This book, “Awareness,” by Anthony De Mello was written some time ago but has received recent accolades from the likes of Tim Ferriss and others. There is a good reason for it. He was certainly one of the first proponents of mindfulness although he didn’t call it that.
The book is short with big ideas. Sometimes those are the best kind. You can just read them over and over again.
De Mello says most people are asleep. He says, “They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing we call human existence.” He goes on to say that “all Mystics, Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion – are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well.”
Insights abound in this book. Being asleep is discussed throughout the book and he makes a point that people do not want to “be cured.” “What they want is relief; a cure is painful.” “Most people go to a psychiatrist or psychologist to get relief. I repeat: to get relief. Not to get out of it.” So he says you need to “realize that you don’t want to wake up.”
Here is a passage that struck me and like I so often do I will quote the whole thing. It is an idea I think everyone needs to hear especially in this day and age where it seems everyone is running to therapy over even minor things. He says that we are “not ok” but it doesn’t matter. We should just observe (be aware). Then he says,
“This reminds me of the fellow in London after the war. He’s sitting with a parcel wrapped in brown paper in his lap; it’s a big, heavy object. The bus conductor comes up to him and says, “What do you have on your lap there?” And the man says, “This is an unexploded bomb. We dug it out of the garden and I am taking it to the police station.” The conductor says, “You don’t want to carry that on your lap. Put it under the seat.”
“Psychology and spirituality (as we generally understand it) transfer the bomb from your lap to under your seat. They don’t really solve your problems. Has that ever struck you? You had a problem, now you exchange it for another one. It’s always going to be that way until we solve the problem called “you.”
“Do you want a sign you’re asleep? Here it is: You’re suffering. Suffering is a sign that you are out of touch with the truth.”
He says, “All suffering is caused by my identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside me.” “Grief is a sign that I made my happiness depend on this thing or person, at least to some extent.”
He makes the case for enjoying people not for who they are but also for more than who they are and we are. He goes on to say that, Loneliness is not cured by human company. Loneliness is cured by contact with reality.” Then he talks about the “organized industry” designed to distract us from reality. I/Phone anyone?
How about some “bliss.” De Mello says, “There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing what in India we call Anand – bliss, bliss. There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it is because you’re thinking or focusing on what you don’t have.”
The Bible says wisdom begins with the fear of God. I am sure De Mello has read this and agrees, but he says there are four steps to wisdom. First, you need to become aware of negative feelings you didn’t realize you had. Second, is to “understand that the feeling is in you, not in reality.” The third step is to “Never identify with that feeling. It has nothing to do with the I…don’t say, “I am depressed.” He says you can say “It is depressed.” You should not define yourself in terms of a feeling. That is a mistake. The fourth step is to change yourself. Don’t try to change somebody else. Realize that “the world is right because I feel good.” You feeling good goes first.
De Mello says, “There is no explanation you can give that would explain away all the sufferings and evil and torture and destruction and hunger in the world! “…Because life is a mystery, which means your thinking mind cannot make sense out of it. For that you’ve got to wake up and then you’ll suddenly realize that reality is not problematic, you are the problem.”
“Life only makes sense when you perceive it as mystery and it makes no sense to the conceptualizing mind.” How about that statement! I agree with him when he says. “Loneliness is when you are missing people, aloneness is when you’re enjoying yourself.”
Then he gives us a pretty good definition of awareness. It is like mindfulness without the wanting. He puts it this way, “When people say they want to experience every moment, they are really talking awareness, except for the “wanting.”
“You are not living until it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn to you whether you live or die.” Now that is something to think about. He doesn’t end there. “People mistakenly think that living is keeping the body alive. So love the thought of death. Love it.”
Then he suggests visiting a graveyard. Consider the people there. How short their lives were.
I must confess that I am asleep and hope I remain asleep if being awake means you don’t care if your alive or dead. I think his perspective may be due to the fact that he is old as he writes this and closer to death or I am just to stupid to grasp this idea.
He says, “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 not be of it.”
And then he says something I can really identify with. “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.” “That is the cure for loneliness.”