Awareness

A de Mello Spirituality Conference in His Own Words

Category: love

Fear – The Root of Violence

The following is the 20th 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.

“Some say that there are only two things in the world: God and fear; love and fear are the only two things. There’s only one evil in the world, fear. There’s only one good in the world, love. It’s sometimes called by other names. It’s sometimes called happiness or freedom or peace or joy or God or whatever. But the label doesn’t really matter. And there’s not a single evil in the world that you cannot trace to fear. Not one.

“Ignorance and fear, ignorance caused by fear, that’s where all the evil comes from, that’s where your violence comes from. The person who is truly nonviolent, who is incapable of violence, is the person who is fearless. It’s only when you’re afraid that you become angry. Think of the last time you were angry. Go ahead. Think of the last time you were angry and search for the fear behind it. What were you afraid of losing? What were you afraid would be taken from you? That’s where the anger comes from. Think of an angry person, maybe someone you’re afraid of. Can you see how frightened he or she is? He’s really frightened, he really is. She’s really frightened or she wouldn’t be angry. Ultimately, there are only two things, love and fear.

“In this retreat I’d rather leave it like this, unstructured and moving from one thing to another and returning to themes again and again, because that’s the way to really grasp what I’m saying. If it doesn’t hit you the first time, it might the second time, and what doesn’t hit one person might hit another. I’ve got different themes, but they are all about the same thing. Call it awareness, call it love, call it spirituality or freedom or awakening or whatever. It really is the same thing.”

On The Proper Kind of Selfishness

The following is the 3rd 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.

“The first thing I want you to understand, if you really want to wake up, is that you don’t want to wake up. The first step to waking up is to be honest enough to admit to yourself that you don’t like it. You don’t want to be happy. Want a little test? Let’s try it. It will take you exactly one minute. You could close your eyes while you’re doing it or you could keep them open. It doesn’t really matter. Think of someone you love very much, someone you’re close to, someone who is precious to you, and say to that person in your mind, ‘I’d rather have happiness than have you.’ See what happens. ‘I’d rather be happy than have you. If I had a choice, no question about it, I’d choose happiness.’ How many of you felt selfish when you said this? Many, it seems. See how we’ve been brainwashed? See how we’ve been brainwashed into thinking, ‘How could I be so selfish?’ But look at who’s being selfish. Imagine somebody saying to you, ‘How could you be so selfish that you’d choose happiness over me?’ Would you not feel like responding, ‘Pardon me, but how could you you be so selfish that you would demand that I choose you above my own happiness?!’

“A woman once told me that when she was a child her Jesuit cousin gave a retreat in the Jesuit church in Milwaukee. He opened each conference with the words: ‘The test of love is sacrifice, and the gauge of love is unselfishness.’ That’s marvelous! I asked her, ‘Would you want me to love you at the cost of my happiness?’ ‘Yes,’ she answered. Isn’t that delightful? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

“She would love me at the cost of her happiness and would love her at the cost of my happiness, and so you’ve got two  unhappy people, but long live love!”

Forward

The following is the Forward to, “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.

Tony de Mello on an occasion among friends was asked to say a few words about the nature of his work. He stood up, told a story which he repeated later in conferences, and which you will recognize from his book Song of the Bird. To my astonishment, he said this story applied to me.

“A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

“All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.

“Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.

“The old eagle looked up in awe. ‘Who’s that?’ he asked.

“‘That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,’ said his neighbor. ‘He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth—we’re chickens.’ So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was”.

Astonished? At first I felt downright insulted! Was he publicly likening me to a barnyard chicken? In a sense, yes, and also, no. Insulting? Never. That wasn’t Tony’s way. But he was telling me and these people that in his eyes I was a ‘golden eagle,’ unaware of the heights to which I could soar. This story made me understand the measure of the man, his genuine love and respect for people while always telling the truth. That was what his work was all about, waking people up to the reality of their greatness. This was Tony de Mello at his best, proclaiming the message of ‘awareness,’ seeing the light we are to ourselves and to others, recognizing we are better than we know.

This book captures Tony in flight, doing just that—in live dialogue and interaction—touching on all the themes that enliven the hearts of those who listen.

Maintaining the spirit of his live words, and sustaining his spontaneity with a responsive audience on the printed page was the task I faced after his death. Thanks to the wonderful support I enjoyed from George McCauley, S.J., Joan Brady, John Culkin, and others too numerous to single out, the exciting, entertaining, provocative hours Tony spent communicating with real people have been wonderfully captured in the pages that follow.

Enjoy the book. Let the words slip into your soul and listen, as Tony would suggest, with your heart. Hear his stories, and you’ll hear your own. Let me leave you alone with Tony—a spiritual guide—a friend you will have for life.

J. Francis Stroud, S.J.
De Mello Spirituality Center
Fordham University
Bronx, New York

Saying Nothing About Love

The following is the 51st 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

“How would I describe love? I decided to give you one of the meditations I’m writing in a new book of mine. I’ll read it to you slowly; you meditate on it as we go along, because I’ve got it put down in short form here so I can get it done in three or four minutes; otherwise it would take me half an hour. It’s a comment on a gospel sentence. I had been thinking of another reflection, from Plato: ‘One cannot make a slave of a free person, for a free person is free even in prison.’ It’s like another gospel sentence: ‘If a person makes you go one mile, go two.’ You may think you’ve made a slave out of me by putting a load on my back, but you haven’t. If a person is trying to change external reality by being out of prison in order to be free, he is a prisoner indeed, Freedom lies not in external circumstances; freedom resides in the heart. When you have attained wisdom, who can enslave you? Anyhow, listen to the gospel sentence I had in mind earlier: ‘He sent the people away, and after doing that he went up to the mountain to pray alone. It grew late and he was there all by himself.’ That’s what love is all about. Has it ever occurred to you that you can only love when you are alone? What does it mean to love? It means to see a person, a situation, a thing as it really is, not as you imagine it to be. And to give it the response it deserves. You can hardly be said to love what you do not even see. And what prevents us from seeing? Our conditioning. Our concepts, our categories, our prejudices, our projections, the labels that we have drawn from our cultures and our past experiences. Seeing is the most arduous thing that a human can undertake, for it calls for a disciplined, alert mind. But most people would much rather lapse into mental laziness than take the trouble to see each person, each thing in its present moment of freshness.”

Assorted Images

The following is the 50th 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.

 “Let’s talk more about effortlessness in change. I thought of a nice image for that, a sailboat. When a sailboat has a mighty wind in its sail, it glides along so effortlessly that the boatman has nothing to do but steer. He makes no effort; he doesn’t push the boat. That’s an image of what happens when change comes about through awareness, through understanding.

“I was going through some of my notes and I found some quotations that go well with what I’ve been saying. Listen to this one: ‘There is nothing so cruel as nature. In the whole universe there is no escape from it, and yet it is not nature that does the injury, but the person’s own heart.’ Does that make sense? It isn’t nature that does the injury, but the person’s own heart. There’s the story of Paddy, who fell off the scaffolding and got a good bump. They asked, ‘Did the fall hurt you, Paddy?’ And he said, ‘No, it was the stop that hurt, not the fall.’ When you cut water, the water doesn’t get hurt; when you cut something solid, it breaks. You’ve got solid attitudes inside you; you’ve got solid illusions inside you; that’s what bumps against nature, that’s where you get hurt, that’s where the pain comes from.

“Here’s a lovely one: It’s from an Oriental sage, though I don’t remember which one. As with the Bible the author doesn’t matter. What is said is what matters. ‘If the eye is unobstructed, it results in sight; if the ear is unobstructed, the result is hearing; if the nose is unobstructed, the result is a sense of smell; if the mouth is unobstructed, the result is a sense of taste; if the mind is unobstructed, the result is wisdom.’

“Wisdom occurs when you drop barriers you have erected through your concepts and conditioning. Wisdom is not something acquired; wisdom is not experience; wisdom is not applying yesterday’s illusions to today’s problems. As somebody said to me while I was studying for my degree in psychology in Chicago years ago, ‘Frequently, in the life of a priest, fifty years’ experience is one year’s experience repeated fifty times.’ You get the same solutions to fall back on: This is the way to deal with the alcoholic; this is the way to deal with priests; this is the way to deal with sisters; this—is the way to deal with a divorcee. But that isn’t wisdom. Wisdom is to be sensitive to this situation, to this person, uninfluenced by any carryover from the past, without residue from the experience of the past. This is quite unlike what most people are accustomed to thinking. I would add another sentence to the ones I’ve read: ‘If the heart is unobstructed, the result is love.’ I’ve been talking a great deal about love these days even though I told you there’s nothing that can be said, really, about love. We can only speak of non-love. We can only speak of addictions. But of love itself nothing may be said explicitly.”

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.”

Saying Nothing About Love

The following is the 52nd 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.

“How would I describe love? I decided to give you one of the meditations I’m writing in a new book of mine. I’ll read it to you slowly; you meditate on it as we go along, because I’ve got it put down in short form here so I can get it done in three or four minutes; otherwise it would take me half an hour. It’s a comment on a gospel sentence. I had been thinking of another reflection, from Plato: ‘One cannot make a slave of a free person, for a free person is free even in prison.’ It’s like another gospel sentence: ‘If a person makes you go one mile, go two.’ You may think you’ve made a slave out of me by putting a load on my back, but you haven’t. If a person is trying to change external reality by being out of prison in order to be free, he is a prisoner indeed, Freedom lies not in external circumstances; freedom resides in the heart. When you have attained wisdom, who can enslave you? Anyhow, listen to the gospel sentence I had in mind earlier: ‘He sent the people away, and after doing that he went up to the mountain to pray alone. It grew late and he was there all by himself.’ That’s what love is all about. Has it ever occurred to you that you can only love when you are alone? What does it mean to love? It means to see a person, a situation, a thing as it really is, not as you imagine it to be. And to give it the response it deserves. You can hardly be said to love what you do not even see. And what prevents us from seeing? Our conditioning. Our concepts, our categories, our prejudices, our projections, the labels that we have drawn from our cultures and our past experiences. Seeing is the most arduous thing that a human can undertake, for it calls for a disciplined, alert mind. But most people would much rather lapse into mental laziness than take the trouble to see each person, each thing in its present moment of freshness.”

Addictive Love

The following is the 42nd 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.

“The heart in love remains soft and sensitive. But when you’re hell-bent on getting this or the other thing, you become ruthless, hard, and insensitive. How can you love people when you need people? You can only use them. If I need you to make me happy, I’ve got to use you, I’ve got to manipulate you, I’ve got to find ways and means of winning you. I cannot let you be free. I can only love people when I have emptied my life of people. When I die to the need for people, then I’m right in the desert. In the beginning it feels awful, it feels lonely, but if you can take it for a while, you’ll suddenly discover that it isn’t lonely at all. It is solitude, it is aloneness, and the desert begins to flower. Then at last you’ll know what love is, what God is, what reality is. But in the beginning giving up the drug can be tough, unless you have a very keen understanding or unless you have suffered enough. It’s a great thing to have suffered. Only then can you get sick of it. You can make use of suffering to end suffering. Most people simply go on suffering. That explains the conflict I sometimes have between the role of spiritual director and that of therapist. A therapist says, ‘Let’s ease the suffering.’ The spiritual director says, ‘Let her suffer, she’ll get sick of this way of relating to people and she’ll finally decide to break out of this prison of emotional dependence on others.’ Shall I offer a palliative or remove a cancer? It’s not easy to decide.

“A person slams a book on the table in disgust. Let him keep slamming it on the table. Don’t pick up the book for him and tell him it’s all right. Spirituality is awareness, awareness, awareness, awareness, awareness, awareness. When your mother got angry with you, she didn’t say there was something wrong with her, she said there was something wrong with you; otherwise she wouldn’t have been angry. Well, I made the great discovery that if you are angry, Mother, there’s something wrong with you. So you’d better cope with your anger. Stay with it and cope with it. It’s not mine. Whether there’s something wrong with me or not, I’ll examine that independently of your anger. I’m not going to be influenced by your anger.

“The funny thing is that when I can do this without feeling any negativity toward another, I can be quite objective about myself, too. Only a very aware person can refuse to pick up the guilt and anger, can say, ‘You’re having a tantrum. Too bad. I don’t feel the slightest desire to rescue you anymore, and I refuse to feel guilty.’ I’m not going to hate myself for anything I’ve done. That’s what guilt is. I’m not going to give myself a bad feeling and whip myself for anything I have done, either right or wrong. I’m ready to analyze it, to watch it, and say, ‘Well, if I did wrong, it was in unawareness.’ Nobody does wrong in awareness. That’s why theologians tell us very beautifully that Jesus could do no wrong. That makes very good sense to me, because the enlightened person can do no wrong. The enlightened person is free. Jesus was free and because he was free, he couldn’t do any wrong. But since you can do wrong, you’re not free.”

Hugging Memories

The following is the 36th 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.

“That brings me to another theme, another topic. But this new topic ties in very much with what I’ve been saying and with my suggestion of becoming aware of all the things we add to reality. Let’s take this one step at a time.

“A Jesuit was telling me the other day how years ago he gave a talk in New York, where Puerto Ricans were very unpopular at the time because of some incident. Everybody was saying all kinds of things against them. So in his talk he said, ‘Let me read to you some of the things that the people in New York were saying about certain immigrants.’ What he read to them was actually what people had said about the Irish, and about the Germans, and about every other wave of immigrants that had come to New York years before! He put it very well when he said, ‘These people don’t bring delinquency with them; they become delinquent when they’re faced with certain situations here. We’ve got to understand them. If you want to cure the situation, it’s useless reacting from prejudice. You need understanding, not condemnation.’ That is how you bring about change in yourself. Not by condemnation, not by calling yourself names, but by understanding what’s going on. Not by calling yourself a dirty old sinner. No, no, no, no!

“In order to get awareness, you’ve got to see, and you can’t see if you’re prejudiced. Almost everything and every person we look at, we look at in a prejudiced way. It’s almost enough to dishearten anybody.

“Like meeting a long-lost friend. ‘Hey, Tom,’ I say, ‘It’s good to see you,’ and I give him a big hug. Whom am I hugging, Tom or my memory of him? A living human being or a corpse? I’m assuming that he’s still the attractive guy I thought he was. I’m assuming he still fits in with the idea I have of him and with my memories and associations. So I give him a hug. Five minutes later I find that he’s changed and I have no more interest in him. I hugged the wrong person.

“If you want to see how true this is, listen: A religious sister from India goes out to make a retreat. Everybody in the community is saying, ‘Oh, we know, that’s part of her charism; she’s always attending workshops and going to retreats; nothing will ever change her.’ Now, it so happens that the sister does change at this particular workshop, or therapy group, or whatever it is. She changes; everyone notices the difference. Everyone says, ‘My, you’ve really come to some insights, haven’t you?’ She has, and they can see the difference in her behavior, in her body, in her face. You always do when there’s an inner change. It always registers in your face, in your eyes, in your body. Well, the sister goes back to her community, and since the community has a prejudiced, fixed idea about her, they’re going to continue to look at her through the eyes of that prejudice. They’re the only ones who don’t see any change in her. They say, ‘Oh well, she seems a little more spirited, but just wait, she’ll be depressed again.’ And within a few weeks she is depressed again; she’s reacting to their reaction. And they all say, ‘See, we told you so; she hadn’t changed.’ But the tragedy is that she had, only they didn’t see it. Perception has devastating consequences in the matter of love and human relationships.

“Whatever a relationship may be, it certainly entails two things: clarity of perception (inasmuch as we’re capable of it; some people would dispute to what extent we can attain clarity of perception, but I don’t think anyone would dispute that it is desirable that we move toward it) and accuracy of response. You’re more likely to respond accurately when you perceive clearly. When your perception is distorted, you’re not likely to respond accurately. How can you love someone whom you do not even see? Do you really see someone you’re attached to? Do you really see someone you’re afraid of and therefore dislike? We always hate what we fear.

“‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,’ people say to me sometimes. But wait a minute. I hope they understand what they’re saying, because we always hate what we fear. We always want to destroy and get rid of and avoid what we fear. When you fear somebody, you dislike that person. You dislike that person insofar as you fear that person. And you don’t see that person either, because your emotion gets in the way. Now, that’s just as true when you are attracted to someone. When true love enters, you no longer like or even dislike people in the ordinary sense of the word. You see them clearly and you respond accurately. But at this human level, your likes and dislikes and preferences and attractions, etc., continue to get in the way. So you have to be aware of your prejudices, your likes, your dislikes, your attractions. They’re all there, they come from your conditioning. How come you like things that I don’t like? Because your culture is different from mine. Your upbringing is different from mine. If I gave you some of the things to eat that I relish, you’d turn away in disgust.

“There are people in certain parts of India who love dog flesh. Yet others, if they were told they were being served dog steak, would feel sick. Why? Different conditioning, different programming. Hindus would feel sick if they knew they had eaten beef, but Americans enjoy it. You ask, ‘But why won’t they eat beef?’ For the same reason you won’t eat your pet dog. The same reason. The cow, to the Indian peasant, is what your pet dog is to you. He doesn’t want to eat it. There is a built-in cultural prejudice against it which saves an animal that’s needed so much for farming, etc.

“So why do I fall in love with a person really? Why is it that I fall in love with one kind of person and not another? Because I’m conditioned. I’ve got an image, subconsciously, that this particular type of person appeals to me, attracts me. So when I meet this person, I fall head over heels in love. But have I seen her? No! I’ll see her after I marry her; that’s when the awakening comes! And that’s when love may begin. But falling in love has nothing to do with love at all. It isn’t love, it’s desire, burning desire. You want, with all your heart, to be told by this adorable creature that you’re attractive to her. That gives you a tremendous sensation. Meanwhile, everybody else is saying, ‘What the hell does he see in her?’ But it’s his conditioning—he’s not seeing. They say that love is blind. Believe me, there’s nothing so clear-sighted as true love, nothing. It’s the most clear-sighted thing in the world. Addiction is blind, attachments are blind. Clinging, craving, and desire are blind. But not true love. Don’t call them love. But, of course, the word has been desecrated in most modern languages. People talk about making love and falling in love. Like the little boy who says to the little girl, ‘Have you ever fallen in love?’ And she answers, ‘No, but I’ve fallen in like.’ “So what are people talking about when they fall in love? The first thing we need is clarity of perception. One reason we don’t perceive people clearly is evident—our emotions get in the way, our conditioning, our likes and dislikes. We’ve got to grapple with that fact. But we’ve got to grapple with something much more fundamental—with our ideas, with our conclusions, with our concepts. Believe it or not, every concept that was meant to help us get in touch with reality ends up by being a barrier to getting in touch with reality, because sooner or later we forget that the words are not the thing. The concept is not the same as the reality. They’re different. That’s why I said to you earlier that the final barrier to finding God is the word ‘God’ itself and the concept of God. It gets in the way if you’re not careful. It was meant to be a help; it can be a help, but it can also be a barrier.”

Fear The Root of Violence

The following is the 21st 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 Center for Spiritual Exchange

“Some say that there are only two things in the world: God and fear; love and fear are the only two things. There’s only one evil in the world, fear. There’s only one good in the world, love. It’s sometimes called by other names. It’s sometimes called happiness or freedom or peace or joy or God or whatever. But the label doesn’t really matter. And there’s not a single evil in the world that you cannot trace to fear. Not one.

“Ignorance and fear, ignorance caused by fear, that’s where all the evil comes from, that’s where your violence comes from. The person who is truly nonviolent, who is incapable of violence, is the person who is fearless. It’s only when you’re afraid that you become angry. Think of the last time you were angry. Go ahead. Think of the last time you were angry and search for the fear behind it. What were you afraid of losing? What were you afraid would be taken from you? That’s where the anger comes from. Think of an angry person, maybe someone you’re afraid of. Can you see how frightened he or she is? He’s really frightened, he really is. She’s really frightened or she wouldn’t be angry. Ultimately, there are only two things, love and fear.

“In this retreat I’d rather leave it like this, unstructured and moving from one thing to another and returning to themes again and again, because that’s the way to really grasp what I’m saying. If it doesn’t hit you the first time, it might the second time, and what doesn’t hit one person might hit another. I’ve got different themes, but they are all about the same thing. Call it awareness, call it love, call it spirituality or freedom or awakening or whatever. It really is the same thing.”

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