What’s on Your Mind?
The following is the 9th 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.
“Life is a banquet. And the tragedy is that most people are starving to death. That’s what I’m really talking about. There’s a nice story about some people who were on a raft off the coast of Brazil perishing from thirst. They had no idea that the water they were floating on was fresh water. The river was coming out into the sea with such force that it went out for a couple of miles, so they had fresh water right there where they were. But they had no idea. In the same way, we’re surrounded with joy, with happiness, with love. Most people have no idea of this whatsoever. The reason: They’re brainwashed. The reason: They’re hypnotized; they’re asleep. Imagine a stage magician who hypnotizes someone so that the person sees what is not there and does not see what is there. That’s what it’s all about. Repent and accept the good news. Repent! Wake up! Don’t weep for your sins. Why weep for sins that you committed when you were asleep? Are you going to cry because of what you did in your hypnotized state? Why do you want to identify with a person like this? Wake up! Wake up! Repent! Put on a new mind. Take on a new way of looking at things! For ‘the kingdom is here!’ It’s the rare Christian who takes that seriously. I said to you that the first thing you need to do is wake up, to face the fact that you don’t like being woken up. You’d much rather have all of the things which you were hypnotized into believing are so precious to you, so important to you, so important for your life and your survival. Second, understand. Understand that maybe you’ve got the wrong ideas and it is these ideas that are influencing your life and making it the mess that it is and keeping you asleep. Ideas about love, ideas about freedom, ideas about happiness, and so forth. And it isn’t easy to listen to someone who would challenge those ideas of yours which have come to be so precious to you.
“There have been some interesting studies in brainwashing. It has been shown that you’re brainwashed when you take on or ‘introject’ an idea that isn’t yours, that is someone else’s. And the funny thing is that you’ll be ready to die for this idea. Isn’t that strange? The first test of whether you’ve been brainwashed and have introjected convictions and beliefs occurs the moment they’re attacked. You feel stunned, you react emotionally. That’s a pretty good sign—not infallible, but a pretty good sign—that we’re dealing with brainwashing. You’re ready to die for an idea that never was yours. Terrorists or saints (so called) take on an idea, swallow it whole, and are ready to die for it. It’s not easy to listen, especially when you get emotional about an idea. And even when you don’t get emotional about it, it’s not easy to listen; you’re always listening from your programming, from your conditioning, from your hypnotic state. You frequently interpret everything that’s being said in terms of your hypnotic state or your conditioning or your programming. Like this girl who’s listening to a lecture on agriculture and says, ‘Excuse me, sir, you know I agree with you completely that the best manure is aged horse manure. Would you tell us how old the horse should optimally be?’ See where she’s coming from? We all have our positions, don’t we? And we listen from those positions. ‘Henry, how you’ve changed! You were so tall and you’ve grown so short. You were so well built and you’ve grown so thin. You were so fair and you’ve become so dark. What happened to you, Henry?’ Henry says, ‘I’m not Henry. I’m John.’ ‘Oh, you changed your name too!’ How do you get people like that to listen?
“The most difficult thing in the world is to listen, to see. We don’t want to see. Do you think a capitalist wants to see what is good in the communist system? Do you think a communist wants to see what is good and healthy in the capitalist system? Do you think a rich man wants to look at poor people? We don’t want to look, because if we do, we may change. We don’t want to look. If you look, you lose control of the life that you are so precariously holding together. And so in order to wake up, the one thing you need the most is not energy, or strength, or youthfulness, or even great intelligence. The one thing you need most of all is the readiness to learn something new. The chances that you will wake up are in direct proportion to the amount of truth you can take without running away. How much are you ready to take? How much of everything you’ve held dear are you ready to have shattered, without running away? How ready are you to think of something unfamiliar?
“The first reaction is one of fear. It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear.
“By way of an example, I made the point that everything we do is tainted with selfishness. That isn’t easy to hear. But think now for a minute, let’s go a little deeper into that. If everything you do comes from self-interest—enlightened or otherwise—how does that make you feel about all your charity and all your good deeds? What happens to those? Here’s a little exercise for you. Think of all the good deeds you’ve done, or of some of them (because I’m only giving you a few seconds). Now understand that they really sprang from self-interest, whether you knew it or not. What happens to your pride? What happens to your vanity? What happens to that good feeling you gave yourself, that pat on the back every time you did something that you thought was so charitable? It gets flattened out, doesn’t it? What happens to that looking down your nose at your neighbor who you thought was so selfish? The whole thing changes, doesn’t it? ‘Well,’ you say, ‘my neighbor has coarser tastes than I do.’ You’re the more dangerous person, you really are. Jesus Christ seems to have had less trouble with the other type than with your type. Much less trouble. He ran into trouble with people who were really convinced they were good. Other types didn’t seem to give him much trouble at all, the ones who were openly selfish and knew it. Can you see how liberating that is? Hey, wake up! It’s liberating. It’s wonderful! Are you feeling depressed? Maybe you are. Isn’t it wonderful to realize you’re no better than anybody else in this world? Isn’t it wonderful? Are you disappointed? Look what we’ve brought to light! What happens to your vanity? You’d like to give yourself a good feeling that you’re better than others. But look how we brought a fallacy to light!”