own way.
There’s nothing so delightful as being aware. Would you rather live in darkness? Would you rather act and not be aware of your actions, talk and not be aware of your words? Would you rather listen to people and not be aware of what you’re hearing, or see things and not be aware of what you’re looking at? The great Socrates said, ‘The unaware life is not worth living.’ That’s a self-evident truth. Most people don’t live aware lives. They live mechanical lives, mechanical thoughts—generally somebody else’s—mechanical emotions, mechanical actions, mechanical reactions. Do you want to see how mechanical you really are? ‘My, that’s a lovely shirt you’re wearing.’ You feel good hearing that. For a shirt, for heaven’s sake! You feel proud of yourself when you hear that. People come over to my center in India and they say, ‘What a lovely place, these lovely trees’ (for which I’m not responsible at all), ‘this lovely climate.’ And already I’m feeling good, until I catch myself feeling good, and I say, ‘Hey, can you imagine anything as stupid as that?’ I’m not responsible for those trees; I wasn’t responsible for choosing the location. I didn’t order the weather; it just happened. But ‘me’ got in there, so I’m feeling good. I’m feeling good about ‘my’ culture and ‘my’ nation. How stupid can you get? I mean that. I’m told my great Indian culture has produced all these mystics. I didn’t produce them. I’m not responsible for them. Or they tell me, ‘That country of yours and its poverty—it’s disgusting.’ I feel ashamed. But I didn’t create it. What’s going on? Did you ever stop to think? People tell you, ‘I think you’re very charming,’ so I feel wonderful. I get a positive stroke (that’s why they call it I’m O.K., you’re O.K.). I’m going to write a book someday and the title will be I’m an Ass, You’re an Ass. That’s the most liberating, wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you’re an ass. It’s wonderful. When people tell me, ‘You’re wrong.’ I say, ‘What can you expect of an ass?’
Disarmed, everybody has to be disarmed. In the final liberation, I’m an ass, you’re an ass. Normally the way it goes, I press a button and you’re up; I press another button and you’re down. And you like that. How many people do you know who are unaffected by praise or blame? That isn’t human, we say. Human means that you have to be a little monkey, so everybody can twist your tail, and you do whatever you ought to be doing. But is that human? If you find me charming, it means that right now you’re in a good mood, nothing more.
It also means that I fit your shopping list. We all carry a shopping list around, and it’s as though you’ve got to measure up to this list—tall, um, dark, um, handsome, according to my tastes. ‘I like the sound of his voice.’ You say, ‘I’m in love.’ You’re not in love, you silly ass. Any time you’re in love—I hesitate to say this—you’re being particularly asinine. Sit down and watch what’s happening to you. You’re running away from yourself. You want to escape. Somebody once said, ‘Thank God for reality, and for the means to escape from it.’ So that’s what’s going on. We are so mechanical, so controlled. We write books about being controlled and how wonderful it is to be controlled and how necessary it is that people tell you you’re O.K. Then you’ll have a good feeling about yourself. How wonderful it is to be in prison! Or as somebody said to me yesterday, to be in your cage. Do you like being in prison? Do you like being controlled? Let me tell you something: If you ever let yourself feel good when people tell you that you’re O.K., you are preparing yourself to feel bad when they tell you you’re not good. As long as you live to fulfill other people’s expectations, you better watch what you wear, how you comb your hair, whether your shoes are polished—in short, whether you live up to every damned expectation of theirs. Do you call that human?
This is what you’ll discover when you observe yourself! You’ll be horrified! The fact of the matter is that you’re neither O.K. nor not O.K. You may fit the current mood or trend or fashion! Does that mean you’ve become O.K.? Does your O.K.-ness depend on that? Does it depend on what people think of you? Jesus Christ must have been pretty ‘not O.K.’ by those standards. You’re not O.K. and you’re not not O.K., you’re you. I hope that is going to be the big discovery, at least for some of you. If three or four of you make this discovery during these days we spend together, my, what a wonderful thing! Extraordinary! Cut out all the O.K. stuff and the not-O.K. stuff; cut out all the judgments and simply observe, watch. You’ll make great discoveries. These discoveries will change you. You won’t have to make the slightest effort, believe me.
This reminds me of this fellow in London after the war. He’s sitting with a parcel wrapped in brown paper in his lap; it’s a big, heavy object. The bus conductor comes up to him and says, ‘What do you have on your lap there?’ And the man says, ‘This is an unexploded bomb. We dug it out of the garden and I’m taking it to the police station.’ The conductor says, ‘You don’t want to carry that on your lap. Put it under the seat.’
Psychology and spirituality (as we generally understand it) transfer the bomb from your lap to under your seat. They don’t really solve your problems. They exchange your problems for other problems. Has that ever struck you? You had a problem, now you exchange it for another one. It’s always going to be that way until we solve the problem called ‘you.’”