Listening to Life
The following is the 53nd 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
“Now, you need awareness and you need nourishment. You need good, healthy nourishment. Learn to enjoy the solid food of life. Good food, good wine, good water. Taste them. Lose your mind and come to your senses. That’s good, healthy nourishment. The pleasures of the senses and the pleasures of the mind. Good reading, when you enjoy a good book. Or a really good discussion, or thinking. It’s marvelous. Unfortunately, people have gone crazy, and they’re getting more and more addicted because they do not know how to enjoy the lovely things of life. So they’re going in for greater and greater artificial stimulants.
“In the 1970s, President Carter appealed to the American people to go in for austerity. I thought to myself: He shouldn’t tell them to be austere, he should really tell them to enjoy things. Most of them have lost their capacity for enjoyment. I really believe that most people in affluent countries have lost that capacity. They’ve got to have more and more expensive gadgets; they can’t enjoy the simple things of life. Then I walk into places where they have all the most marvelous music, and you get these records at a discount, they’re all stacked up, but I never hear anybody listening to them—no time, no time, no time. They’re guilty, no time to enjoy life. They’re overworked, go, go, go. If you really enjoy life and the simple pleasures of the senses, you’d be amazed. You’d develop that extraordinary discipline of the animal. An animal will never overeat. Left in its natural habitat, it will never be overweight. It will never drink or eat anything that is not good for its health. You never find an animal smoking. It always exercises as much as it needs—watch your cat after it’s had its breakfast, look how it relaxes. And see how it springs into action, look at the suppleness of its limbs and the aliveness of its body.
“We’ve lost that. We’re lost in our minds, in our ideas and ideals and so on, and its always go, go, go. And we’ve got an inner self-conflict which animals don’t have. And we’re always condemning ourselves and making ourselves feel guilty. You know what I’m talking about. I could have said of myself what one Jesuit friend said to me some years ago: Take that plate of sweets away, because in front of a plate of sweets or chocolates, I lose my freedom. That was true of me, too; I lost my freedom in front of all kinds of things, but no more! I’m satisfied with very little and I enjoy it intensely. When you have enjoyed something intensely, you need very little. It’s like people who are busy planning their vacation; they spend months planning it, and they get to the spot, and they’re all anxious about their reservations for flying back. But they’re taking pictures alright, and later they’ll show you pictures in an album, of places they never saw but only photographed. That’s a symbol of modern life. I cannot warn you enough about this kind of asceticism. Slow down and taste and smell and hear, and let your senses come alive. If you want a royal road to mysticism, sit down quietly and listen to all the sounds around you. You do not focus on any one sound; you try to hear them all. Oh, you’ll see the miracles that happen to you when your senses come unclogged. That is extremely important for the process of change.”