The following is the 41st 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 DeMello Stroud Spirituality Center.
“The only way to change is by changing your understanding. But what does it mean to understand? How do we go about it? Consider how we’re enslaved by various attachments; we’re striving to rearrange the world so that we can keep these attachments, because the world is a constant threat to them. I fear that a friend may stop loving me; he or she may turn to somebody else. I have to keep making myself attractive because I have to get this other person. Somebody brainwashed me into thinking I need his or her love. But I really don’t. I don’t need anybody’s love; I just need to get in touch with reality. I need to break out of this prison of mine, this programming, this conditioning, these false beliefs, these fantasies; I need to break out into reality. Reality is lovely; it is an absolute delight. Eternal life is now. We’re surrounded by it, like the fish in the ocean, but we have no notion about it at all. We’re too distracted with this attachment. Temporarily, the world rearranges itself to suit our attachment, so we say, ‘Yeah, great! My team won!’ But hang on; it’ll change; you’ll be depressed tomorrow. Why do we keep doing this?
Do this little exercise for a few minutes: Think of something or someone you are attached to; in other words, something or someone without which or without whom you think you are not going to be happy. It could be your job, your career, your profession, your friend, your money, whatever. And say to this object or person, ‘I really do not need you to be happy. I’m only deluding myself in the belief that without you I will not be happy. But I really don’t need you for my happiness; I can be happy without you. You are not my happiness, you are not my joy.’ If your attachment is a person, he or she is not going to be very happy to hear you say this, but go ahead anyway. You can say it in the secrecy of your heart. In any case, you’ll, be making contact with the truth; you’ll be smashing through a fantasy. Happiness is a state of nonillusion, of dropping the illusion.
Or you could try another exercise: Think of a time when you were heartbroken and thought you would never be happy again (your husband died, your wife died, your best friend deserted you, you lost your money). What happened? Time went on, and if you managed to pick up another attachment or managed to find somebody else you were attracted to or something else you were attracted to, what happened to the old attachment? You didn’t really need it to be happy, did you? That should have taught you, but we never learn. We’re programmed; we’re conditioned. How liberating it is not to depend emotionally on anything. If you could get one second’s experience of that, you’d be breaking through your prison and getting a glimpse of the sky. Someday, maybe, you will even fly.
“I was afraid to say this, but I talked to God, and I told Him that I don’t need Him. My initial reaction was: ‘This is so contrary to everything that I’ve been brought up with.’ Now, some people want to make an exception of their attachment to God. They say, ‘If God is the God that I think He ought to be, He’s not going to like it when I give up my attachment to Him!’ All right, if you think that unless you get God you’re not going to be happy, then this ‘God’ you’re thinking of has nothing to do with the real God. You’re thinking of a dream state; you’re thinking of your concept. Sometimes you have to get rid of ‘God’ in order to find God. Lots of mystics tell us that. “We’ve been so blinded by everything that we have not discovered the basic truth that attachments hurt rather than help relationships. I remember how frightened I was to say to an intimate friend of mine, ‘I really don’t need you. I can be perfectly happy without you. And by telling you this I find I can enjoy your company thoroughly—no more anxieties, no more jealousies, no more possessiveness, no more clinging. It is a delight to be with you when I am enjoying you on a nonclinging basis. You’re free; so am I.’ But to many of you I’m sure this is like talking a foreign language. It took me many, many months to fully understand this, and mind you, I’m a Jesuit, whose spiritual exercises are all about exactly this, although I missed the point because my culture and my society in general had taught me to view people in terms of my attachments. I’m quite amused, sometimes, to see even seemingly objective people like therapists and spiritual directors say of someone, ‘He’s a great guy, great guy, I really like him.’ I find out later that it’s because he likes me that I like him. I look into myself, and I find the same thing coming up now and again: If you’re attached to appreciation and praise, you’re going to view people in terms of their threat to your attachment or their fostering of your attachment. If you’re a politician and you want to be elected, how do you think you’re going to look at people, how will your interest in people be guided? You will be concerned for the person who’s going to get you the vote. If what you’re interested in is sex, how do you think you’re going to look at men and women? If you’re attached to power, that colors your view of human beings. An attachment destroys your capacity to love. What is love? Love is sensitivity, love is consciousness. To give you an example: I’m listening to a symphony, but if all I hear is the sound of the drums I don’t hear the symphony. What is a loving heart? A loving heart is sensitive to the whole of life, to all persons; a loving heart doesn’t harden itself to any person or thing. But the moment you become attached in my sense of the word, then you’re blocking out many other things. You’ve got eyes only for the object of your attachment; you’ve got ears only for the drums; the heart has hardened. Moreover, it’s blinded, because it no longer sees the object of its attachment objectively. Love entails clarity of perception, objectivity; there is nothing so clear-sighted as love.”