The following is the 55th 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
“I’ve often said to people that the way to really live is to die. The passport to living is to imagine yourself in your grave. Imagine that you’re lying in your coffin. Any posture you like. In India we put them in cross-legged. Sometimes they’re carried that way to the burning ground. Sometimes, though, they’re lying flat. So imagine you’re lying flat and you’re dead. Now look at your problems from that viewpoint. Changes everything, doesn’t it?
“What a lovely, lovely meditation. Do it every day if you have the time. It’s unbelievable, but you’ll come alive. I have a meditation about that in a book of mine, Wellsprings. You see the body decomposing, then bones, then dust. Every time I talk about this, people say, ‘How disgusting!’ But what’s so disgusting about it? It’s reality, for heaven’s sake. But many of you don’t want to see reality. You don’t want to think of death. People don’t live, most of you, you don’t live, you’re just keeping the body alive. That’s not life. You’re not living until it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn to you whether you live or die. At that point you live. When you’re ready to lose your life, you live it. But if you’re protecting your life, you’re dead. If you’re sitting up there in the attic and I say to you, ‘Come on down!’ and you say, ‘Oh no, I’ve read about people going down stairs. They slip and they break their necks; it’s too dangerous.’ Or I can’t get you to cross the street because you say, ‘You know how many people get run over when they cross the street?’ If I can’t get you to cross a street, how can I get you to cross a continent? And if I can’t get you to peep out of your little narrow beliefs and convictions and look at another world, you’re dead, you’re completely dead; life has passed you by. You’re sitting in your little prison, where you’re frightened; you’re going to lose your God, your religion, your friends, all kinds of things. Life is for the gambler, it really is. That’s what Jesus was saying. Are you ready to risk it? Do you know when you’re ready to risk it? When you’ve discovered that, when you know that this thing that people call life is not really life. People mistakenly think that living is keeping the body alive. So love the thought of death, love it. Go back to it again and again. Think of the loveliness of that corpse, of that skeleton, of those bones crumbling till there’s only a handful of dust. From there on, what a relief, what a relief. Some of you probably don’t know what I’m talking about at this point; you’re too frightened to think of it. But it’s such a relief when you can look back on life from that perspective.
“Or visit a graveyard. It’s an enormously purifying and beautiful experience. You look at this name and you say, ‘Gee, he lived so many years ago, two centuries ago; he must have had all the problems that I have, must have had lots of sleepless nights. How crazy, we live for such a short time. An Italian poet said, ‘We live in a flash of light; evening comes and it is night forever.’ It’s only a flash and we waste it. We waste it with our anxiety, our worries, our concerns, our burdens. Now, as you make that meditation, you can just end up with information; but you may end up with awareness. And in that moment of awareness, you are new. At least as long as it lasts. Then you’ll know the difference between information and awareness.
“An astronomer friend was recently telling me some of the fundamental things about astronomy. I did not know, until he told me, that when you see the sun, you’re seeing it where it was eight and a half minutes ago, not where it is now. Because it takes a ray of the sun eight and a half minutes to get to us. So you’re not seeing it where it is; it’s now somewhere else. Stars, too, have been sending light to us for hundreds of thousands of years. So when we’re looking at them, they may not be where we’re seeing them; they may be somewhere else. He said that, if we imagine a galaxy, a whole universe, this earth of ours would be lost toward the tail end of the Milky Way; not even in the center. And every one of the stars is a sun and some suns are so big that they could contain the sun and the earth and the distance between them. At a conservative estimate, there are one hundred million galaxies! The universe, as we know it, is expanding at the rate of two million miles a second. I was fascinated listening to all of this, and when I came out of the restaurant where we were eating, I looked up there and I had a different feel, a different perspective on life. That’s awareness. So you can pick all this up as cold fact (and that’s information), or suddenly you get another perspective on life—what are we, what’s this universe, what’s human life? When you get that feel, that’s what I mean when I speak of awareness.”