Awareness

A de Mello Spirituality Conference in His Own Words

Category: the “I” observing “me”

A Changed Person

The following is the 29th 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.

“In your pursuit of awareness, don’t make demands. It’s more like obeying the traffic rules. If you don’t observe traffic rules, you pay the penalty. Here in the United States you drive on the right side of the road; in England you drive on the left; in India you drive on the left. If you don’t, you pay the penalty; there is no room for hurt feelings or demands or expectations; you just abide by the traffic rules.

“You ask where compassion comes in, where guilt comes in in all this. You’ll know when you’re awake. If you’re feeling guilty right now, how on earth can I explain it to you? How would you know what compassion is? You know, sometimes people want to imitate Christ, but when a monkey plays a saxophone, that doesn’t make him a musician. You can’t imitate Christ by imitating his external behavior. You’ve got to be Christ. Then you’ll know exactly what to do in a particular situation, given your temperament, your character, and the character and temperament of the person you’re dealing with. No one has to tell you. But to do that, you must be what Christ was. An external imitation will get you nowhere. If you think that compassion implies softness, there’s no way I can describe compassion to you, absolutely no way, because compassion can be very hard. Compassion can be very rude, compassion can jolt you, compassion can roll up its sleeves and operate on you. Compassion is all kinds of things. Compassion can be very soft, but there’s no way of knowing that. It’s only when you become love—in other words, when you have dropped your illusions and attachments—that you will ‘know.’

“As you identify less and less with the ‘I,’ you will be more at ease with everybody and with everything. Do you know why? Because you are no longer afraid of being hurt or not liked. You no longer desire to impress anyone. Can you imagine the relief when you don’t have to impress anybody anymore? Oh, what a relief. Happiness at last! You no longer feel the need or the compulsion to explain things anymore. It’s all right. What is there to be explained? And you don’t feel the need or compulsion to apologize anymore. I’d much rather hear you say, ‘I’ve come awake,’ than hear you say, ‘I’m sorry.’ I’d much rather hear you say to me, ‘I’ve come awake since we last met; what I did to you won’t happen again,’ than to hear you say, ‘I’m so sorry for what I did to you.’ Why would anyone demand an apology? You have something to explore in that. Even when someone supposedly was mean to you, there is no room for apology.

“Nobody was mean to you. Somebody was mean to what he or she thought was you, but not to you. Nobody ever rejects you; they’re only rejecting what they think you are. But that cuts both ways. Nobody ever accepts you either. Until people come awake, they are simply accepting or rejecting their image of you. They’ve fashioned an image of you, and they’re rejecting or accepting that. See how devastating it is to go deeply into that. It’s a bit too liberating. But how easy it is to love people when you understand this. How easy it is to love everyone when you don’t identify with what they imagine you are or they are. It becomes easy to love them, to love everybody.

“I observe ‘me,’ but I do not think about ‘me.’ Because the thinking ‘me’ does a lot of bad thinking, too. But when I watch ‘me,’ I am constantly aware that this is a reflection. In reality, you don’t really think of ‘I’ and ‘me.’ You’re like a person driving the car; he doesn’t ever want to lose consciousness of the car. It’s all right to daydream, but not to lose consciousness of your surroundings. You must always be alert. It’s like a mother sleeping; she doesn’t hear the planes roaring above the house, but she hears the slightest whimper of her baby. She’s alert, she’s awake in that sense. One cannot say anything about the awakened state; one can only talk about the sleeping state. One hints at the awakened state. One cannot say anything about happiness. Happiness cannot be defined. What can be defined is misery. Drop unhappiness and you will know. Love cannot be defined; unlove can. Drop unlove, drop fear, and you will know. We want to find out what the awakened person is like. But you’ll know only when you get there.

“Am I implying, for example, that we shouldn’t make demands on our children? What I said was: ‘You don’t have a right to make any demands.’ Sooner or later that child is going to have to get rid of you, in keeping with the injunction of the Lord. And you’re going to have no rights over him at all. In fact, he really isn’t your child and he never was. He belongs to life, not to you. No one belongs to you. What you’re talking about is a child’s education. If you want lunch, you better come in between twelve and one or you don’t get lunch. Period. That’s the way things are run here. You don’t come on time, you don’t get your lunch. You’re free, that’s true, but you must take the consequences.

“When I talk about not having expectations of others, or not making demands on them, I mean expectations and demands for my well-being. The President of the United States obviously has to make demands on people. The traffic policeman obviously has to make demands on people. But these are demands on their behavior—traffic laws, good organization, the smooth running of society. They are not intended to make the President or traffic policeman feel good.”

Stripping Down to the “I”

The following is the 16th 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 suggest another exercise now. Would you write down on a piece of paper any brief way you would describe yourself—for example, businessman, priest, human being, Catholic, Jew, anything.

“Some write, I notice, things like, fruitful, searching pilgrim, competent, alive, impatient, centered, flexible, reconciler, lover, member of the human race, overly structured. This is the fruit, I trust, of observing yourself. As if you were watching another person.

“But notice, you’ve got ‘I’ observing ‘me’. This is an interesting phenomenon that has never ceased to cause wonder to philosophers, mystics, scientists, psychologists, that the ‘I’ can observe ‘me’. It would seem that animals are not able to do this at all. It would seem that one needs a certain amount of intelligence to be able to do this. What I’m going to give you now is not metaphysics; it is not philosophy. It is plain observation and common sense. The great mystics of the East are really referring to that ‘I’, not to the ‘me’. As a matter of fact, some of these mystics tell us that we begin first with things, with an awareness of things; then we move on to an awareness of thoughts (that’s the ‘me’); and finally we get to awareness of the thinker. Things, thoughts, thinker. What we’re really searching for is the thinker. Can the thinker know himself? Can I know what ‘I’ is? Some of these mystics reply, ‘Can the knife cut itself? Can the tooth bite itself? Can the eye see itself? Can the ‘I’ know itself’? But I am concerned with something infinitely more practical right now, and that is with deciding what the ‘I’ is not. I’ll go as slowly as possible because the consequences are devastating. Terrific or terrifying, depending on your point of view.

“Listen to this: Am I my thoughts, the thoughts that I am thinking? No. Thoughts come and go; I am not my thoughts. Am I my body? They tell us that millions of cells in our body are changed or are renewed every minute, so that by the end of seven years we don’t have a single living cell in our body that was there seven years before. Cells come and go. Cells arise and die. But “I” seems to persist. So am I my body? Evidently not!

“’I’ is something other and more than the body. You might say the body is part of ‘I’, but it is a changing part. It keeps moving, it keeps changing. We have the same name for it but it constantly changes. Just as we have the same name for Niagara Falls, but Niagara Falls is constituted by water that is constantly changing. We use the same name for an ever-changing reality.

“How about my name? Is ‘I’ my name? Evidently not, because I can change my name without changing the ‘I’. How about my career? How about my beliefs? I say I am a Catholic, a Jew—is that an essential part of ‘I’? When I move from one religion to another, has the ‘I’ changed? Do I have a new ‘I’” or is it the same ‘I’ that has changed? In other words, is my name an essential part of me, of the ‘I’? Is my religion an essential part of the ‘I’? I mentioned the little girl who says to the boy, ‘Are you a Presbyterian’? Well, somebody told me another story, about Paddy. Paddy was walking down the street in Belfast and he discovers a gun pressing against the back of his head and a voice says, ‘Are you Catholic or Protestant’? Well, Paddy has to do some pretty fast thinking. He says, ‘I’m a Jew’. And he hears a voice say, ‘I’ve got to be the luckiest Arab in the whole of Belfast’. Labels are so important to us. ‘I am a Republican’, we say. But are you really? You can’t mean that when you switch parties you have a new ‘I’. Isn’t it the same old ‘I’ with new political convictions? I remember hearing about a man who asks his friend, ‘Are you planning to vote Republican’? The friend says, ‘No, I’m planning to vote Democratic. My father was a Democrat, my grandfather was a Democrat, and my great-grandfather was a Democrat’. The man says, ‘That is crazy logic. I mean, if your father was a horse thief, and your grandfather was a horse thief, and your great-grandfather was a horse thief, what would you be’? ‘Ah’, the friend answered, ‘then I’d be a Republican’!

“We spend so much of our lives reacting to labels, our own and others’. We identify the labels with the ‘I’. Catholic and Protestant are frequent labels. There was a man who went to the priest and said, ‘Father, I want you to say a Mass for my dog’. The priest was indignant. ‘What do you mean, say a Mass for your dog’? ‘It’s my pet dog’, said the man. ‘I loved that dog and I’d like you to offer a Mass for him’. The priest said, ‘We don’t offer Masses for dogs here. You might try the denomination down the street. Ask them if they might have a service for you’. As the man was leaving, he said to the priest, ‘Too bad. I really loved that dog. I was planning to offer a million-dollar stipend for the Mass’. And the priest said, ‘Wait a minute, you never told me your dog was Catholic’.

“When you’re caught up in labels, what value do these labels have, as far as the ‘I’ is concerned? Could we say that ‘I’ is none of the labels we attach to it? Labels belong to ‘me’. What constantly changes is ‘me’. Does ‘I’ ever change? Does the observer ever change? The fact is that no matter what labels you think of (except perhaps human being) you should apply them to ‘me ‘. ‘I’ is none of these things. So when you step out of yourself and observe ‘me’, you no longer identify with ‘me’. Suffering exists in ‘me’, so when you identify ‘I’ with ‘me’, suffering begins.

“Say that you are afraid or desirous or anxious. When ‘I’ does not identify with money, or name, or nationality, or persons, or friends, or any quality, the ‘I’ is never threatened. It can be very active, but it isn’t threatened. Think of anything that caused or is causing you pain or worry or anxiety. First, can you pick up the desire under that suffering, that there’s something you desire very keenly or else you wouldn’t be suffering. What is that desire? Second, it isn’t simply a desire; there’s an identification there. You have somehow said to yourself, ‘The well-being of ‘I’, almost the existence of ‘I’, is tied up with this desire’. All suffering is caused by my identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside of me.”

Stripping Down to the “I”

The following is the 16th 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 suggest another exercise now. Would you write down on a piece of paper any brief way you would describe yourself—for example, businessman, priest, human being, Catholic, Jew, anything.

“Some write, I notice, things like, fruitful, searching pilgrim, competent, alive, impatient, centered, flexible, reconciler, lover, member of the human race, overly structured. This is the fruit, I trust, of observing yourself. As if you were watching another person.

“But notice, you’ve got ‘I’ observing ‘me’. This is an interesting phenomenon that has never ceased to cause wonder to philosophers, mystics, scientists, psychologists, that the ‘I’ can observe ‘me’. It would seem that animals are not able to do this at all. It would seem that one needs a certain amount of intelligence to be able to do this. What I’m going to give you now is not metaphysics; it is not philosophy. It is plain observation and common sense. The great mystics of the East are really referring to that ‘I’, not to the ‘me’. As a matter of fact, some of these mystics tell us that we begin first with things, with an awareness of things; then we move on to an awareness of thoughts (that’s the ‘me’); and finally we get to awareness of the thinker. Things, thoughts, thinker. What we’re really searching for is the thinker. Can the thinker know himself? Can I know what ‘I’ is? Some of these mystics reply, ‘Can the knife cut itself? Can the tooth bite itself? Can the eye see itself? Can the ‘I’ know itself’? But I am concerned with something infinitely more practical right now, and that is with deciding what the ‘I’ is not. I’ll go as slowly as possible because the consequences are devastating. Terrific or terrifying, depending on your point of view.

“Listen to this: Am I my thoughts, the thoughts that I am thinking? No. Thoughts come and go; I am not my thoughts. Am I my body? They tell us that millions of cells in our body are changed or are renewed every minute, so that by the end of seven years we don’t have a single living cell in our body that was there seven years before. Cells come and go. Cells arise and die. But “I” seems to persist. So am I my body? Evidently not!

“’I’ is something other and more than the body. You might say the body is part of ‘I’, but it is a changing part. It keeps moving, it keeps changing. We have the same name for it but it constantly changes. Just as we have the same name for Niagara Falls, but Niagara Falls is constituted by water that is constantly changing. We use the same name for an ever-changing reality.

“How about my name? Is ‘I’ my name? Evidently not, because I can change my name without changing the ‘I’. How about my career? How about my beliefs? I say I am a Catholic, a Jew—is that an essential part of ‘I’? When I move from one religion to another, has the ‘I’ changed? Do I have a new ‘I’” or is it the same ‘I’ that has changed? In other words, is my name an essential part of me, of the ‘I’? Is my religion an essential part of the ‘I’? I mentioned the little girl who says to the boy, ‘Are you a Presbyterian’? Well, somebody told me another story, about Paddy. Paddy was walking down the street in Belfast and he discovers a gun pressing against the back of his head and a voice says, ‘Are you Catholic or Protestant’? Well, Paddy has to do some pretty fast thinking. He says, ‘I’m a Jew’. And he hears a voice say, ‘I’ve got to be the luckiest Arab in the whole of Belfast’. Labels are so important to us. ‘I am a Republican’, we say. But are you really? You can’t mean that when you switch parties you have a new ‘I’. Isn’t it the same old ‘I’ with new political convictions? I remember hearing about a man who asks his friend, ‘Are you planning to vote Republican’? The friend says, ‘No, I’m planning to vote Democratic. My father was a Democrat, my grandfather was a Democrat, and my great-grandfather was a Democrat’. The man says, ‘That is crazy logic. I mean, if your father was a horse thief, and your grandfather was a horse thief, and your great-grandfather was a horse thief, what would you be’? ‘Ah’, the friend answered, ‘then I’d be a Republican’!

“We spend so much of our lives reacting to labels, our own and others’. We identify the labels with the ‘I’. Catholic and Protestant are frequent labels. There was a man who went to the priest and said, ‘Father, I want you to say a Mass for my dog’. The priest was indignant. ‘What do you mean, say a Mass for your dog’? ‘It’s my pet dog’, said the man. ‘I loved that dog and I’d like you to offer a Mass for him’. The priest said, ‘We don’t offer Masses for dogs here. You might try the denomination down the street. Ask them if they might have a service for you’. As the man was leaving, he said to the priest, ‘Too bad. I really loved that dog. I was planning to offer a million-dollar stipend for the Mass’. And the priest said, ‘Wait a minute, you never told me your dog was Catholic’.

“When you’re caught up in labels, what value do these labels have, as far as the ‘I’ is concerned? Could we say that ‘I’ is none of the labels we attach to it? Labels belong to ‘me’. What constantly changes is ‘me’. Does ‘I’ ever change? Does the observer ever change? The fact is that no matter what labels you think of (except perhaps human being) you should apply them to ‘me ‘. ‘I’ is none of these things. So when you step out of yourself and observe ‘me’, you no longer identify with ‘me’. Suffering exists in ‘me’, so when you identify ‘I’ with ‘me’, suffering begins.

“Say that you are afraid or desirous or anxious. When ‘I’ does not identify with money, or name, or nationality, or persons, or friends, or any quality, the ‘I’ is never threatened. It can be very active, but it isn’t threatened. Think of anything that caused or is causing you pain or worry or anxiety. First, can you pick up the desire under that suffering, that there’s something you desire very keenly or else you wouldn’t be suffering. What is that desire? Second, it isn’t simply a desire; there’s an identification there. You have somehow said to yourself, ‘The well-being of ‘I’, almost the existence of ‘I’, is tied up with this desire’. All suffering is caused by my identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside of me.”

Getting Concrete

The following is the 37th 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.

“Every time I have a concept, it is something that I could apply to a number of individuals. We’re not talking about a concrete, particular name like Mary or John, which doesn’t have a conceptual meaning. A concept applies to any number of individuals, countless individuals. Concepts are universal. For instance, the word ‘leaf’ could be applied to every single leaf on a tree; the same word applies to all those individual leaves. Moreover, the same word applies to all the leaves on all trees, big ones, small ones, tender ones, dried ones, yellow ones, green ones, banana leaves. So if I say to you that I saw a leaf this morning, you really don’t have an idea of what I saw.

“Let’s see if you can understand that. You do have an idea of what I did not see. I did not see an animal. I did not see a dog. I did not see a human being. I did not see a shoe. So you have some kind of a vague idea of what I saw, but it isn’t particularized, it isn’t concrete. ‘Human being’ refers not to primitive man, not to civilized man, not to grownup man, not to a child, not to a male or a female, not to this particular age or another, not to this culture or the other, but to the concept. The human being is found concrete; you never find a universal human being like your concept. So your concept points, but it is never entirely accurate; it misses uniqueness, concreteness. The concept is universal.

“When I give you a concept, I give you something, and yet how little I have given you. The concept is so valuable, so useful for science. For instance, if I say that everyone here is an animal that would be perfectly accurate from a scientific viewpoint. But we’re something more than animals. If I say that Mary Jane is an animal, that’s true; but because I’ve omitted something essential about her, it’s false; it does her an injustice. When I call a person a woman, that’s true; but there are lots of things in that person that don’t fit into the concept ‘woman.’ She is always this particular, concrete, unique woman, who can only be experienced, not conceptualized. The concrete person I’ve got to see for myself, to experience for myself, to intuit for myself. The individual can be intuited but cannot be conceptualized.

“A person is beyond the thinking mind. Many of you would probably be proud to be called Americans, as many Indians would probably be proud to be called Indians. But what is ‘American,’ what is ‘Indian’? It’s a convention; it’s not part of your nature. All you’ve got is a label. You really don’t know the person. The concept always misses or omits something extremely important, something precious that is only found in reality, which is concrete uniqueness. The great Krishnamurti put it so well when he said, ‘The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again.’ How true! The first time the child sees that fluffy, alive, moving object, and you say to him, Sparrow,’ then tomorrow when the child sees another fluffy, moving object similar to it he says, ‘Oh, sparrows. I’ve seen sparrows. I’m bored by sparrows.’

“If you don’t look at things through your concepts, you’ll never be bored. Every single thing is unique. Every sparrow is unlike every other sparrow despite the similarities. It’s a great help to have similarities, so we can abstract, so that we can have a concept. It’s a great help, from the point of view of communication, education, science. But it’s also very misleading and a great hindrance to seeing this concrete individual. If all you experience is your concept, you’re not experiencing reality, because reality is concrete. The concept is a help, to lead you to reality, but when you get there, you’ve got to intuit or experience it directly. 

“A second quality of a concept is that it is static whereas reality is in flux. We use the same name for Niagara Falls, but that body of water is constantly changing. You’ve got the word ‘river,’ but the water there is constantly flowing. You’ve got one word for your ‘body,’ but the cells in your body are constantly being renewed. Let’s suppose, for example, there is an enormous wind outside and I want the people in my country to get an idea of what an American gale or hurricane is like. So I capture it in a cigar box and I go back home and say, ‘Look at this.’ Naturally, it isn’t a gale anymore, is it? Once it’s captured. Or if I want you to get the feel of what the flow of a river is like and I bring it to you in a bucket. The moment I put it into a bucket it has stopped flowing. The moment you put things into a concept, they stop flowing; they become static, dead. A frozen wave is not a wave. A wave is essentially movement, action; when you freeze it, it is not a wave. Concepts are always frozen. Reality flows. Finally, if we are to believe the mystics (and it doesn’t take too much of an effort to understand this, or even believe it, but no one can see it at once), reality is whole, but words and concepts fragment reality. That is why it is so difficult to translate from one language to another, because each language cuts reality up differently. The English word ‘home’ is impossible to translate into French or Spanish. ‘Casa’ is not quite ‘home’; ‘home’ has associations that are peculiar to the English language. Every language has untranslatable words and expressions, because we’re cutting reality up and adding something or subtracting something and usage keeps changing. Reality is a whole and we cut it up to make concepts and we use words to indicate different parts. If you had never seen an animal in your life, for example, and one day you found a tail—just a tail—and somebody told you, ‘That’s a tail,’ would you have any idea of what it was if you had no idea what an animal was?

“Ideas actually fragment the vision, intuition, or experience of reality as a whole. This is what the mystics are perpetually telling us. Words cannot give you reality. They only point, they only indicate. You use them as pointers to get to reality. But once you get there, your concepts are useless. A Hindu priest once had a dispute with a philosopher who claimed that the final barrier to God was the word ‘God,’ the concept of God. The priest was quite shocked by this, but the philosopher said, ‘The ass that you mount —and that you use to travel to a house is not the means by which you enter the house. You use the concept to get there; then you dismount, you go beyond it.’ You don’t need to be a mystic to understand that reality is something that cannot be captured by words or concepts. To know reality you have to know beyond knowing.

“Do those words ring a bell? Those of you who are familiar with The Cloud of Unknowing would recognize the expression. Poets, painters, mystics, and the great philosophers all have intimations of its truth. Let’s suppose that one day I’m watching a tree. Until now, every time I saw a tree, I said, ‘Well, it’s a tree’, but today when I’m looking at the tree, I don’t see a tree. At least I don’t see what I’m accustomed to seeing. I see something with the freshness of a child’s vision. I have no word for it. I see something unique, whole, flowing, not fragmented. And I’m in awe. If you were to ask me, ‘What did you see?’ what do you think I’d answer? I have no word for it. There is no word for reality. Because as soon as I put a word to it, we’re back into concepts again.

“And if I cannot express this reality that is visible to my senses, how does one express what cannot be seen by the eye or heard by the ear? How does one find a word for the reality of God? Are you beginning to understand what Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and all the rest were saying and what the Church teaches constantly when she says that God is mystery, is unintelligible to the human mind?

“The great Karl Rahner, in one of his last letters, wrote to a young German drug addict who had asked him for help. The addict had said, ‘You theologians talk about God, but how could this God be relevant in my life? How could this God get me off drugs?’ Rahner said to him, ‘I must confess to you in all honesty that for me God is and has always been absolute mystery. I do not understand what God is; no one can. We have intimations, inklings; we make faltering, inadequate attempts to put mystery into words. But there is no word for it, no sentence for it.’ And talking to a group of theologians in London, Rahner said, ‘The task of the theologian is to explain everything through God, and to explain God as unexplainable.’ Unexplainable mystery. One does not know, one cannot say. One says, ‘Ah, ah…’

“Words are pointers, they’re not descriptions. Tragically, people fall into idolatry because they think that where God is concerned, the word is the thing. How could you get so crazy? Can you be crazier than that? Even where human beings are concerned, or trees and leaves and animals, the word is not the thing. And you would say that, where God is concerned, the word is one thing? What are you talking about? An internationally famous scripture scholar attended this course in San Francisco, and he said to me, ‘My God, after listening to you, I understand that I’ve been an idol worshiper all my life!’ He said this openly. ‘It never struck me that I had been an idol worshiper. My idol was not made of wood or metal; it was a mental idol.’ These are the more dangerous idol worshipers. They use a very subtle substance, the mind, to produce their God.

“What I’m leading you to is the following: awareness of reality, around you. Awareness means to watch, to observe what is going on within you and around you. ‘Going on’ is pretty accurate: Trees, grass, flowers, animals, rock, all of reality is moving. One observes it, one watches it. How essential it is for the human being not just to observe himself or herself, but to watch all of reality. Are you imprisoned by your concepts? Do you want to break out of your prison? Then look; observe; spend hours observing. Watching what? Anything. The faces of people, the shapes of trees, a bird in flight, a pile of stones, watch the grass grow. Get in touch with things, look at them. Hopefully you will then break out of these rigid patterns we have all developed, out of what our thoughts and our words have imposed on us. Hopefully we will see. What will we see? This thing that we choose to call reality, whatever is beyond words and concepts. This is a spiritual exercise—connected with spirituality—connected with breaking out of your cage, out of the imprisonment of the concepts and words. “How sad if we pass through life and never see it with the eyes of a child. This doesn’t mean you should drop your concepts totally; they’re very precious. Though we begin without them, concepts have a very positive function. Thanks to them we develop our intelligence. We’re invited, not to become children, but to become like children. We do have to fall from a stage of innocence and be thrown out of paradise; we do have to develop an ‘I’ and a ‘me’ through these concepts. But then we need to return to paradise. We need to be redeemed again. We need to put off the old man, the old nature, the conditioned self, and return to the state of the child but without being a child. When we start off in life, we look at reality with wonder, but it isn’t the intelligent wonder of the mystics; it’s the formless wonder of the child. Then wonder dies and is replaced by boredom, as we develop language and words and concepts. Then hopefully, if we’re lucky, we’ll return to wonder again.”

A Changed Person

The following is the 30th 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.

“In your pursuit of awareness, don’t make demands. It’s more like obeying the traffic rules. If you don’t observe traffic rules, you pay the penalty. Here in the United States you drive on the right side of the road; in England you drive on the left; in India you drive on the left. If you don’t, you pay the penalty; there is no room for hurt feelings or demands or expectations; you just abide by the traffic rules.

“You ask where compassion comes in, where guilt comes in in all this. You’ll know when you’re awake. If you’re feeling guilty right now, how on earth can I explain it to you? How would you know what compassion is? You know, sometimes people want to imitate Christ, but when a monkey plays a saxophone, that doesn’t make him a musician. You can’t imitate Christ by imitating his external behavior. You’ve got to be Christ. Then you’ll know exactly what to do in a particular situation, given your temperament, your character, and the character and temperament of the person you’re dealing with. No one has to tell you. But to do that, you must be what Christ was. An external imitation will get you nowhere. If you think that compassion implies softness, there’s no way I can describe compassion to you, absolutely no way, because compassion can be very hard. Compassion can be very rude, compassion can jolt you, compassion can roll up its sleeves and operate on you. Compassion is all kinds of things. Compassion can be very soft, but there’s no way of knowing that. It’s only when you become love—in other words, when you have dropped your illusions and attachments—that you will ‘know.’

“As you identify less and less with the ‘I,’ you will be more at ease with everybody and with everything. Do you know why? Because you are no longer afraid of being hurt or not liked. You no longer desire to impress anyone. Can you imagine the relief when you don’t have to impress anybody anymore? Oh, what a relief. Happiness at last! You no longer feel the need or the compulsion to explain things anymore. It’s all right. What is there to be explained? And you don’t feel the need or compulsion to apologize anymore. I’d much rather hear you say, ‘I’ve come awake,’ than hear you say, ‘I’m sorry.’ I’d much rather hear you say to me, ‘I’ve come awake since we last met; what I did to you won’t happen again,’ than to hear you say, ‘I’m so sorry for what I did to you.’ Why would anyone demand an apology? You have something to explore in that. Even when someone supposedly was mean to you, there is no room for apology.

“Nobody was mean to you. Somebody was mean to what he or she thought was you, but not to you. Nobody ever rejects you; they’re only rejecting what they think you are. But that cuts both ways. Nobody ever accepts you either. Until people come awake, they are simply accepting or rejecting their image of you. They’ve fashioned an image of you, and they’re rejecting or accepting that. See how devastating it is to go deeply into that. It’s a bit too liberating. But how easy it is to love people when you understand this. How easy it is to love everyone when you don’t identify with what they imagine you are or they are. It becomes easy to love them, to love everybody.

“I observe ‘me,’ but I do not think about ‘me.’ Because the thinking ‘me’ does a lot of bad thinking, too. But when I watch ‘me,’ I am constantly aware that this is a reflection. In reality, you don’t really think of ‘I’ and ‘me.’ You’re like a person driving the car; he doesn’t ever want to lose consciousness of the car. It’s all right to daydream, but not to lose consciousness of your surroundings. You must always be alert. It’s like a mother sleeping; she doesn’t hear the planes roaring above the house, but she hears the slightest whimper of her baby. She’s alert, she’s awake in that sense. One cannot say anything about the awakened state; one can only talk about the sleeping state. One hints at the awakened state. One cannot say anything about happiness. Happiness cannot be defined. What can be defined is misery. Drop unhappiness and you will know. Love cannot be defined; unlove can. Drop unlove, drop fear, and you will know. We want to find out what the awakened person is like. But you’ll know only when you get there.

“Am I implying, for example, that we shouldn’t make demands on our children? What I said was: ‘You don’t have a right to make any demands.’ Sooner or later that child is going to have to get rid of you, in keeping with the injunction of the Lord. And you’re going to have no rights over him at all. In fact, he really isn’t your child and he never was. He belongs to life, not to you. No one belongs to you. What you’re talking about is a child’s education. If you want lunch, you better come in between twelve and one or you don’t get lunch. Period. That’s the way things are run here. You don’t come on time, you don’t get your lunch. You’re free, that true, but you must take the consequences.

“When I talk about not having expectations of others, or not making demands on them, I mean expectations and demands for my well-being. The President of the United States obviously has to make demands on people. The traffic policeman obviously has to make demands on people. But these are demands on their behavior—traffic laws, good organization, the smooth running of society. They are not intended to make the President or traffic policeman feel good.”

Change As Greed

The following is the 29th 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 still leaves us with a big question: Do I do anything to change myself?

“I’ve got a big surprise for you, lots of good news! You don’t have to do anything. The more you do, the worse it gets. All you have to do is understand.

“Think of somebody you are living with or working with whom you do not like, who causes negative feelings to arise in you. Let’s help you to understand what’s going on. The first thing you need to understand is that the negative feeling is inside you. You are responsible for the negative feeling, not the other person. Someone else in your place would be perfectly calm and at ease in the presence of this person; they wouldn’t be affected. You are. Now, understand another thing, that you’re making a demand. You have an expectation of this person. Can you get in touch with that? Then say to this person, ‘I have no right to make any demands on you.’ In saying that, you will drop your expectation. ‘I have no right to make any demands on you. Oh, I’ll protect myself from the consequences of your actions or your moods or whatever, but you can go right ahead and be what you choose to be. I have no right to make any demands on you.’

“See what happens to you when you do this. If there’s a resistance to saying it, my, how much you’re going to discover about your ‘me.’ Let the dictator in you come out, let the tyrant come out. You thought you were such a little lamb, didn’t you? But I’m a tyrant and you’re a tyrant. A little variation on ‘I’m an ass, you’re an ass.’ I’m a dictator, you’re a dictator. I want to run your life for you; I want to tell you exactly how you’re expected to be and how you’re expected to behave, and you’d better behave as I have decided or I shall punish myself by having negative feelings. Remember what I told you, everybody’s a lunatic.

“A woman told me her son had gotten an award at his high school. It was for excellence in sports and academics. She was happy for him, but was almost tempted to say to him, ‘Don’t glory in that award, because it’s setting you up for the time when you can’t perform as well.’ She was in a dilemma: how to prevent his future disillusionment without bursting his bubble now.

“Hopefully, he’ll learn as she herself grows in wisdom. It’s not a matter of anything she says to him. It’s something that eventually she will become. Then she will understand. Then she will know what to say and when to say it. That award was a result of competition, which can be cruel if it is built on hatred of oneself and of others. People get a good feeling on the basis of somebody getting a bad feeling; you win over somebody else. Isn’t that terrible? Taken for granted in a lunatic asylum!

“There’s an American doctor who wrote about the effect of competition on his life. He went to medical school in Switzerland and there was a fairly large contingent of Americans at that school. He said some of the students went into shock when they realized that there were no grades, there were no awards, there was no dean’s list, no first or second in the class at the school. You either passed or you didn’t. He said, ‘Some of us just couldn’t take it. We became almost paranoid. We thought, ‘There must be some kind of trick here.’ So some of them went to another school. Those who survived suddenly discovered a strange thing they had never noticed at American universities: students, brilliant ones, helping others to pass, sharing notes. His son goes to medical school in the United States and he tells him that, in the lab, people often tamper with the microscope so that it’ll take the next student three or four minutes to readjust it. Competition. They have to succeed, they have to be perfect. And he tells a lovely little story which he says is factual, but it could also serve as a beautiful parable. There was a little town in America where people gathered in the evening to make music. They had a saxophonist, a drummer, and a violinist, mostly old people. They got together for the company and for the sheer joy of making music, though they didn’t do it very well. So they were enjoying themselves, having a great time, until one day they decided to get a new conductor who had a lot of ambition and drive. The new conductor told them, ‘Hey, folks, we have to have a concert; we have to prepare a concert for the town.’ Then he gradually got rid of some people who didn’t play too well, hired a few professional musicians, got an orchestra into shape, and they all got their names in the newspapers. Wasn’t that wonderful? So they decided to move to the big city and play there. But some of the old people had tears in their eyes, they said, ‘It was so wonderful in the old days when we did things badly and enjoyed them.’ So cruelty came into their lives, but nobody recognized it as cruelty. See how lunatic people have become!

“Some of you ask me what I meant when I said, ‘You go ahead and be yourself, that’s all right, but I’ll protect myself, I’ll be myself.’ In other words, I won’t allow you to manipulate me. I’ll live my life; I’ll go my own way; I’ll keep myself free to think my thoughts, to follow my inclinations and tastes. And I’ll say no to you. If I feel I don’t want to be in your company, it won’t be because of any negative feelings you cause in me. Because you don’t anymore. You don’t have any more power over me. I simply might prefer other people’s company. So when you say to me, ‘How about a movie tonight?’ I’ll say, ‘Sorry, I want to go with someone else; I enjoy his company more than yours.’ And that’s all right. To say no to people—that’s wonderful; that’s part of waking up. Part of waking up is that you live your life as you see fit. And understand: That is not selfish. The selfish thing is to demand that someone else live their life as YOU see fit. That’s selfish. It is not selfish to live your life as you see fit. The selfishness lies in demanding that someone else live their life to suit your tastes, or your pride, or your profit, or your pleasure. That is truly selfish. So I’ll protect myself. I won’t feel obligated to be with you; I won’t feel obligated to say yes to you. If I find your company pleasant, then I’ll enjoy it without clinging to it. But I no longer avoid you because of any negative feelings you create in me. You don’t have that power anymore.

“Awakening should be a surprise. When you don’t expect something to happen and it happens, you feel surprise. When Webster’s wife caught him kissing the maid, she told him she was very surprised. Now, Webster was a stickler for using words accurately (understandably, since he wrote a dictionary), so he answered her, ‘No, my dear, I am surprised. You are astonished!’

“Some people make awakening a goal. They are determined to get there; they say, ‘I refuse to be happy until I’m awakened.’ In that case, it’s better to be the way you are, simply to be aware of the way you are. Simple awareness is happiness compared with trying to react all the time. People react so quickly because they are not aware. You will come to understand that there are times when you will inevitably react, even in awareness. But as awareness grows, you react less and act more. It really doesn’t matter.

“There’s a story of a disciple who told his guru that he was going to a far place to meditate and hopefully attain enlightenment. So he sent the guru a note every six months to report the progress he was making. The first report said, ‘Now I understand what it means to lose the self.’ The guru tore up the note and threw it in the wastepaper basket. After six months he got another report, which said, ‘Now I have attained sensitivity to all beings.’ He tore it up. Then a third report said, ‘Now I understand the secret of the one and the many.’ It too was torn up. And so it went on for years, until finally no reports came in. After a time the guru became curious and one day there was a traveler going to that far place. The guru said, ‘Why don’t you find out what happened to that fellow.’ Finally, he got a note from his disciple. It said, ‘What does it matter?’ And when the guru read that, he said, ‘He made it! He made it! He finally got it! He got it!’

“And there is the story about a soldier on the battlefield who would simply drop his rifle to the ground, pick up a scrap of paper lying there, and look at it. Then he would let it flutter from his hands to the ground. And then he’d move somewhere else and do the same thing. So others said, ‘This man is exposing himself to death. He needs help.’ So they put him in the hospital and got the best psychiatrist to work on him. But it seemed to have no effect. He wandered around the wards picking up scraps of paper, looking at them idly, and letting them flutter to the ground. In the end they said, ‘We’ve got to discharge this man from the army.’ So they call him in and give him a discharge certificate and he idly picks it up, looks at it, and shouts, ‘This is it? This is it.’ He finally got it.

“So begin to be aware of your present condition whatever that condition is. Stop being a dictator. Stop trying to push yourself somewhere. Then someday you will understand that simply by awareness you have already attained what you were pushing yourself toward.”

Four Steps to Wisdom

The following is the 26th 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

“The first thing you need to do is get in touch with negative feelings that you’re not even aware of. Lots of people have negative feelings they’re not aware of. Lots of people are depressed and they’re not aware they are depressed. It’s only when they make contact with joy that they understand how depressed they were. You can’t deal with a cancer that you haven’t detected. You can’t get rid of boll weevils on your farm if you’re not aware of their existence. The first thing you need is awareness of your negative feelings. What negative feelings? Gloominess, for instance. You’re feeling gloomy and moody. You feel self-hatred or guilt. You feel that life is pointless, that it makes no sense; you’ve got hurt feelings, you’re feeling nervous and tense. Get in touch with those feelings first.

“The second step (this is a four-step program) is to understand that the feeling is in you, not in reality. That’s such a self-evident thing, but do you think people know it? They don’t, believe me. They’ve got Ph.Ds. and are presidents of universities, but they haven’t understood this. They didn’t teach me how to live at school. They taught me everything else. As one man said, ‘I got a pretty good education. It took me years to get over it.’ That’s what spirituality is all about, you know: unlearning. Unlearning all the rubbish they taught you.

“Negative feelings are in you, not in reality. So stop trying to change reality. That’s crazy! Stop trying to change the other person. We spend all our time and energy trying to change external circumstances, trying to change our spouses, our bosses, our friends, our enemies, and everybody else. We don’t have to change anything. Negative feelings are in you. No person on earth has the power to make you unhappy. There is no event on earth that has the power to disturb you or hurt you. No event, condition, situation, or person. Nobody told you this; they told you the opposite. That’s why you’re in the mess that you’re in right now. That is why you’re asleep. They never told you this. But it’s self-evident.

“Let’s suppose that rain washes out a picnic. Who is feeling negative? The rain? Or you? What’s causing the negative feeling? The rain or your reaction? When you bump your knee against a table, the table’s fine. It’s busy being what it was made to be—a table. The pain is in your knee, not in the table. The mystics keep trying to tell us that reality is all right. Reality is not problematic. Problems exist only in the human mind. We might add: in the stupid, sleeping human mind. Reality is not problematic. Take away human beings from this planet and life would go on, nature would go on in all its loveliness and violence. Where would the problem be? No problem. You created the problem. You are the problem. You identified with ‘me’ and that is the problem. The feeling is in you, not in reality.

“The third step: Never identify with that feeling. It has nothing to do with the ‘I’. Don’t define your essential self in terms of that feeling. Don’t say, ‘I am depressed.’ If you want to say, ‘It is depressed,’ that’s all right. If you want to say depression is there, that’s fine; if you want to say gloominess is there, that’s fine. But not: I am gloomy. You’re defining yourself in terms of the feeling. That’s your illusion; that’s your mistake. There is a depression there right now, there are hurt feelings there right now, but let it be, leave it alone. It will pass. Everything passes, everything. Your depressions and your thrills have nothing to do with happiness. Those are the swings of the pendulum. If you seek kicks or thrills, get ready for depression. Do you want your drug? Get ready for the hangover. One end of the pendulum swings to the other.

“This has nothing to do with ‘I’; it has nothing to do with happiness. It is the ‘me.’ If you remember this, if you say it to yourself a thousand times, if you try these three steps a thousand times, you will get it. You might not need to do it even three times. I don’t know; there’s no rule for it. But do it a thousand times and you’ll make the biggest discovery in your life. To hell with those gold mines in Alaska. What are you going to do with that gold? If you’re not happy, you can’t live. So you found gold. What does that matter? You’re a king; you’re a princess. You’re free; you don’t care anymore about being accepted or rejected, that makes no difference. Psychologists tell us how important it is to get a sense of belonging. Baloney! Why do you want to belong to anybody? It doesn’t matter anymore.

“A friend of mine told me that there’s an African tribe where capital punishment consists of being ostracized. If you were kicked out of New York, or wherever you’re residing, you wouldn’t die. How is it that the African tribesman died? Because he partakes of the common stupidity of humanity. He thinks he will not be able to live if he does not belong. It’s very different from most people, or is it? He’s convinced he needs to belong. But you don’t need to belong to anybody or anything or any group. You don’t even need to be in love. Who told you you do? What you need is to be free. What you need is to love. That’s it; that’s your nature. But what you’re really telling me is that you want to be desired. You want to be applauded, to be attractive, to have all the little monkeys running after you.

“You’re wasting your life. Wake up! You don’t need this. You can be blissfully happy without it. Your society is not going to be happy to hear this, because you become terrifying when you open your eyes and understand this. How do you control a person like this? He doesn’t need you; he’s not threatened by your criticism; he doesn’t care what you think of him or what you say about him. He’s cut all those strings; he’s not a puppet any longer. It’s terrifying. ‘So we’ve got to get rid of him. He tells the truth; he has become fearless; he has stopped being human.’ Human! Behold! A human being at last! He broke out of his slavery, broke out of their prison.

“No event justifies a negative feeling. There is no situation in the world that justifies a negative feeling. That’s what all our mystics have been crying themselves hoarse to tell us. But nobody listens. The negative feeling is in you. In the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred book of the Hindus, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, ‘Plunge into the heat of battle and keep your heart at the lotus feet of the Lord.’ A marvelous sentence.

“You don’t have to do anything to acquire happiness. The great Meister Eckhart said very beautifully, ‘God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction.’ You don’t do anything to be free, you drop something. Then you’re free.

“It reminds me of the Irish prisoner who dug a tunnel under the prison wall and managed to escape. He comes out right in the middle of a school playground where little children are playing. Of course, when he emerges from the tunnel he can’t restrain himself anymore and begins to jump up and down, crying, ‘I’m free, I’m free, I’m free!’ A little girl there looks at him scornfully and says, ‘That’s nothing. I’m four.’

“The fourth step: How do you change things? How do you change yourselves? There are many things you must understand here, or rather, just one thing that can be expressed in many ways. Imagine a patient who goes to a doctor and tells him what he is suffering from. The doctor says, ‘Very well, I’ve understood your symptoms. Do you know what I will do? I will prescribe a medicine for your neighbor!’ The patient replies, ‘Thank you very much, Doctor that makes me feel much better.’ Isn’t that absurd? But that’s what we all do. The person who is asleep always thinks he’ll feel better if somebody else changes. You’re suffering because you are asleep, but you’re thinking, ‘How wonderful life would be if somebody else would change; how wonderful life would be if my neighbor changed, my wife changed, my boss changed.’

“We always want someone else to change so that we will feel good. But has it ever struck you that even if your wife changes or your husband changes, what does that do to you? You’re just as vulnerable as before; you’re just as idiotic as before; you’re just as asleep as before. You are the one who needs to change, who needs to take medicine. You keep insisting, ‘I feel good because the world is right.’ Wrong! The world is right because I feel good. That’s what all the mystics are saying.”

Obstacles to Happiness

The following is the 25th 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.

“What I’m about to say will sound a bit pompous, but it’s true. What is coming could be the most important minutes in your lives. If you could grasp this, you’d hit upon the secret of awakening. You would be happy forever. You would never be unhappy again. Nothing would have the power to hurt you again. I mean that, nothing. It’s like when you throw black paint in the air; the air remains uncontaminated. You never color the air black. No matter what happens to you, you remain uncontaminated. You remain at peace. There are human beings who have attained this, what I call being human. Not this nonsense of being a puppet, jerked about this way and that way, letting events or other people tell you how to feel. So you proceed to feel it and you call it being vulnerable. Ha! I call it being a puppet. So you want to be a puppet? Press a button and you’re down; do you like that? But if you refuse to identify with any of those labels, most of your worries cease.

“Later we’ll talk about fear of disease and death, but ordinarily you’re worried about what’s going to happen to your career. A small-time businessman, fifty-five years old, is sipping beer at a bar somewhere and he’s saying, ‘Well, look at my classmates, they’ve really made it.’ The idiot! What does he mean, ‘They made it’? They’ve got their names in the newspaper. Do you call that making it? One is president of the corporation; the other has become the Chief justice; somebody else has become this or that. Monkeys, all of them.

“Who determines what it means to be a success? This stupid society! The main preoccupation of society is to keep society sick! And the sooner you realize that, the better. Sick, every one of them. They are loony, they’re crazy. You became president of the lunatic asylum and you’re proud of it even though it means nothing. Being president of a corporation has nothing to do with being a success in life. Having a lot of money has nothing to do with being a success in life. You’re a success in life when you wake up! Then you don’t have to apologize to anyone, you don’t have to explain anything to anyone, you don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about you or what anybody says about you. You have no worries; you’re happy. That’s what I call being a success. Having a good job or being famous or having a great reputation has absolutely nothing to do with happiness or success. Nothing! It is totally irrelevant. All he’s really worried about is what his children will think about him, what the neighbors will think about him, what his wife will think about him. He should have become famous. Our society and culture drill that into our heads day and night. People who made it! Made what?! Made asses of themselves. Because they drained all their energy getting something that was worthless. They’re frightened and confused, they are puppets like the rest. Look at them strutting across the stage. Look how upset they get if they have a stain on their shirt. Do you call that a success? Look at how frightened they are at the prospect they might not be reelected. Do you call that a success? They are controlled, so manipulated. They are unhappy people, they are miserable people. They don’t enjoy life. They are constantly tense and anxious. Do you call that human? And do you know why that happens? Only one reason: They identified with some label. They identified the ‘I’ with their money or their job or their profession. That was their error.

“Did you hear about the lawyer who was presented with a plumber’s bill? He said to the plumber, ‘Hey, you’re charging me two hundred dollars an hour. I don’t make that kind of money as a lawyer.’ The plumber said, ‘I didn’t make that kind of money when I was a lawyer either!’ You could be a plumber or a lawyer or a businessman or a priest, but that does not affect the essential ‘I’. It doesn’t affect you. If I change my profession tomorrow, it’s just like changing my clothes. I am untouched. Are you your clothes? Are you your name? Are you your profession? Stop identifying with them. They come and go.

“When you really understand this, no criticism can affect you. No flattery or praise can affect you either. When someone says, ‘You’re a great guy,’ what is he talking about? He’s talking about ‘me,’ he’s not talking about ‘I.’ ‘I’ is neither great nor small. ‘I’ is neither successful nor a failure. It is none of these labels. These things come and go. These things depend on the criteria society establishes. These things depend on your conditioning. These things depend on the mood of the person who happens to be talking to you right now. It has nothing to do with ‘I.’ ‘I’ is none of these labels. ‘Me’ is generally selfish, foolish, childish—a great big ass. So when you say, ‘You’re an ass,’ I’ve known it for years! The conditioned self—what did you expect? I’ve known it for years. Why do you identify with him? Silly! That isn’t ‘I,’ that’s ‘me.’

“Do you want to be happy? Uninterrupted happiness is uncaused. True happiness is uncaused. You cannot make me happy. You are not my happiness. You say to the awakened person, ‘Why are you happy?’ and the awakened person replies, ‘Why not?’ “Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don’t have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don’t you experience it? Because you’ve got to drop something. You’ve got to drop illusions. You don’t have to add anything in order to be happy; you’ve got to drop something. Life is easy, life is delightful. It’s only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings. Do you know where these things come from? From having identified with all kinds of labels.”

“Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don’t have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don’t you experience it? Because you’ve got to drop something. You’ve got to drop illusions. You don’t have to add anything in order to be happy; you’ve got to drop something. Life is easy, life is delightful. It’s only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings. Do you know where these things come from? From having identified with all kinds of labels.”

Good Religion The Antithesis of Unawareness


The following is the 23nd 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

“Somebody came up to me once during a conference and asked, ‘What about Our Lady of Fatima? What do you think of her?’ When I am asked questions like that, I am reminded of the story of the time they were taking the statue of Our Lady of Fatima on an airplane to a pilgrimage for worship, and as they were flying over the South of France the plane began to wobble and to shake and it looked like it was going to come apart. And the miraculous statue cried out, ‘Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!’ And all was well. Wasn’t it wonderful, one ‘Our Lady’ helping another ‘Our Lady’?

“There was also a group of a thousand people who went on a pilgrimage to Mexico City to venerate the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and sat down before the statue in protest because the Bishop of the Diocese had declared ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’ patroness of the diocese! They were sure that Our Lady of Guadalupe felt this very much, so they were doing the protest in reparation for the offense. That’s the trouble with religion, if you don’t watch out.

“When I speak to Hindus, I tell them, ‘Your priests are not going to be happy to hear this (notice how prudent I am this morning), but God would be much happier, according to Jesus Christ, if you were transformed than if you worshiped. He would be much more pleased by your loving than by your adoration.’ And when I talk to Moslems (sic), I say, ‘Your Ayatollah and your mullahs are not going to be happy to hear this, but God is going to be much more pleased by your being transformed into a loving person than by saying, ‘Lord, Lord.’ It’s infinitely more important that you be waking up. That’s spirituality, that’s everything. If you have that, you have God. Then you worship ‘in spirit and in truth.’ When you become love, when you are transformed into love. The danger of what religion can do is very nicely brought out in a story told by Cardinal Martini, the Archbishop of Milan. The story has to do with an Italian couple that’s getting married. They have an arrangement with the parish priest to have a little reception in the parish courtyard outside the church. But it rained, and they couldn’t have the reception, so they said to the priest, ‘Would it be all right if we had the celebration in the church?’

“Now Father wasn’t one bit happy about having a reception in the church, but they said, ‘We will eat a little cake, sing a little song, drink a little wine, and then go home.’ So Father was persuaded. But being good life-loving Italians they drank a little wine, sang a little song, then drank a little more wine, and sang some more songs, and within a half hour there was a great celebration going on in the church. And everybody was having a great time, lots of fun and frolic. But Father was all tense, pacing up and down in the sacristy, all upset about the noise they were making. The assistant pastor comes in and says, ‘I see you are quite tense’.

“‘Of course, I’m tense. Listen to all the noise they are making, and in the House of God!, for heaven’s sake!’

‘Well, Father, they really had no place to go.’

‘I know that! But do they have to make all that racket?’

‘Well, we mustn’t forget, must we, Father, that Jesus himself was once present at a wedding!’

Father says, ‘I know Jesus Christ was present at a wedding banquet, YOU don’t have to tell me Jesus Christ was present at a wedding banquet! But they didn’t have the Blessed Sacrament there!!!’

“You know there are times like that when the Blessed Sacrament becomes more important than Jesus Christ. When worship becomes more important than love, when the Church becomes more important than life. When God becomes more important than the neighbor. And so it goes on. That’s the danger. To my mind this is what Jesus was evidently calling us to—first things first! The human being is much more important than the Sabbath. Doing what I tell you, namely, becoming what I am indicating to you, is much more important than Lord, Lord. But your mullah is not going to be happy to hear that, I assure you. Your priests are not going to be happy to hear that. Not generally. So that’s what we have been talking about. Spirituality. Waking up. And as I told you, it is extremely important if you want to wake up to go in for what I call ‘self-observation.’ Be aware of what you’re saying, be aware of what you’re doing, be aware of what you’re thinking, be aware of how you’re acting. Be aware of where you’re coming from, what your motives are. The unaware life is not worth living.

“The unaware life is a mechanical life. It’s not human, it’s programmed, conditioned. We might as well be a stone, a block of wood. In the country where I come from, you have hundreds of thousands of people living in little hovels, in extreme poverty, who just manage to survive, working all day long, hard manual work, sleep and then wake up in the morning, eat something, and start all over again. And you sit back and think, ‘What a life.’ ‘Is that all that life holds in store for them?’ And then you’re suddenly jolted into the realization that 99.999% of people here are not much better. You can go to the movies, drive around in a car, you can go for a cruise. Do you think you are much better off than they are? You are just as dead as they are. Just as much a machine as they are—a slightly bigger one, but a machine nevertheless. That’s sad. It’s sad to think that people go through life like this.

“People go through life with fixed ideas; they never change. They’re just not aware of what’s going on. They might as well be a block of wood, or a rock, a talking, walking, thinking machine. That’s not human. They are puppets, jerked around by all kinds of things. Press a button and you get a reaction. You can almost predict how this person is going to react. If I study a person, I can tell you just how he or she is going to react. With my therapy group, sometimes I write on a piece of paper that so-and-so is going to start the session and so-and-so will reply. Do you think that’s bad? Well, don’t listen to people who say to you, ‘Forget yourself! Go out in love to others.’ Don’t listen to them! They’re all wrong. The worst thing you can do is forget yourself when you go out to others in the so-called helping attitude.

“This was brought home to me very forcibly many years ago when I did my studies in psychology in Chicago. We had a course in counseling for priests. It was open only to priests who were actually engaged in counseling and who agreed to bring a taped session to class. There must have been about twenty of us. When it was my turn, I brought a cassette with an interview I had had with a young woman. The instructor put it in a recorder and we all began to listen to it. After five minutes, as was his custom, the instructor stopped the tape and asked, ‘Any comments?’ Someone said to me, ‘Why did you ask her that question?’ I said, ‘I’m not aware that I asked her a question. As a matter of fact, I’m quite sure I did not ask any questions.’ He said, ‘You did.’ I was quite sure because at that time I was consciously following the method of Carl Rogers, which is person-oriented and nondirective. You don’t ask questions. And you don’t interrupt or give advice. So I was very aware that I mustn’t ask questions. Anyway, there was a dispute between us, so the instructor said, ‘Why don’t we play the tape again?’ So we played it again and there, to my horror, was a whopping big question, as tall as the Empire State Building, a huge question. The interesting thing to me was that I had heard that question three times, the first time, presumably, when I asked it, the second time when I listened to the tape in my room (because I wanted to take a good tape to class), and the third time when I heard it in the classroom. But it hadn’t registered! I wasn’t aware.

“That happens frequently in my therapy sessions or in my spiritual direction. We tape-record the interview, and when the client listens to it, he or she says, ‘You know, I didn’t really hear what you said during the interview. I only heard what you said when I listened to the tape.’ More interestingly, I didn’t hear what I said during the interview.

It’s shocking to discover that I’m saying things in a therapy session that I’m not aware of. The full import of them only dawns on me later. Do you call that human? ‘Forget yourself and go out to others,’ you say! Anyhow, after we listened to the whole tape there in Chicago, the instructor said, ‘Are there any comments?’ One of the priests, a fifty year-old man to whom I had taken a liking, said to me, ‘Tony, I’d like to ask you a personal question. Would that be all right?’ I said, ‘Yes, go ahead. If I don’t want to answer it, I won’t.’ He said, ‘Is this woman in the interview pretty?’

“You know, honest to goodness, I was at a stage of my development (or undevelopment) where I didn’t notice if someone was good-looking or not. It didn’t matter to me. She was a sheep of Christ’s flock; I was a pastor. I dispensed help. Isn’t that great! It was the way we were trained. So I said to him, ‘What’s that got to do with it?’ He said, ‘Because you don’t like her, do you?’ I said, ‘What?!’ It hadn’t ever struck me that I liked or disliked individuals. Like most people, I had an occasional dislike that would register in consciousness, but my attitude was mostly neutral. I asked, ‘What makes you say that?’ He said, ‘The tape.’ We went through the tape again, and he said, ‘Listen to your voice. Notice how sweet it has become. You’re irritated, aren’t you?’ I was, and I was only becoming aware of it right there. And what was I saying to her nondirectively? I was saying, ‘Don’t come back.’ But I wasn’t aware of that. My priest friend said, ‘She’s a woman. She will have picked this up. When are you supposed to meet her next?’ I said, ‘Next Wednesday.’ He said, ‘My guess is she won’t come back.’ She didn’t. I waited one week but she didn’t come. I waited another week and she didn’t come. Then I called her. I broke one of my rules: Don’t be the rescuer.

“I called her and said to her, ‘Remember that tape you allowed me to make for the class? It was a great help because the class pointed out all kinds of things to me (I didn’t tell her what!) that would make the session somewhat more effective. So if you care to come back, that would make it more effective.’ She said, ‘All right, I’ll come back.’ She did. The dislike was still there. It hadn’t gone away, but it wasn’t getting in the way. What you are aware of you are in control of; what you are not aware of is in control of you. You are always a slave to what you’re not aware of. When you’re aware of it, you’re free from it. It’s there, but you’re not affected by it. You’re not controlled by it; you’re not enslaved by it. That’s the difference.

“Awareness, awareness, awareness, awareness. What they trained us to do in that course was to become participant observers. To put it somewhat graphically, I’d be talking to you and at the same time I’d be out there watching you and watching me. When I’m listening to you, it’s infinitely more important for me to listen to me than to listen to you. Of course, it’s important to listen to you, but it’s more important that I listen to me. Otherwise I won’t be hearing you. Or I’ll be distorting everything you say. I’ll be coming at you from my own conditioning. I’ll be reacting to you in all kinds of ways from my insecurities, from my need to manipulate you, from my desire to succeed, from irritations and feelings that I might not be aware of. So it’s frightfully important that I listen to me when I’m listening to you. That’s what they were training us to do, obtaining awareness.

“You don’t always have to imagine yourself hovering somewhere in the air. Just to get a rough idea of what I’m talking about, imagine a good driver, driving a car, who’s concentrating on what you’re saying. In fact, he may even be having an argument with you, but he’s perfectly aware of the road signals. The moment anything untoward happens, the moment there’s any sound, or noise, or bump, he’ll hear it at once. He’ll say, ‘Are you sure you closed that door back there?’ How did he do that? He was aware, he was alert. The focus of his attention was on the conversation, or argument, but his awareness was more diffused. He was taking in all kinds of things.

“What I’m advocating here is not concentration. That’s not important. Many meditative techniques inculcate concentration, but I’m leery of that. They involve violence and frequently they involve further programming and conditioning. What I would advocate is awareness, which is not the same as concentration at all. Concentration is a spotlight, a floodlight. You’re open to anything that comes within the scope of your consciousness. You can be distracted from that, but when you’re practicing awareness, you’re never distracted. When awareness is turned on, there’s never any distraction, because you’re always aware of whatever happens to be.

“Say I’m looking at those trees and I’m worrying. Am I distracted? I am distracted only if I mean to concentrate on the trees. But if I’m aware that I’m worried, too, that isn’t a distraction at all. Just be aware of where your attention goes. When anything goes awry or anything untoward happens, you’ll be alerted at once. Something’s going wrong! The moment any negative feeling comes into consciousness, you’ll be alerted. You’re like the driver of the car.

“I told you that St. Teresa of Avila said God gave her the grace of disidentifying herself with herself. You hear children talk that way. A two-year-old says, ‘Tommy had his breakfast this morning.’ He doesn’t say ‘I,’ although he is Tommy. He says ‘Tommy’—in the third person. Mystics feel that way. They have disidentified from themselves and they are at peace.

“This was the grace St. Teresa was talking about. This is the ‘I’ that the mystic masters of the East are constantly urging people to discover. And those of the West, too! And you can count Meister Eckhart among them. They are urging people to discover the ‘I.’”

Negative Feelings Toward Others

The following is the 18th 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

“At one of my conferences, someone made the following observation:

“‘I want to share with you something wonderful that happened to me. I went to the movies and I was working shortly after that and I was really having trouble with three people in my life. So I said, ‘All right, just like I learned at the movies, I’m going to come outside myself.’ For a couple of hours, I got in touch with my feelings, with how badly I felt toward these three people. I said, ‘I really hate those people.’ Then I said, ‘Jesus, what can you do about all that?’ A little while later I began to cry, because I realized that Jesus died for those very people and they couldn’t help how they were, anyway. That afternoon I had to go to the office, where I spoke to those people. I told them what my problem was and they agreed with me. I wasn’t mad at them and I didn’t hate them anymore.’

“Anytime you have a negative feeling toward anyone, you’re living in an illusion. There’s something seriously wrong with you. You’re not seeing reality. Something inside of you has to change. But what do we generally do when we have a negative feeling? ‘He is to blame, she is to blame. She’s got to change.’ No! The world’s all right. The one who has to change is you.

“One of you told of working in an institution. During a staff meeting someone would inevitably say, ‘The food stinks around here,’ and the regular dietitian would go into orbit. She has identified with the food. She is saying, ‘Anyone who attacks the food attacks me; I feel threatened.’ But the ‘I’ is never threatened; it’s only the ‘me’ that is threatened.

“But suppose you witness some out-and-out injustice, something that is obviously and objectively wrong. Would it not be a proper reaction to say this should not be happening? Should you somehow want to involve yourself in correcting a situation that’s wrong? Someone’s injuring a child and you see abuse going on. How about that kind of thing? I hope you did not assume that I was saying you shouldn’t do anything. I said that if you didn’t have negative feelings you’d be much more effective, much more effective. Because when negative feelings come in, you go blind. ‘Me’ steps into the picture, and everything gets fouled up. Where we had one problem on our hands before, now we have two problems. Many wrongly assume that not having negative feelings like anger and resentment and hate means that you do nothing about a situation. Oh no, oh no! You are not affected emotionally but you spring into action. You become very sensitive to things and people around you. What kills the sensitivity is what many people would call the conditioned self: when you so identify with ‘me’ that there’s too much of ‘me’ in it for you to see things objectively, with detachment. It’s very important that when you swing into action, you be able to see things with detachment. But negative emotions prevent that.

“What, then, would we call the kind of passion that motivates or activates energy into doing something about objective evils? Whatever it is, it is not a reaction; it is action.

“Some of you wonder if there is a gray area before something becomes an attachment, before identification sets in. Say a friend dies. It seems right and very human to feel some sadness about that. But what reaction? Self-pity? What would you be grieving about? Think about that. What I’m saying is going to sound terrible to you, but I told you, I’m coming from another world. Your reaction is personal loss, right? Feeling sorry for ‘me’ or for other people your friend might have brought joy to. But that means you’re feeling sorry for other people who are feeling sorry for themselves. If they’re not feeling sorry for themselves, what would they be feeling sorry for? We never feel grief when we lose something that we have allowed to be free, that we have never attempted to possess. Grief is a sign that I made my happiness depend on this thing or person, at least to some extent. We’re so accustomed to hear the opposite of this that what I say sounds inhuman, doesn’t it?”

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