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I just finished reading Anthony De Mello’s “Awareness.” It has been about ten years now that I have been interested in Eastern philosophy and thought: Buddhism, Taoism, Hindu thought, etc.. Within that, I have also been interested in psychology, and if it weren’t for the math and stats, I might have studied psychology instead of English.

De Mello’s book does a great job of mixing Eastern thought, Christian thought, psychology, and philosophy into this book (which took me so long to read because I was worried it was a little too “self-help”).

The book says nothing new, but for me, it is always good to be reminded of simple things I always forget. I tend to mix the “I” and the “me” as De Mello would put it. De Mello tells us that we need to be awakened– and this idea is a common one: most Eastern religions discuss samsara, delusion, being asleep, and that enlightenment, nirvana, God, is awakening to reality. This idea is repeated here.

The thing that we need to be awakened to is that we are attached to our delusions about life. How many of us always say, “I’ll be happy when….” But the condition (the when) comes, and then we are happy for a short period of time only to fall into unhappiness again. The first step, therefore, is to realize that we are our own obstacle to our happiness. That the idea of happiness is all in our head (“nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”).

What is continually repeated throughout the book is:
1) We must make the distinction between the “I” and the “me”– things do not happen to “me,” they happen to the ego, the I. The “I” is not depressed, the “I” is not happy, the “I’ is not anything, but we use this language that confuses us: “I am sad,” “I am happy,” but YOU are NOT “DEPRESSED”- you just are and that feeling will pass. Your emotions do not make up who you are.

De Mello says, “Problems exist only in the human mind” (80). Because we identify with our feelings. Because we try to change other people and depend on others for our happiness, and because we don’t even realize that we do these things.

2) Language is there for communication but is imperfect and leads to delusions. When we use language we categorize things, create concepts about things, talk about life imperfectly. This is an interesting point that goes along with the postmodern philosophy I have been reading. This idea also greatly reminds me of Emmanuel Levinas, who talks about totalizing language. It is also a point that Derrida makes: once we speak, there is distance, the trace permeates all our definitions; furthermore, once we put things into language, we bring in all our preconceived notions about the thing we are speaking and putting into words.

De Mello gives a great example here:

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

Then he repeats the example a Hindu priest gave:

The ass that you mount and tha tyou 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” (123).

I would say that many of the other things that De Mello talks about in this book stem from this concept about language. Since language is a social, culturally shared thing, then all the other things we are attached to stem from using language in society. It is society that tell me that I have to succeed, get a pretty wife, have kids, have a good career, when in reality all you have to do is live, which brings me to number three:

3) Much like Taosim (and Buddhism to the extent that Buddhism uses Taoist beliefs), De Mello reminds us that life just is. WIth in that, the goal of life is just to live and go with the flow as he says, “Eternal life is now. We’re surrounded by it, like fish in the ocean, but we have no notion about it at all” (137).

His prescription of detachment (which isn’t really a prescription to do anything), so to detach from everything. This means from other people, from social constructions and concepts, from even religion and God. You do not need God, religion, or other people to be happy; in fact, these things just foster attachment, which leads to disappointment and unawareness.

The only thing to do is as the Buddhist say: unlearn something everyday. Lose your notions of what you think is going to make you happy and save you. De Mello, though, doesn’t give you any kind of real “method” to do this because a method would be just another part of the trap of society (I can’t help but to think of Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Invisible Monsters while reading this stuff. De Mello, like Tryler, suggest that once you get sick of being disappointed by people (because you depend on them for your happiness) then you will be able to be free without attachments. De Mello, like Brandy Alexander, lets us know that any way you can think of to escape the “trap” is part of the trap because we are so conditioned by society).

De Mello’s approach takes on a rather non-totalizing, psychological approach. There is no hope for change unless it comes from within and from an awakening/awareness. Rather than say ‘this is what you must do,’ De Mello suggest a couple of things that will help you wake up, such as, being aware of where your feelings are coming from, try to see the world from other’s perspective, realize that you are attached to wanting praise, acceptance, etc.

I feel my problem is that I am attached to wanting un-attachment. I am too concerned with wanting to “get it” with wanting to “wake up” that it gets in the way of being able to reach any kind of enlightenment. I am also selfish in my love– I want the other to want me and need me, which makes me want and need the other. But I am too attached to wanting to not want the other… It is a big mess really. But De Mello also lets us know that there is nothing you can “do.” You can only live and try to be aware of life– it reminds me of Tich Nhat Hahn’s idea of mindfulness. So… I guess I’ll stop doing…

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