Clinging to Illusion
The following is the 34th 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
“When you cling, life is destroyed; when you hold on to anything, you cease to live. It’s all over the gospel pages. And one attains this by understanding. Understand. Understand another illusion, too, that happiness is not the same as excitement, it’s not the same as thrills. That’s another illusion, that a thrill comes from living a desire fulfilled. Desire breeds anxiety and sooner or later it brings its hangover. When you’ve suffered sufficiently, then you are ready to see it. You’re feeding yourself with thrills. This is like feeding a racehorse with delicacies. You’re giving it cakes and wine. You don’t feed a racehorse like that. It’s like feeding human beings with drugs. You don’t fill your stomach with drugs. You need good, solid, nutritious food and drink. You need to understand all this for yourself.
Another illusion is that someone else can do this for you, that some savior or guru or teacher can do this for you. Not even the greatest guru in the world can take a single step for you. You’ve got to take it yourself. St. Augustine said it so marvelously: ‘Jesus Christ himself could do nothing for many of his hearers.’ Or to repeat that lovely Arab saying: ‘The nature of the rain is the same and yet it produces thorns in the marsh and flowers in the garden.’ It is you who have to do it. No one else can help you. It is you who have to digest your food, it is you who have to understand. No one else can understand for you. It is you who have to seek. Nobody can seek for you. And if what you seek is truth, then you must do this. You can lean on no one.
There is yet another illusion, that it is important to be respectable, to be loved and appreciated, to be important. Many say we have a natural urge to be loved and appreciated, to belong. That’s false. Drop this illusion and you will find happiness. We have a natural urge to be free, a natural urge to love, but not to be loved. Sometimes in my psychotherapy sessions I encounter a very common problem: Nobody loves me; how, then, can I be happy? I explain to him or her: ‘You mean you never have any moments when you forget you’re not loved and you let go and are happy?’ Of course they have.
A woman, for example, is absorbed in a movie. It’s a comedy and she’s roaring with laughter and in that blessed moment she’s forgotten to remind herself that nobody loves her, nobody loves her, nobody loves her. She’s happy! Then she comes out of the theater and her friend whom she saw the movie with goes off with a boyfriend, leaving the woman all alone. So she starts thinking, ‘All my friends have boyfriends and I have no one. I’m so unhappy. Nobody loves me!’
In India, many of our poor people are starting to get transistor radios, which are quite a luxury. ‘Everybody has a transistor,’ you hear, ‘but I don’t have a transistor; I’m so unhappy.’ Until everyone started getting transistors, they were perfectly happy without one. That’s the way it is with you. Until somebody told you wouldn’t be happy unless you were loved, you were perfectly happy. You can become happy not being loved, not being desired by or attractive to someone. You become happy by contact with reality. That’s what brings happiness, a moment-by-moment contact with reality. That’s where you’ll find God; that’s where you’ll find happiness. But most people are not ready to hear that.
Another illusion is that external events have the power to hurt you, that other people have the power to hurt you. They don’t. It’s you who give this power to them.
Another illusion: You are all those labels that people have put on you, or that you have put on yourself. You’re not, you’re not! So you don’t have to cling to them. The day that somebody tells me I’m a genius and I take that seriously, I’m in big trouble. Can you understand why? Because now I’m going to start getting tense. I’ve got to live up to it, I’ve got to maintain it. I’ve got to find out after every lecture: ‘Did you like the lecture? Do you still think I’m a genius?’ See? So what you need to do is smash the label! Smash it, and you’re free! Don’t identify with those labels. That’s what someone else thinks. That’s how he experienced you at that moment. Are you in fact a genius? Are you a nut? Are you a mystic? Are you crazy? What does it really matter? Provided you continue to be aware, to live life from moment to moment. How marvelously it is described in those words of the gospel: ‘Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns … Consider the lilies of the field . . . they neither toil nor spin.’ That’s the real mystic speaking, the awakened person.
So why are you anxious? Can you, for all your anxieties, add a single moment to your life? Why bother about tomorrow? Is there a life after death? Will I survive after death? Why bother about tomorrow? Get into today. Someone said, ‘Life is something that happens to us while we’re busy making other plans.’ That’s pathetic. Live in the present moment. This is one of the things you will notice happening to you as you come awake. You find yourself living in the present, tasting every moment as you live it. Another fairly good sign is when you hear the symphony one note after the other without wanting to stop it.”