Are We Talking About Spirituality in This Psychology Course

by markhofreiter

The following is the 5th 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.

“Is psychology more practical than spirituality? Nothing is more practical than spirituality. What can the poor psychologist do? He can only relieve the pressure. I’m a psychologist myself, and I practice psychotherapy, and I have this great conflict within me when I have to choose sometimes between psychology and spirituality. I wonder if that makes sense to anybody here. It didn’t make sense to me for many years.

“I’ll explain. It didn’t make sense to me for many years until I suddenly discovered that people have to suffer enough in a relationship so that they get disillusioned with all relationships. Isn’t that a terrible thing to think? They’ve got to suffer enough in a relationship before they wake up and say, ‘I’m sick of it! There must be a better way of living than depending on another human being.’ And what was I doing as a psychotherapist? People were coming to me with their relationship problems, with their communication problems, etc., and sometimes what I did was a help. But sometimes, I’m sorry to say, it wasn’t, because it kept people asleep. Maybe they should have suffered a little more. Maybe they ought to touch rock bottom and say, ‘I’m sick of it all.’ It’s only when you’re sick of your sickness that you’ll get out of it. Most people go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist to get relief. I repeat: to get relief. Not to get out of it.

“There’s the story of little Johnny who, they say, was mentally retarded. But evidently he wasn’t, as you’ll learn from this story. Johnny goes to modeling class in his school for special children and he gets his piece of putty and he’s modeling it. He takes a little lump of putty and goes to a corner of the room and he’s playing with it. The teacher comes up to him and says, ‘Hi, Johnny.’ And Johnny says, ‘Hi.’ And the teacher says, ‘What’s that you’ve got in your hand?’ And Johnny says, ‘This is a lump of cow dung.’ The teacher asks, ‘What are you making out of it?’ He says, ‘I’m making a teacher.’
“The teacher thought, ‘Little Johnny has regressed.’ So she calls out to the principal, who was passing by the door at that moment, and says, ‘Johnny has regressed.’

“So the principal goes up to Johnny and says, ‘Hi, son.’ And Johnny says, ‘Hi.’ And the principal says, ‘What do you, have in your hand?’ And he says, ‘A lump of cow dung.’ ‘What are you making out of it?’ And he says, ‘A principal.’

“The principal thinks that this is a case for the school psychologist. ‘Send for the psychologist!

“The psychologist is a clever guy. He goes up and says, ‘Hi.’ And Johnny says, ‘Hi.’ And the psychologist says, ‘I know what you’ve got in your hand.’

‘What?’ ‘A lump of cow dung.’ Johnny says, “‘Right.’ ‘And I know what you’re making out of it.’ ‘What?’

“‘You’re making a psychologist.’ ‘Wrong. Not enough cow dung!’ And they called him mentally retarded!

“The poor psychologists, they’re doing a good job. They really are. There are times when psychotherapy is a tremendous help, because when you’re on the verge of going insane, raving mad, you’re about to become either a psychotic or a mystic. That’s what the mystic is, the opposite of the lunatic. Do you know one sign that you’ve woken up? It’s when you are asking yourself, ‘Am I crazy, or are all of them crazy?’ It really is. Because we are crazy. The whole world is crazy. Certifiable lunatics! The only reason we’re not locked up in an institution is that there are so many of us. So we’re crazy. We’re living on crazy ideas about love, about relationships, about happiness, about joy, about everything. We’re crazy to the point, I’ve come to believe, that if everybody agrees on something, you can be sure it’s wrong! Every new idea, every great idea, when it first began was in a minority of one. That man called Jesus Christ—minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying. The Buddha—minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying. I think it was Bertrand Russell who said, ‘Every great idea starts out as a blasphemy.’ That’s well and accurately put. You’re going to hear lots of blasphemies during these days. ‘He hath blasphemed!’ Because people are crazy, they’re lunatics, and the sooner you see this, the better for your mental and spiritual health. Don’t trust them. Don’t trust your best friends. Get disillusioned with your best friends. They’re very clever. As you are in your dealings with everybody else, though you probably don’t know it. Ah, you’re so wily, and subtle, and clever. You’re putting on a great act.

“I’m not being very complimentary here, am I? But I repeat: You want to wake up. You’re putting on a great act. And you don’t even know it. You think you’re being so loving. Ha! Whom are you loving? Even your self-sacrifice gives you a good feeling, doesn’t it? ‘I’m sacrificing myself! I’m living up to my ideal.’ But you’re getting something out of it, aren’t you? You’re always getting something out of everything you do, until you wake up.

“So there it is: step one. Realize that you don’t want to wake up. It’s pretty difficult to wake up when you have been hypnotized into thinking that a scrap of old newspaper is a check for a million dollars. How difficult it is to tear yourself away from that scrap of old newspaper.”