A de Mello Spirituality Conference in His Own Words

Category: life

Dead Ahead

The following is the 56th 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.

“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.”

All’s Right With The World

The following is the 27th 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.

“When you awaken, when you understand, when you see, the world becomes right. We’re always bothered by the problem of evil. There’s a powerful story about a little boy walking along the bank of a river. He sees a crocodile who is trapped in a net. The crocodile says, ‘Would you have pity on me and release me? I may look ugly, but it isn’t my fault, you know. I was made this way. But whatever my external appearance, I have a mother’s heart. I came this morning in search of food for my young ones and got caught in this trap!’ So the boy says, ‘Ah, if I were to help you out of that trap, you’d grab me and kill me.’ The crocodile asks, ‘Do you think I would do that to my benefactor and liberator?’ So the boy is persuaded to take the net off and the crocodile grabs him. As he is being forced between the jaws of the crocodile, he says, ‘So this is what I get for my good actions.’ And the crocodile says, ‘Well, don’t take it personally, son, this is the way the world is, this is the law of life.’ The boy disputes this, so the crocodile says, ‘Do you want to ask someone if it isn’t so?’ The boys sees a bird sitting on a branch and says, ‘Bird, is what the crocodile says right?’ The bird says, ‘The crocodile is right. Look at me. I was coming home one day with food for my fledglings. Imagine my horror to see a snake crawling up the tree, making straight for my nest. I was totally helpless. It kept devouring my young ones, one after the other. I kept screaming and shouting, but it was useless. The crocodile is right, this is the law of life, this is the way the world is.’ ‘See,’ says the crocodile. But the boy says, ‘Let me ask someone else.’ So the crocodile says, ‘Well, all right, go ahead.’ There was an old donkey passing by on the bank of the river. ‘Donkey,’ says the boy, ‘this is what the crocodile says. Is the crocodile right?’ The donkey says, ‘The crocodile is quite right. Look at me. I’ve worked and slaved for my master all my life and he barely gave me enough to eat. Now that I’m old and useless, he has turned me loose, and here I am wandering in the jungle, waiting for some wild beast to pounce on me and put an end to my life. The crocodile is right, this is the law of life, this is the way the world is.’ ‘See,’ says the crocodile. ‘Let’s go!’ The boy says, ‘Give me one more chance, one last chance. Let me ask one other being. Remember how good I was to you?’ So the crocodile says, ‘All right, your last chance.’ The boy sees a rabbit passing by, and he says, ‘Rabbit, is the crocodile right?’ The rabbit sits on his haunches and says to the crocodile, ‘Did you say that to that boy? The crocodile says, Yes, I did.’ ‘Wait a minute,’ says the rabbit. ‘We’ve got to discuss this.’ ‘Yes,’ says the crocodile. But the rabbit says, ‘How can we discuss it when you’ve got that boy in your mouth? Release him; he’s got to take part in the discussion, too.’ The crocodile says, ‘You’re a clever one, you are. The moment I release him, he’ll run away.’ The rabbit says, ‘I thought you had more sense than that. If he attempted to run away, one slash of your tail would kill him.’ ‘Fair enough,’ says the crocodile, and he released the boy. The moment the boy is released, the rabbit says, ‘Run!’ And the boy runs and escapes. Then the rabbit says to the boy, ‘Don’t you enjoy crocodile flesh? Wouldn’t the people in your village like a good meal? You didn’t really release that crocodile; most of his body is still caught in that net. Why don’t you go to the village and bring everybody and have a banquet.’ That’s exactly what the boy does. He goes to the village and calls all the menfolk. They come with their axes and staves and spears and kill the crocodile. The boy’s dog comes, too, and when the dog sees the rabbit, he gives chase, catches hold of the rabbit, and throttles him. The boy comes on the scene too late, and as he watches the rabbit die, he says, ‘The crocodile was right, this is the way the world is, this is the law of life.’

“There is no explanation you can give that would explain away all the sufferings and evil and torture and destruction and hunger in the world! You’ll never explain it. You can try gamely with your formulas, religious and otherwise, but you’ll never explain it. Because life is a mystery, which means your thinking mind cannot make sense out of it. For that you’ve got to wake up and then you’ll suddenly realize that reality is not problematic, you are the problem.”

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