The following is the 43rd 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.
“There is a difference between knowledge and awareness, between information and awareness. I just said to you that one cannot do evil in awareness. But one can do evil in knowledge or information, when you know something is bad. ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ I would translate that as ‘They’re not aware of what they are doing.’ Paul says he is the greatest of sinners because he persecuted the Church of Christ. But, he adds, I did it unawares. Or if they had been aware that they were crucifying the Lord of Glory, they would never have done so. Or: ‘The time will come when they will persecute you and they think they are doing a service to God.’ They aren’t aware. They’re caught up in information and knowledge. Thomas Aquinas puts it nicely when he says, ‘Every time someone sins, they’re sinning under the guise of good.’ They’re blinding themselves; they’re seeing something as good even though they know it is bad; they’re rationalizing because they’re seeking something under the pretext of good.
“Someone gave me two situations in which she found it difficult to be aware. She was in a service industry where many people were lined up, many phones were ringing, and she was alone and there were distractions coming from a lot of uptight, angry people. She found it extremely difficult to maintain serenity and calm. The other situation was when she was driving in traffic, with horns blowing and people shouting four-letter words. She asked me whether eventually that nervousness would dissipate and she could remain at peace.
“Did you pick up the attachment there? Peace. Her attachment to peace and calm. She was saying, ‘Unless I’m peaceful, I won’t be happy.’ Did it ever occur to you that you could be happy in tension? Before enlightenment, I used to be depressed; after enlightenment, I continue to be depressed. You don’t make a goal out of relaxation and sensitivity. Have you ever heard of people who get tense trying to relax? If one is tense, one simply observes one’s tension. You will never understand yourself if you seek to change yourself. The harder you try to change yourself, the worse it gets. You are called upon to be aware. Get the feel of that jangling telephone; get the feel of jarred nerves; get the sensation of the steering wheel in the car. In other words, come to reality, and let tension or the calmness take care of itself. As a matter of fact, you will have to let them take care of themselves because you’ll be too preoccupied with getting in touch with reality. Step by step, let whatever happens happen. Real change will come when it is brought about, not by your ego, but by reality. Awareness releases reality to change you.
In awareness you change, but you’ve got to experience it. At this point you’re just taking my word for it. Perhaps also you’ve got a plan to become aware. Your ego, in its own cunning way, is trying to push you into awareness. Watch it! You’ll meet with resistance; there will be trouble. When someone is anxious about being aware all the time, you can spot the mild anxiety. They want to be awake, to find out if they’re really awake or not. That’s part of asceticism, not awareness. It sounds strange in a culture where we’ve been trained to achieve goals, to get somewhere, but in fact there’s nowhere to go because you’re there already. The Japanese have a nice way of putting it: ‘The day you cease to travel, you will have arrived.’ Your attitude should be: ‘I want to be aware, I want to be in touch with whatever is and let whatever happens happen; if I’m awake, fine, and if I’m asleep, fine.’ The moment you make a goal out of it and attempt to get it, you’re seeking ego glorification, ego promotion. You want the good feeling that you’ve made it. When you do ‘make it,’ you won’t know. Your left hand won’t know what your right hand is doing. ‘Lord, when did we do this? We had no awareness.’ Charity is never so lovely as when one has lost consciousness that one is practicing charity. ‘You mean I helped you? I was enjoying myself. I was just doing my dance. It helped you, that’s wonderful. Congratulations to you. No credit to me.’
“When you attain, when you are aware, increasingly you will not be bothered about labels like ‘awake’ or ‘asleep.’ One of my difficulties here is to arouse your curiosity but not your spiritual greed. Let’s come awake, it’s going to be wonderful. After a while, it doesn’t matter; one is aware, because one lives. The unaware life is not worth living. And you will leave pain to take care of itself.”