The following is the 52nd 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
“If you wish to understand control, think of a little child that is given a taste for drugs. As the drugs penetrate the body of the child, it becomes addicted; its whole being cries out for the drug. To be without the drug is so unbearable a torment that it seems preferable to die. Think of that image —the body has gotten addicted to the drug. Now this is exactly what your society did to you when you were born. You were not allowed to enjoy the solid, nutritious food of life—namely, work, play, fun, laughter, the company of people, the pleasures of the senses and the mind. You were given a taste for the drug called approval, appreciation, attention.
I’m going to quote a great man here, a man named A. S. Neill. He is the author of Summerhill. Neill says that the sign of a sick child is that he is always hovering around his parents; he is interested in persons. The healthy child has no interest in persons, he is interested in things. When a child is sure of his mother’s love, he forgets his mother; he goes out to explore the world; he is curious. He looks for a frog to put in his mouth—that kind of thing. When a child is hovering around his mother, it’s a bad sign; he’s insecure. Maybe his mother has been trying to suck love out of him, not give him all the freedom and assurance he wants. His mother’s always been threatening in many subtle ways to abandon him.
So we were given a taste of various drug addictions: approval, attention, success, making it to the top, prestige, getting your name in the paper, power, being the boss. We were given a taste of things like being the captain of the team, leading the band, etc. Having a taste for these drugs, we became addicted and began to dread losing them. Recall the lack of control you felt, the terror at the prospect of failure or of making mistakes, at the prospect of criticism by others. So you became cravenly dependent on others and you lost your freedom. Others now have the power to make you happy or miserable. You crave your drugs, but as much as you hate the suffering that this involves, you find yourself completely helpless. There is never a minute when, consciously or unconsciously, you are not aware of or attuned to the reactions of others, marching to the beat of their drums. A nice definition of an awakened person: a person who no longer marches to the drums of society, a person who dances to the tune of the music that springs up from within. When you are ignored or disapproved of, you experience a loneliness so unbearable that you crawl back to people and beg for the comforting drug called support and encouragement, reassurance. To live with people in this state involves a never-ending tension. ‘Hell is other people,’ said Sartre. How true. When you are in this state of dependency, you always have to be on your best behavior; you can never let your hair down; you’ve got to live up to expectations. To be with people is to live in tension. To be without them brings the agony of loneliness, because you miss them. You have lost your capacity to see them exactly as they are and to respond to them accurately, because your perception of them is clouded by the need to get your drugs. You see them insofar as they are a support for getting your drug or a threat to have your drug removed. You’re always looking at people, consciously or unconsciously, through these eyes. Will I get what I want from them, will I not get what I want from them? And if they can neither support nor threaten my drug, I’m not interested in them. That’s a horrible thing to say, but I wonder if there’s anyone here of whom this cannot be said.”