A de Mello Spirituality Conference in His Own Words

Tag: drug addiction

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.”

Dead Ahead

The following is the 56th chapter in, “AWARENESS: A de Mellow Spirituality Conference in His Own Words” by Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. edited by J. Francis Stroud, S.J., Copyright © 1990 by the DeMello Stroud Spirituality Center.

“I’ve often said to people that the way to really live is to die. The passport to living is to imagine yourself in your grave. Imagine that you’re lying in your coffin. Any posture you like. In India we put them in cross-legged. Sometimes they’re carried that way to the burning ground. Sometimes, though, they’re lying flat. So imagine you’re lying flat and you’re dead. Now look at your problems from that viewpoint. Changes everything, doesn’t it?

“What a lovely, lovely meditation. Do it every day if you have the time. It’s unbelievable, but you’ll come alive. I have a meditation about that in a book of mine, Wellsprings. You see the body decomposing, then bones, then dust. Every time I talk about this, people say, ‘How disgusting!’ But what’s so disgusting about it? It’s reality, for heaven’s sake. But many of you don’t want to see reality. You don’t want to think of death. People don’t live, most of you, you don’t live, you’re just keeping the body alive. That’s not life. You’re not living until it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn to you whether you live or die. At that point you live. When you’re ready to lose your life, you live it. But if you’re protecting your life, you’re dead. If you’re sitting up there in the attic and I say to you, ‘Come on down!’ and you say, ‘Oh no, I’ve read about people going down stairs. They slip and they break their necks; it’s too dangerous.’ Or I can’t get you to cross the street because you say, ‘You know how many people get run over when they cross the street?’ If I can’t get you to cross a street, how can I get you to cross a continent? And if I can’t get you to peep out of your little narrow beliefs and convictions and look at another world, you’re dead, you’re completely dead; life has passed you by. You’re sitting in your little prison, where you’re frightened; you’re going to lose your God, your religion, your friends, all kinds of things. Life is for the gambler, it really is. That’s what Jesus was saying. Are you ready to risk it? Do you know when you’re ready to risk it? When you’ve discovered that, when you know that this thing that people call life is not really life. People mistakenly think that living is keeping the body alive. So love the thought of death, love it. Go back to it again and again. Think of the loveliness of that corpse, of that skeleton, of those bones crumbling till there’s only a handful of dust. From there on, what a relief, what a relief. Some of you probably don’t know what I’m talking about at this point; you’re too frightened to think of it. But it’s such a relief when you can look back on life from that perspective.

“Or visit a graveyard. It’s an enormously purifying and beautiful experience. You look at this name and you say, ‘Gee, he lived so many years ago, two centuries ago; he must have had all the problems that I have, must have had lots of sleepless nights. How crazy, we live for such a short time. An Italian poet said, ‘We live in a flash of light; evening comes and it is night forever.’ It’s only a flash and we waste it. We waste it with our anxiety, our worries, our concerns, our burdens. Now, as you make that meditation, you can just end up with information; but you may end up with awareness. And in that moment of awareness, you are new. At least as long as it lasts. Then you’ll know the difference between information and awareness.”

The End of Analysis

The following is the 55th 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 want to give you a taste of the difference between analysis and awareness, or information on the one hand and insight on the other. Information is not insight, analysis is not awareness, knowledge is not awareness. Suppose I walked in here with a snake crawling up my arm, and I said to you, ‘Do you see the snake crawling up my arm? I’ve just checked in an encyclopedia before coming to this session and I found out that this snake is known as a Russell’s viper. If it bit me, I would die inside half a minute. Would you kindly suggest ways and means by which I could get rid of this creature that is crawling up my arm?’ Who talks like this? I have information, but I’ve got no awareness.

“Or say I’m destroying myself with alcohol. ‘Kindly describe ways and means by which I could get rid of this addiction.’ A person who would say that has no awareness. He knows he’s destroying himself, but he is not aware of it. If he were aware of it, the addiction would drop that minute. If I were aware of what the snake was, I wouldn’t brush it off my arm; it would get brushed off through me. That’s what I’m talking about, that’s the change I’m talking about. You don’t change yourself, it’s not me changing me. Change takes place through you, in you. That’s about the most adequate way I can express it. You see change take place in you, through you; in your awareness, it happens. You don’t do it. When you’re doing it, it’s a bad sign; it won’t last. And if it does last, God have mercy on the people you’re living with, because you’re going to be very rigid. People who are converted on the basis of self-hatred and self-dissatisfaction are impossible to live with. Somebody said, ‘If you want to be a martyr, marry a saint.’ But in awareness, you keep your softness, your subtleness, your gentleness, your openness, your flexibility, and you don’t push, change occurs.

“I remember a priest in Chicago when I was studying psychology there telling us, ‘You know, I had all the information I needed; I knew that alcohol was killing me, and, believe me, nothing changes an alcoholic—not even the love of his wife or his kids. He does love them but it doesn’t change him. I discovered one thing that changed me. I was lying in a gutter one day under a slight drizzle. I opened my eyes and I saw that this was killing me. I saw it and I never had the desire to touch a drop after that. As a matter of fact, I’ve even drunk a bit since then, but never enough to damage me. I couldn’t do it and still cannot do it.’ That’s what I’m talking about: awareness. Not information, but awareness.

“A friend of mine who was given to excessive smoking said, ‘You know, there are all kinds of jokes about smoking. They tell us that tobacco kills people, but look at the ancient Egyptians; they’re all dead and none of them smoked.’ Well, one day he was having trouble with his lungs, so he went to our cancer research institute in Bombay. The doctor said, ‘Father, you’ve got two patches on your lungs. It could be cancer, so you’ll have to come back next month.’ He never touched another cigarette after that. Before, he knew it would kill him; now, he was aware it could kill him. That’s the difference. “The founder of my religious order, St. Ignatius, has a nice expression for that. He calls it tasting and feeling the truth—not knowing it, but tasting and feeling it, getting a feel for it. When you get a feel for it you change. When you know it in your head, you don’t.”

Listening to Life

The following is the 54th 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.

“Now, you need awareness and you need nourishment. You need good, healthy nourishment. Learn to enjoy the solid food of life. Good food, good wine, good water. Taste them. Lose your mind and come to your senses. That’s good, healthy nourishment. The pleasures of the senses and the pleasures of the mind. Good reading, when you enjoy a good book. Or a really good discussion, or thinking. It’s marvelous. Unfortunately, people have gone crazy, and they’re getting more and more addicted because they do not know how to enjoy the lovely things of life. So they’re going in for greater and greater artificial stimulants.

“In the 1970s, President Carter appealed to the American people to go in for austerity. I thought to myself: He shouldn’t tell them to be austere, he should really tell them to enjoy things. Most of them have lost their capacity for enjoyment. I really believe that most people in affluent countries have lost that capacity. They’ve got to have more and more expensive gadgets; they can’t enjoy the simple things of life. Then I walk into places where they have all the most marvelous music, and you get these records at a discount, they’re all stacked up, but I never hear anybody listening to them—no time, no time, no time. They’re guilty, no time to enjoy life. They’re overworked, go, go, go. If you really enjoy life and the simple pleasures of the senses, you’d be amazed. You’d develop that extraordinary discipline of the animal. An animal will never overeat. Left in its natural habitat, it will never be overweight. It will never drink or eat anything that is not good for its health. You never find an animal smoking. It always exercises as much as it needs—watch your cat after it’s had its breakfast, look how it relaxes. And see how it springs into action, look at the suppleness of its limbs and the aliveness of its body. We’ve lost that. We’re lost in our minds, in our ideas and ideals and so on, and its always go, go, go. And we’ve got an inner self-conflict which animals don’t have. And we’re always condemning ourselves and making ourselves feel guilty. You know what I’m talking about. I could have said of myself what one Jesuit friend said to me some years ago: Take that plate of sweets away, because in front of a plate of sweets or chocolates, I lose my freedom. That was true of me, too; I lost my freedom in front of all kinds of things, but no more! I’m satisfied with very little and I enjoy it intensely. When you have enjoyed something intensely, you need very little. It’s like people who are busy planning their vacation; they spend months planning it, and they get to the spot, and they’re all anxious about their reservations for flying back. But they’re taking pictures alright, and later they’ll show you pictures in an album, of places they never saw but only photographed. That’s a symbol of modern life. I cannot warn you enough about this kind of asceticism. Slow down and taste and smell and hear, and let your senses come alive. If you want a royal road to mysticism, sit down quietly and listen to all the sounds around you. You do not focus on any one sound; you try to hear them all. Oh, you’ll see the miracles that happen to you when your senses come unclogged. That is extremely important for the process of change.”

Losing Control

The following is the 53rd 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 you wish to understand control, think of a little child that is given a taste for drugs. As the drugs penetrate the body of the child, it becomes addicted; its whole being cries out for the drug. To be without the drug is so unbearable a torment that it seems preferable to die. Think of that image —the body has gotten addicted to the drug. Now this is exactly what your society did to you when you were born. You were not allowed to enjoy the solid, nutritious food of life—namely, work, play, fun, laughter, the company of people, the pleasures of the senses and the mind. You were given a taste for the drug called approval, appreciation, attention.

“I’m going to quote a great man here, a man named A. S. Neill. He is the author of Summerhill. Neill says that the sign of a sick child is that he is always hovering around his parents; he is interested in persons. The healthy child has no interest in persons, he is interested in things. When a child is sure of his mother’s love, he forgets his mother; he goes out to explore the world; he is curious. He looks for a frog to put in his mouth—that kind of thing. When a child is hovering around his mother, it’s a bad sign; he’s insecure. Maybe his mother has been trying to suck love out of him, not give him all the freedom and assurance he wants. His mother’s always been threatening in many subtle ways to abandon him.

“So we were given a taste of various drug addictions: approval, attention, success, making it to the top, prestige, getting your name in the paper, power, being the boss. We were given a taste of things like being the captain of the team, leading the band, etc. Having a taste for these drugs, we became addicted and began to dread losing them. Recall the lack of control you felt, the terror at the prospect of failure or of making mistakes, at the prospect of criticism by others. So you became cravenly dependent on others and you lost your freedom. Others now have the power to make you happy or miserable. You crave your drugs, but as much as you hate the suffering that this involves, you find yourself completely helpless. There is never a minute when, consciously or unconsciously, you are not aware of or attuned to the reactions of others, marching to the beat of their drums. A nice definition of an awakened person: a person who no longer marches to the drums of society, a person who dances to the tune of the music that springs up from within. When you are ignored or disapproved of, you experience a loneliness so unbearable that you crawl back to people and beg for the comforting drug called support and encouragement, reassurance. To live with people in this state involves a never-ending tension. ‘Hell is other people,’ said Sartre. How true. When you are in this state of dependency, you always have to be on your best behavior; you can never let your hair down; you’ve got to live up to expectations. To be with people is to live in tension. To be without them brings the agony of loneliness, because you miss them. You have lost your capacity to see them exactly as they are and to respond to them accurately, because your perception of them is clouded by the need to get your drugs. You see them insofar as they are a support for getting your drug or a threat to have your drug removed. You’re always looking at people, consciously or unconsciously, through these eyes. Will I get what I want from them, will I not get what I want from them? And if they can neither support nor threaten my drug, I’m not interested in them. That’s a horrible thing to say, but I wonder if there’s anyone here of whom this cannot be said.”

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.”

Assorted Images

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.

“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 nonlove. We can only speak of addictions. But of love itself nothing may be said explicitly.”

Getting Real

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.

“One red-letter day in my life occurred in India. It was a great day, really, the day after I was ordained. I sat in a confessional. We had a very saintly Jesuit priest in our parish, a Spaniard, whom I had known even before I went to the Jesuit novitiate. The day before I left for the novitiate, I thought I’d better make a clean breast of everything so that when I got to the novitiate I’d be nice and clean and wouldn’t have to tell the novice master anything. This old Spanish priest would have crowds of people lined up at his confessional; he had a violet-colored handkerchief which he covered his eyes with, and he’d mumble something and give you a penance and send you away. He’d only met me a couple of times, but he’d call me Antonie. So I stood in line, and when my turn came, I tried changing my voice as I made my confession. He listened to me patiently, gave me my penance, absolved me, and then said, ‘Antonie, when are you going to the novitiate?’

“Well, anyway, I went to this parish the day after my ordination. And the old priest says to me, ‘Do you want to hear confessions?’ I said, ‘All right.’ He said, ‘Go and sit in my confessional.’ I thought, ‘My, I’m a holy man. I’m going to sit in his confessional.’ I heard confessions for three hours. It was Palm Sunday and we had the Easter crowd coming in. I came out depressed, not from what I had heard, because I had been led to expect that, and, having some inkling of what was going on in my own heart, I was shocked by nothing. You know what depressed me? The realization that I was giving them these little pious platitudes: ‘Now pray to the Blessed Mother, she loves you,’ and ‘Remember that God is on your side.’ Were these pious platitudes any cure for cancer? And this is a cancer I’m dealing with, the lack of awareness and reality. So I swore a mighty oath to myself that day: ‘I’ll learn, I’ll learn, so it will not be said of me when it is all over, ‘Father, what you said to me was absolutely true but totally useless.’

“Awareness, insight. When you become an expert (and you’ll soon become an expert) you don’t need to take a course in psychology. As you begin to observe yourself, to watch yourself, to pick up those negative feelings, you’ll find your own way of explaining it. And you’ll notice the change. But then you’ll have to deal with the big villain, and that villain is self-condemnation, self-hatred, self-dissatisfaction.”

Not Pushing It

The following is the 49th 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.

“Meditating on and imitating externally the behavior of Jesus is no help. It’s not a question of imitating Christ, it’s a question of becoming what Jesus was. It’s a question of becoming Christ, becoming aware, understanding what’s going on within you. All the other methods we use for self-change could be compared to pushing a car. Let’s suppose you have to travel to a distant city. The car breaks down along the way. Well, too bad; the car’s broken down. So we roll up our sleeves and begin to push the car. And we push and push and push and push, till we get to the distant city. ‘Well,’ we say, ‘we made it.’ And then we push the car all the way to another city! You say, ‘We got there, didn’t we?’ But do you call this life? You know what you need? You need an expert, you need a mechanic to lift the hood and change the spark plug. Turn the ignition key and the car moves. You need the expert—you need understanding, insight, awareness—you don’t need pushing. You don’t need effort. That’s why people are so tired, so weary. You and I were trained to be dissatisfied with ourselves. That’s where the evil comes from psychologically. We’re always dissatisfied, we’re always discontented, we’re always pushing. Go on, put out more effort, more and more effort. But there’s always that conflict inside; there’s very little understanding.”

Insight and Understanding

The following is the 48th 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.

“But what does self-change entail? I’ve said it in so many words, over and over, but now I’m going to break it down into little segments. First, insight. Not effort, not cultivating habits, not having an ideal. Ideals do a lot of damage. The whole time you’re focusing on what should be instead of focusing on what is. And so you’re imposing what should be on a present reality, never having understood what present reality is. Let me give you an example of insight from my own experience in counseling. A priest comes to me and says he’s lazy; he wants to be more industrious, more active, but he is lazy. I ask him what ‘lazy’ means. In the old days I would have said to him, ‘Let’s see, why don’t you make a list of things you want to do every day, and then every night you check them off, and it will give you a good feeling; build up habit that way.’ Or I might say to him, ‘Who is your ideal, your patron saint?’ And if he says St. Francis Xavier, I would tell him, ‘See how much Xavier worked. You must meditate on him and that will get you moving.’ That’s one way of going about it, but, I’m sorry to say, it’s superficial. Making him use his willpower, effort, doesn’t last very long. His behavior may change, but he does not. So I now move in the other direction. I say to him, ‘Lazy, what’s that? There are a million types of laziness. Let’s hear what your type of laziness is. Describe what you mean by lazy?’ He says, ‘Well, I never get anything done. I don’t feel like doing anything.’ I ask, ‘You mean right from the moment you get up in the morning?’ ‘Yes,’ he answers. ‘I wake up in the morning and there’s nothing worth getting up for.’ ‘You’re depressed, then?’ I ask. ‘You could call it that,’ he says. ‘I have sort of withdrawn.’ ‘Have you always been like this?’ I ask. ‘Well, not always. When I was younger, I was more active. When I was in the seminary, I was full of life.’ ‘So when did this begin?’ ‘Oh, about three or four years ago.’ I ask him if anything happened then. He thinks a while. I say, ‘If you have to think so much, nothing very special could have happened four years ago. How about the year before that?’ He says, ‘Well, I was ordained that year.’ ‘Anything happen in your ordination year?’ I ask. ‘There was one little thing, the final examination in theology; I failed it. It was a bit of a disappointment, but I’ve gotten over it. The bishop was planning to send me to Rome, to eventually teach in the seminary. I rather liked the idea, but since I failed the examination, he changed his mind and sent me to this parish. Actually, there was some injustice because . . .’ Now he’s getting worked up; there’s anger there that he hasn’t gotten over. He’s got to work through that disappointment. It’s useless to preach him a sermon. It’s useless to give him an idea. We’ve got to get him to face his anger and disappointment and to get some insight into all of that. When he’s able to work through that, he’s back into life again. If I gave him an exhortation and told him how hard his married brothers and sisters work, that would merely make him feel guilty. He doesn’t have the self-insight which is going to heal him. So that’s the first thing.

“There’s another great task, understanding. Did you really think this was going to make you happy? You just assumed it was going to make you happy. Why did you want to teach in the seminary? Because you wanted to be happy. You thought that being a professor, having a certain status and prestige, would make you happy. Would it? Understanding is called for there.

“In making the distinction between ‘I’ and ‘me,’ it’s a great help to disidentify what is going on. Let me give you an example of this kind of thing. A young Jesuit priest comes to see me; he’s a lovely, extraordinary, gifted, talented, charming, lovable man— everything. But he had a strange kind of a kink. With employees he was a terror. He was even known to assault them. It nearly became a matter for the police. Whenever he was put in charge of the grounds, the school, or whatever, this problem would keep coming up. He made a thirty-day retreat in what we Jesuits call a Tertianship, where he meditated day after day on the patience and love of Jesus for those who were underprivileged, etc. But I knew it wasn’t going to have an effect. Anyway, he went home and was better for about three or four months. (Somebody said about most retreats that we begin them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and we end as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.) After that, he was right back to square one. So he came to see me. I was very busy at the time. Though he had come from another city in India, I couldn’t see him. So I said, ‘I’m going for my evening walk; if you want to come with me on the walk, that’s fine, but I don’t have any other time.’ So we went for a walk. I’d known him before, and as we were walking, I had a strange feeling. When I get one of these strange feelings, I generally check it out with the person in question. So I said, ‘I have a strange feeling that you’re hiding something from me. Are you?’ He became indignant. He said, ‘What do you mean, hiding? Do you think I’d undertake this long journey and come to ask for your tune in order to hide something?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s a funny feeling I had, that’s all; I thought I should check with you.’ We walked on. We have a lake not far from where I live. I remember the scene distinctly. He said, ‘Could we sit down somewhere?’ I said, ‘O.K.’ We sat on a low wall that skirts the lake. He said, ‘You’re right. I am hiding something from you.’ And with that he burst into tears. He said, ‘I’m going to tell you something I’ve never said to anybody since I became a Jesuit. My father died when I was very young, and my mother became a servant. Her job was to clean lavatories and toilets and bathrooms, and sometimes she’d work for sixteen hours a day to get the wherewithal to support us. I’m so ashamed of that that I’ve hidden it from everybody and I continue taking revenge, irrationally, on her and the whole servant class.’ The feeling got transferred. No one could make sense of why this charming man was doing this, but the moment he saw that, there was never any trouble again, never. He was all right.”

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