Awareness – by Anthony de Mello

25 Oct

Awareness, Anthony de Mello, Spirituality, Ph-Me

By far one of the most impactful books I have ever read, is “Awareness” by Anthony de Mello.  I was first introduced to it on a car-ride back from SLC airport to company head quarters by a dear colleague, and now a best friend, Josh.  I don’t know how it came up, but he mentioned the book and I recall him saying “when we renounce something, we are permanently attached to it.”  “Yeah,” I thought.  “That sounds so Fing right.”  Anyone who has dieted, knows what I am talking about.

Over the course of the following months, I saw Josh completely change, not in his persona, but in his relationship to himself.  It was insane and awesome.  Somewhere along the way, I picked up the book.

The book itself is not written by Anthony de Mello, but by a colleague of his, J. Francis Stroud, who faced the task of “maintaining the spirit of [de Mello’s] live words and sustaining his spontaneity with a responsive audience on the printed page,” after his death.

Anthony himself, was an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist. Stroud was also a Jesuit priest. Eleven years after de Mello died the Catholic church reviewed his work and found some of his theological teaching to be ‘incompatible with the Catholic faith.’  Somehow, this makes me like him even more.

Fun fact: Jesuits are members of a male, christian congregation of the Catholic Church called the “The Society of Jesus.”  Founded by Ignatius of Loyola, who had a strong military background, the members have a willingness to accept orders anywhere in the world and to live in extreme conditions where required.  They are sometimes called “God’s Soldiers” or “God’s Marines.”


We are asleep.  We don’t want to wake up because it is painful.  In awareness is healing; in awareness is truth; in awareness is salvation; in awareness is spirituality; in awareness is growth; in awareness is love; in awareness is awakening.

In order to wake up:

  1. Realize that you don’t want to wake up.
  2. Unlearn, listen and challenge your whole belief system. Find truth, not from words, but from an attitude of openness and willingness. Suffering points to an area of growth.
  3. Don’t try to change things, try to understand them.  What you judge you cannot understand.
  4. Practice self-observation (watching everything around you as if it were happening to someone else) and become aware.  Step outside of yourself and observe. Awareness means to watch, to observe what is going on within you and around you.  First, we become aware of things, then we become aware of thoughts, and finally we get to the awareness of the thinker.
  5. Drop your illusions.  When your illusions drop, you are in touch with reality.

Comments on waking up

  • The chances of waking up are in direct proportion to the amount of truth you can take without running away.
  • When you’re waking up, you experience a great deal of pain.

When you wake up:

  1. You will fear no one and you will fear nothing because you are perfectly content to be nobody.
  2. When you awaken, when you understand, when you see, the world becomes right.


  1. There is no such thing as charity; it is all self interest
  2. Things don’t need to be fixed. They need to be understood.  If you understood them, they’d change.
  3. Your illusions of other people will constantly crash against reality.  See through people and start by seeing through yourself.
  4. Who am I? What is I?  Who is living inside of me?  When you identify “I” with the “me” suffering begins.
  5. Anytime you have a negative feeling towards anyone, you are living in an illusion. There is something seriously wrong with you.
  6. Loneliness is not cured by human company.  Loneliness is cured by dropping illusions and coming into contact with reality.
  7. No situation in the world justifies a negative feeling.
  8. We see people not as they are, but as we are.
  9. The one who knows, does not say; the one who says, does not know.
  10. Happiness is not the same as excitement; it’s not the same as thrills.

Four steps to wisdom:

  1. Get in touch with negative feelings that you are not even aware of.
  2. Understand that the feeling is in you, not in external reality.
  3. Never identify with that feeling.  It has nothing to do with the “I”.  These things come and go.
  4. Rather than ask “How do you change things?” ask “How do I change myself?”  When you change , everything changes.


Like Buddhism, de Mello says often “Life is always changing” and talks often about how our inability to understand that causes suffering.  Also like Buddhism, de Mello highlights the suffering caused by clinging.  He says “When you cling, life is destroyed. When you hold onto anything, you cease to live.” And again, “there’s another demon too, who’s doing the filtering.  It’s called attachment, desire, craving.  The root of sorrow is craving.”


Like “Atlas Shrugged” and “Fountainhead”, de Mello believes that there is no such thing as charity – that it is all self-interest, at its best, it is enlightened self interest.

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