The Land of Love (Part 1)

The following is Part 1 of the 57th and final 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.

“If we really dropped illusions for what they can give us or deprive us of, we would be alert. The consequence of not doing this is terrifying and unescapable [sic]. We lose our capacity to love. If you wish to love, you must learn to see again. And if you wish to see, you must learn to give up your drug. It’s as simple as that. Give up your dependency. Tear away the tentacles of society that have enveloped and suffocated your being. You must drop them. Externally, everything will go on as before, but though you will continue to be in the world, you will no longer be of it. In your heart, you will now be free at last, if utterly alone. Your dependence on your drug will die. You don’t have to go to the desert; you’re right in the middle of people; you’re enjoying them immensely. But they no longer have the power to make you happy or miserable. That’s what aloneness means. In this solitude your dependence dies. The capacity to love is born. One no longer sees others as means of satisfying one’s addiction. Only someone who has attempted this knows the terrors of the process. It’s like inviting yourself to die. It’s like asking the poor drug addict to give up the only happiness he has ever known. How to replace it with the taste of bread and fruit and the clean taste of the morning air, the sweetness of the water of the mountain stream? While he is struggling with his withdrawal symptoms and the emptiness he experiences within himself now that his drug is gone, nothing can fill the emptiness except his drug. Can you imagine a life in which you refuse to enjoy or take pleasure in a single word of appreciation or to rest your head on anyone’s shoulder for support? Think of a life in which you depend on no one emotionally, so that no one has the power to make you happy or miserable anymore. You refuse to need any particular person or to be special to anyone or to call anyone your own. The birds of the air have their nests and the foxes their holes, but you will have nowhere to rest your head in your journey through life. If you ever get to this state, you will at last know what it means to see with a vision that is clear and unclouded by fear or desire. Every word there is measured. To see at last with a vision that is clear and unclouded by fear or desire. You will know what it means to love. But to come to the land of love, you must pass through the pains of death, for to love persons means to die to the need for persons, and to be utterly alone.

“How would you ever get there? By a ceaseless awareness, by the infinite patience and compassion you would have for a drug addict. By developing a taste for the good things in life to counter the craving for your drug. What good things? The love of work which you enjoy doing for the love of itself; the love of laughter and intimacy with people to whom you do not cling and on whom you do not depend emotionally but whose company you enjoy. It will also help if you take on activities that you can do with your whole being, activities that you so love to do that while you’re engaged in them success, recognition, and approval simply do not mean a thing to you. It will help, too, if you return to nature. Send the crowds away, go up to the mountains, and silently commune with trees and flowers and animals and birds, with sea and clouds and sky and stars. I’ve told you what a spiritual exercise it is to gaze at things, to be aware of things around you. Hopefully, the words will drop, the concepts will drop, and you will see, you will make contact with reality. That is the cure for loneliness. Generally, we seek to cure our loneliness through emotional dependence on people, through gregariousness and noise. That is no cure. Get back to things, get back to nature, go up in the mountains. Then you will know that your heart has brought you to the vast desert of solitude, there is no one there at your side, absolutely no one.

“At first this will seem unbearable. But it is only because you are unaccustomed to aloneness. If you manage to stay there for a while, the desert will suddenly blossom into love. Your heart will burst into song. And it will be springtime forever; the drug will be out; you’re free. Then you will understand what freedom is, what love is, what happiness is, what reality is, what truth is, what God is. You will see, you will know beyond concepts and conditioning, addictions and attachments. Does that make sense?

“Let me end this with a lovely story. There was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and went to a tribe in the north, where it was very cold, bitterly cold. He taught the people there to make fire. The people were very interested. He showed them the uses to which they could put fire—they could cook, could keep themselves warm, etc. They were so grateful that they had learned the art of making fire. But before they could express their gratitude to the man, he disappeared. He wasn’t concerned with getting their recognition or gratitude; he was concerned about their wellbeing [sic]. He went to another tribe, where he again began to show them the value of his invention. People were interested there, too, a bit too interested for the peace of mind of their priests, who began to notice that this man was drawing crowds and they were losing their popularity. So they decided to do away with him. They poisoned him, crucified him, put it any way you like. But they were afraid now that the people might turn against them, so they were very wise, even wily. Do you know what they did? They had a portrait of the man made and mounted it on the main altar of the temple. The instruments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire, which they dutifully did for centuries. The veneration and the worship went on, but there was no fire.

“Where’s the fire? Where’s the love? Where’s the drug uprooted from your system? Where’s the freedom? This is what spirituality is all about. Tragically, we tend to lose sight of this, don’t we? This is what Jesus Christ is all about. But we overemphasized the ‘Lord, Lord,’ didn’t we? Where’s the fire? And if worship isn’t leading to the fire, if adoration isn’t leading to love, if the liturgy isn’t leading to a clearer perception of reality, if God isn’t leading to life, of what use is religion except to create more division, more fanaticism, more antagonism? It is not from lack of religion in the ordinary sense of the word that the world is suffering, it is from lack of love, lack of awareness. And love is generated through awareness and through no other way, no other way. Understand the obstructions you are putting in the way of love, freedom, and happiness and they will drop. Turn on the light of awareness and the darkness will disappear. Happiness is not something you acquire; love is not something you produce; love is not something that you have; love is something that has you. You do not have the wind, the stars, and the rain. You don’t possess these things; you surrender to them. And surrender occurs when you are aware of your illusions, when you are aware of your addictions, when you are aware of your desires and fears. As I told you earlier, first, psychological insight is a great help, not analysis, however; analysis is paralysis. Insight is not necessarily analysis. One of your great American therapists put it very well: ‘It’s the ‘Aha’ experience that counts.’ Merely analyzing gives no help; it just gives information. But if you could produce the ‘Aha’ experience, that’s insight. That is change. Second, the understanding of your addiction is important. You need time. Alas, so much time that is given to worship and singing praise and singing songs could so fruitfully be employed in selfunderstanding [sic]. Community is not produced by joint liturgical celebrations. You know deep down in your heart, and so do I, that such celebrations only serve to paper over differences. Community is created by understanding the blocks that we put in the way of community, by understanding the conflicts that arise from our fears and our desires. At that point community arises. We must always beware of making worship just another distraction from the important business of living. And living doesn’t mean working in government, or being a big businessman, or performing great acts of charity. That isn’t living. Living is to have dropped all the impediments and to live in the present moment with freshness. ‘The birds of the air . . . they neither toil nor spin’—that is living. I began by saying that people are asleep, dead. Dead people running governments, dead people running big business, dead people educating others; come alive! Worship must help this, or else it’s useless. And increasingly—you know this and so do I—we’re losing the youth everywhere. They hate us; they’re not interested in having more fears and more guilts [sic] laid on them. They’re not interested in more sermons and exhortations. But they are interested in learning about love. How can I be happy? How can I live? How can I taste these marvelous things that the mystics speak of? So that’s the second thing— understanding. Third, don’t identify. Somebody asked me as I was coming here today, ‘Do you ever feel low?’ Boy, do I feel low every now and then. I get my attacks. But they don’t last, they really don’t. What do I do? First step: I don’t identify. Here comes a low feeling. Instead of getting tense about it, instead of getting irritated with myself about it, I understand I’m feeling depressed, disappointed, or whatever. Second step: I admit the feeling is in me, not in the other person, e.g., in the person who didn’t write me a letter, not in the exterior world; it’s in me. Because as long as I think it’s outside me, I feel justified in holding on to my feelings. I can’t say everybody would feel this way; in fact, only idiotic people would feel this way, only sleeping people. Third step: I don’t identify with the feeling. ‘I’ is not that feeling. ‘I’ am not lonely, ‘I’ am not depressed, ‘I’ am not disappointed. Disappointment is there, one watches it. You’d be amazed how quickly it glides away. Anything you’re aware of keeps changing; clouds keep moving. As you do this, you also get all kinds of insights into why clouds were coming in the first place.”