How Happiness Happens
The following is the 19th 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
‘Come home to yourself. Observe yourself. That’s why I said earlier that self-observation is such a delightful and extraordinary thing. After a while you don’t have to make any effort, because, as illusions begin to crumble, you begin to know things that cannot be described. It’s called happiness. Everything changes and you become addicted to awareness.
There’s the story of the disciple who went to the master and said, “Could you give me a word of wisdom? Could you tell me something that would guide me through my days?” It was the master’s day of silence, so he picked up a pad. It said, “Awareness.” When the disciple saw it, he said, “This is too brief. Can you expand on it a bit?” So the master took back the pad and wrote, “Awareness, awareness, awareness.” The disciple said, “Yes, but what does it mean?” The master took back the pad and wrote, “Awareness, awareness, awareness means—awareness.”
That’s what it is to watch yourself. No one can show you how to do it, because he would be giving you a technique, he would be programming you. But watch yourself. When you talk to someone, are you aware of it or are you simply identifying with it? When you got angry with somebody, were you aware that you were angry or were you simply identifying with your anger? Later, when you had the time, did you study your experience and attempt to understand it? Where did it come from? What brought it on? I don’t know of any other way to awareness. You only change what you understand. What you do not understand and are not aware of, you repress. You don’t change. But when you understand it, it changes.
I am sometimes asked, “Is this growing in awareness a gradual thing, or is it a ‘whammo’ kind of thing?” There are some lucky people who see this in a flash. They just become aware. There are others who keep growing into it, slowly, gradually, increasingly. They begin to see things. Illusions drop away, fantasies are peeled away, and they start to get in touch with facts. There’s no general rule. There’s a famous story about the lion who came upon a flock of sheep and to his amazement found a lion among the sheep. It was a lion who had been brought up by the sheep ever since he was a cub. It would bleat like a sheep and run around like a sheep. The lion went straight for him, and when the sheep-lion stood in front of the real one, he trembled in every limb. And the lion said to him, “What are you doing among these sheep?” And the sheep-lion said, “I am a sheep.” And the lion said, “Oh no you’re not. You’re coming with me.” So he took the sheep-lion to a pool and said, “Look!” And when the sheep-lion looked at his reflection in the water, he let out a mighty roar, and in that moment he was transformed. He was never the same again.
If you’re lucky and the gods are gracious or if you are gifted with divine grace (use any theological expression you want), you might suddenly understand who “I” is, and you’ll never be the same again, never. Nothing will ever be able to touch you again and no one will ever be able to hurt you again.
You will fear no one and you will fear nothing. Isn’t that extraordinary? You’ll live like a king, like a queen. This is what it means to live like royalty. Not rubbish like getting your picture in the newspapers or having a lot of money. That’s a lot of rot. You fear no one because you’re perfectly content to be nobody. You don’t give a damn about success or failure. They mean nothing. Honor, disgrace, they mean nothing! If you make a fool of yourself, that means nothing either. Isn’t that a wonderful state to be in! Some people arrive at this goal painstakingly, step by step, through months and weeks of self-awareness. But I’ll promise you this: I have not known a single person who gave time to being aware who didn’t see a difference in a matter of weeks. The quality of their life changes, so they don’t have to take it on faith anymore. They see it; they’re different. They react differently. In fact, they react less and act more. You see things you’ve never seen before.
You’re much more energetic, much more alive. People think that if they had no cravings, they’d be like deadwood. But in fact they’d lose their tension. Get rid of your fear of failure, your tensions about succeeding, you will be yourself. Relaxed. You wouldn’t be driving with your brakes on. That’s what would happen.
There’s a lovely saying of Tranxu, a great Chinese sage, that I took the trouble to learn by heart. It goes: “When the archer shoots for no particular prize, he has all his skills; when he shoots to win a brass buckle, he is already nervous; when he shoots for a gold prize, he goes blind, sees two targets, and is out of his mind. His skill has not changed, but the prize divides him. He cares! He thinks more of winning than of shooting, and the need to win drains him of power.” Isn’t that an image of what most people are? When you’re living for nothing, you’ve got all your skills, you’ve got all your energy, you’re relaxed, you don’t care, it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose.
Now there’s human living for you. That’s what life is all about. That can only come from awareness. And in awareness you will understand that honor doesn’t mean a thing. It’s a social convention, that’s all. That’s why the mystics and the prophets didn’t bother one bit about it. Honor or disgrace meant nothing to them. They were living in another world, in the world of the awakened. Success or failure meant nothing to them. They had the attitude: “I’m an ass, you’re an ass, so where’s the problem?”
Someone once said, “The three most difficult things for a human being are not physical feats or intellectual achievements. They are, first, returning love for hate; second, including the excluded; third, admitting that you are wrong.” But these are the easiest things in the world if you haven’t identified with the “me.” You can say things like “I’m wrong! If you knew me better, you’d see how often I’m wrong. What would you expect from an ass?” But if I haven’t identified with these aspects of “me,” you can’t hurt me. Initially, the old conditioning will kick in and you’ll be depressed and anxious. You’ll grieve, cry, and so on. “Before enlightenment, I used to be depressed: after enlightenment, I continue to be depressed.” But there’s a difference: I don’t identify with it anymore. Do you know what a big difference that is?
You step outside of yourself and look at that depression, and don’t identify with it. You don’t do a thing to make it go away; you are perfectly willing to go on with your life while it passes through you and disappears. If you don’t know what that means, you really have something to look forward to. And anxiety? There it comes and you’re not troubled. How strange! You’re anxious but you’re not troubled.
Isn’t that a paradox? And you’re willing to let this cloud come in, because the more you fight it, the more power you give it. You’re willing to observe it as it passes by. You can be happy in your anxiety. Isn’t that crazy? You can be happy in your depression. But you can’t have the wrong notion of happiness. Did you think happiness was excitement or thrills? That’s what causes the depression. Didn’t anyone tell you that? You’re thrilled, all right, but you’re just preparing the way for your next depression. You’re thrilled but you pick up the anxiety behind that: How can I make it last? That’s not happiness, that’s addiction.
I wonder how many nonaddicts there are reading this book? If you’re anything like the average group, there are few, very few. Don’t look down your nose at the alcoholics and the drug addicts: maybe you’re just as addicted as they are. The first time I got a glimpse of this new world, it was terrifying. I understood what it meant to be alone, with nowhere to rest your head, to leave everyone free and be free yourself, to be special to no one and love everyone—because love does that. It shines on good and bad alike; it makes rain fall on saints and sinners alike.
Is it possible for the rose to say, “I will give my fragrance to the good people who smell me, but I will withhold it from the bad”? Or is it possible for the lamp to say, “I will give my light to the good people in this room, but I will withhold it from the evil people”? Or can a tree say, “I’ll give my shade to the good people who rest under me, but I will withhold it from the bad”? These are images of what love is about.
It’s been there all along, staring us in the face in the scriptures, though we never cared to see it because we were so drowned in what our culture calls love with its love songs and poems—that isn’t love at all, that’s the opposite of love. That’s desire and control and possessiveness. That’s manipulation, and fear, and anxiety—that’s not love. We were told that happiness is a smooth complexion, a holiday resort. It isn’t these things, but we have subtle ways of making our happiness depend on other things, both within us and outside us. We say, “I refuse to be happy until my neurosis goes.” I have good news for you: You can be happy right now, with the neurosis, You want even better news? There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing what in India we call anand—bliss, bliss. There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it’s because you’re thinking or focusing on what you don’t have. Otherwise you would be experiencing bliss. You’re focusing on what you don’t have. But, right now you have everything you need to be in bliss.
Jesus was talking horse sense to lay people, to starving people, to poor people. He was telling them good news: It’s yours for the taking. But who listens? No one’s interested, they’d rather be asleep.’