"Awareness" (excerpt) A de Mello Spirituality Conference in His Own Words — ANTHONY DE MELLO, S.J.
Category:Anthony de Mello
Is psychology more practical than spirituality? Nothing is more practical than spirituality. What can the poor psychologist do?
---Sumi-E-Bamboo painting - “Awareness” by Rebecca Rees
ARE WE TALKING ABOUT PSYCHOLOGY IN THIS SPIRITUALITY COURSE?
Is psychology more practical than spirituality? Nothing is more practical than spirituality. What can the poor psychologist do? He can only relieve the pressure. I’m a psychologist myself, and I practice psychotherapy, and I have this great conflict within me when I have to choose sometimes between psychology and spirituality. I wonder if that makes sense to anybody here. It didn’t make sense to me for many years.
I’ll explain. It didn’t make sense to me for many years until I suddenly discovered that people have to suffer enough in a relationship so that they get disillusioned with all relationships. Isn’t that a terrible thing to think? They’ve got to suffer enough in a relationship before they wake up and say, “I’m sick of it! There must be a better way of living than depending on another human being.” And what was I doing as a psychotherapist? People were coming to me with their relationship problems, with their communication problems, etc., and sometimes what I did was a help. But sometimes, I’m sorry to say, it wasn’t, because it kept people asleep. Maybe they should have suffered a little more. Maybe they ought to touch rock bottom and say, “I’m sick of it all.” It’s only when you’re sick of your sickness that you’ll get out of it. Most people go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist to get relief. I repeat: to get relief. Not to get out of it.
There’s the story of little Johnny who, they say, was mentally retarded. But evidently he wasn’t, as you’ll learn from this story. Johnny goes to modeling class in his school for special children and he gets his piece of putty and he’s modeling it. He takes a little lump of putty and goes to a corner of the room and he’s playing with it. The teacher comes up to him and says, “Hi, Johnny.” And Johnny says, “Hi.” And the teacher says, “What’s that you’ve got in your hand?” And Johnny says, “This is a lump of cow dung.” The teacher asks, “What are you making out of it?” He says, “I’m making a teacher.”
The teacher thought, “Little Johnny has regressed.” So she calls out to the principal, who was passing by the door at that moment, and says, “Johnny has regressed.”
So the principal goes up to Johnny and says, “Hi, son.” And Johnny says, “Hi.” And the principal says, “What do you, have in your hand?” And he says, “A lump of cow dung.” “What are you making out of it?” And he says, “A principal.”
The principal thinks that this is a case for the school psychologist. “Send for the psychologist!”
The psychologist is a clever guy. He goes up and says, “Hi.” And Johnny says, “Hi.” And the psychologist says, “I know what you’ve got in your hand.” “What?” “A lump of cow dung.” Johnny says, “Right.” “And I know what you’re making out of it.” “What?”
“You’re making a psychologist.” “Wrong. Not enough cow dung!” And they called him mentally retarded!
The poor psychologists, they’re doing a good job. They really are. There are times when psychotherapy is a tremendous help, because when you’re on the verge of going insane, raving mad, you’re about to become either a psychotic or a mystic. That’s what the mystic is, the opposite of the lunatic. Do you know one sign that you’ve woken up? It’s when you are asking yourself, “Am I crazy, or are all of them crazy?” It really is. Because we are crazy. The whole world is crazy. Certifiable lunatics! The only reason we’re not locked up in an institution is that there are so many of us. So we’re crazy. We’re living on crazy ideas about love, about relationships, about happiness, about joy, about everything. We’re crazy to the point, I’ve come to believe, that if everybody agrees on something, you can be sure it’s wrong! Every new idea, every great idea, when it first began was in a minority of one. That man called Jesus Christ—minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying. The Buddha— minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying. I think it was Bertrand Russell who said, “Every great idea starts out as a blasphemy.” That’s well and accurately put. You’re going to hear lots of blasphemies during these days. “He hath blasphemed!” Because people are crazy, they’re lunatics, and the sooner you see this, the better for your mental and spiritual health. Don’t trust them. Don’t trust your best friends. Get disillusioned with your best friends. They’re very clever. As you are in your dealings with everybody else, though you probably don’t know it. Ah, you’re so wily, and subtle, and clever. You’re putting on a great act.
I’m not being very complimentary here, am I? But I repeat: You want to wake up. You’re putting on a great act. And you don’t even know it. You think you’re being so loving. Ha! Whom are you loving? Even your self-sacrifice gives you a good feeling, doesn’t it? “I’m sacrificing myself! I’m living up to my ideal.” But you’re getting something out of it, aren’t you? You’re always getting something out of everything you do, until you wake up.
So there it is: step one. Realize that you don’t want to wake up. It’s pretty difficult to wake up when you have been hypnotized into thinking that a scrap of old newspaper is a check for a million dollars. How difficult it is to tear yourself away from that scrap of old newspaper.
NEITHER IS RENUNCIATION THE SOLUTION
Anytime you’re practicing renunciation, you’re deluded. How about that! You’re deluded. What are you renouncing? Anytime you renounce something, you are tied forever to the thing you renounce. There’s a guru in India who says, “Every time a prostitute comes to me, she’s talking about nothing but God. She says I’m sick of this life that I’m living. I want God. But every time a priest comes to me he’s talking about nothing but sex.” Very well, when you renounce something, you’re stuck to it forever. When you fight something, you’re tied to it forever. As long as you’re fighting it, you are giving it power. You give it as much power as you are using to fight it.
This includes communism and everything else. So you must “receive” your demons, because when you fight them, you empower them. Has nobody ever told you this? When you renounce something, you’re tied to it. The only way to get out of this is to see through it. Don’t renounce it, see through it. Understand its true value and you won’t need to renounce it; it will just drop from your hands. But of course, if you don’t see that, if you’re hypnotized into thinking that you won’t be happy without this, that, or the other thing, you’re stuck. What we need to do for you is not what so-called spirituality attempts to do—namely, to get you to make sacrifices, to renounce things. That’s useless. You’re still asleep. What we need to do is to help you understand, understand, understand. If you understood, you’d simply drop the desire for it. This is another way of saying: If you woke up, you’d simply drop the desire for it.
LISTEN AND UNLEARN
Some of us get woken up by the harsh realities of life. We suffer so much that we wake up. But people keep bumping again and again into life. They still go on sleepwalking. They never wake up. Tragically, it never occurs to them that there may be another way. It never occurs to them that there may be a better way. Still, if you haven’t been bumped sufficiently by life, and you haven’t suffered enough, then there is another way: to listen. I don’t mean you have to agree with what I’m saying. That wouldn’t be listening. Believe me, it really doesn’t matter whether you agree with what I’m saying or you don’t. Because agreement and disagreement have to do with words and concepts and theories. They don’t have anything to do with truth. Truth is never expressed in words. Truth is sighted suddenly, as a result of a certain attitude. So you could be disagreeing with me and still sight the truth. But there has to be an attitude of openness, of willingness to discover something new. That’s important, not your agreeing with me or disagreeing with me. After all, most of what I’m giving you is really theories. No theory adequately covers reality. So I can speak to you, not of the truth, but of obstacles to the truth. Those I can describe. I cannot describe the truth. No one can. All I can do is give you a description of your falsehoods, so that you can drop them. All I can do for you is challenge your beliefs and the belief system that makes you unhappy. All I can do for you is help you to unlearn. That’s what learning is all about where spirituality is concerned: unlearning, unlearning almost everything you’ve been taught. A willingness to unlearn, to listen.
Are you listening, as most people do, in order to confirm what you already think? Observe your reactions as I talk. Frequently you’ll be startled or shocked or scandalized or irritated or annoyed or frustrated. Or you’ll be saying, “Great!”
But are you listening for what will confirm what you already think? Or are you listening in order to discover something new? That is important. It is difficult for sleeping people. Jesus proclaimed the good news yet he was rejected. Not because it was good, but because it was new. We hate the new. We hate it! And the sooner we face up to that fact, the better. We don’t want new things, particularly when they’re disturbing, particularly when they involve change. Most particularly if it involves saying, “I was wrong.” I remember meeting an eighty-seven-year-old Jesuit in Spain; he’d been my professor and rector in India thirty or forty years ago. And he attended a workshop like this. “I should have heard you speak sixty years ago,” he said. “You know something. I’ve been wrong all my life.” God, to listen to that! It’s like looking at one of the wonders of the world. That, ladies and gentlemen, is faith! An openness to the truth, no matter what the consequences, no matter where it leads you and when you don’t even know where it’s going to lead you. That’s faith. Not belief, but faith. Your beliefs give you a lot of security, but faith is insecurity. You don’t know. You’re ready to follow and you’re open, you’re wide open! You’re ready to listen. And, mind you, being open does not mean being gullible, it doesn’t mean swallowing whatever the speaker is saying. Oh no. You’ve got to challenge everything I’m saying. But challenge it from an attitude of openness, not from an attitude of stubbornness. And challenge it all. Recall those lovely words of Buddha when he said, “Monks and scholars must not accept my words out of respect, but must analyze them the way a goldsmith analyzes gold—by cutting, scraping, rubbing, melting.”
When you do that, you’re listening. You’ve taken another major step toward awakening. The first step, as I said, was a readiness to admit that you don’t want to wake up, that you don’t want to be happy. There are all kinds of resistances to that within you. The second step is a readiness to understand, to listen, to challenge your whole belief system. Not just your religious beliefs, your political beliefs, your social beliefs, your psychological beliefs, but all of them. A readiness to reappraise them all, in the Buddha’s metaphor. And I’ll give you plenty of opportunity to do that here.
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A de Mello Spirituality Conference in His Own Words
ANTHONY DE MELLO, S.J.