The following is the 34th 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.
“Do not suppress desire, because then you would become
lifeless. You’d be without energy and that would be terrible. Desire in the
healthy sense of the word is energy,
and the more energy we have, the better. But don’t suppress desire, understand
it. Understand it. Don’t seek to fulfill desire so much as to understand
desire. And don’t just renounce the objects of your desire, understand them;
see them in their true light. See them for what they are really worth. Because
if you just suppress your desire, and you attempt to renounce the object of
your desire, you are likely to be tied to it. Whereas if you look at it and see
it for what it is really worth, if you understand how you are preparing the
grounds for misery and disappointment and depression, your desire will then be
transformed into what I call a preference.
“When you go through life with preferences but don’t let
your happiness depend on any one of them, then you’re awake. You’re moving
toward wakefulness. Wakefulness, happiness—call it what you wish—is the state
of nondelusion, where you see things not as you
are but as they are, insofar as this
is possible for a human being. To drop illusions, to see things, to see
reality. Every time you are unhappy, you have added something to reality. It is
that addition that makes you unhappy. I repeat: You have added something… a
negative reaction in you. Reality provides the stimulus, you provide the
reaction. You have added something by your reaction. And if you examine what
you have added, there is always an illusion there, there’s a demand, an
expectation, a craving. Always. Examples of illusions abound. But as you begin
to move ahead on this path, you’ll discover them for yourself.
“For instance, the illusion, the error of thinking that, by
changing the exterior world, you will
change. You do not change if you merely change your exterior world. If you get
yourself a new job or a new spouse or a new home or a new guru or a new
spirituality, that does not change you.
It’s like imagining that you change your handwriting by changing your pen. Or
that you change your capacity to think by changing your hat. That doesn’t
change you really, but most people spend all their energies trying to rearrange
their exterior world to suit their tastes. Sometimes they succeed—for about
five minutes and they get a little respite, but they are tense even during that
respite, because life is always flowing, life is always changing.
“So if you want to live, you must have no permanent abode.
You must have no place to rest your head. You have to flow with it. As the
great Confucius said, ‘The one who would be constant in happiness must
frequently change.’ Flow. But we keep looking back, don’t we? We cling to
things in the past and cling to things in the present. ‘When you set your hand
to the plow, you cannot look back.’ Do you want to enjoy a melody? Do you want
to enjoy a symphony? Don’t hold on to a few bars of the music. Don’t hold on to
a couple of notes. Let them pass, let them flow. The whole enjoyment of a
symphony lies in your readiness to allow the notes to pass. Whereas if a
particular bar took your fancy and you shouted to the orchestra, ‘Keep playing
it again and again and again,’ that wouldn’t be a symphony anymore. Are you
familiar with those tales of Nasred-Din, the old mullah? He’s a legendary
figure whom the Greeks, Turks, and Persians all claim for themselves. He would
give his mystical teachings in the form of stories, generally funny stories.
And the butt of the story was always old Nasr-ed-Din himself.
“One day Nasr-ed-Din was strumming a guitar, playing just one note.
After a while a crowd collected around him (this was in a marketplace) and one
of the men sitting on the ground there said, ‘That’s a nice note you’re
playing, Mullah, but why don’t you vary it a bit the way other musicians do?’ ‘Those
fools,’ Nasr-ed-Din said, ‘they’re searching
for the right note. I’ve found it.”