Awareness: Summary & Review

awareness book cover

In Awareness (1990) author Anthony de Mello proposes a different approach to religion and Christianity based on spiritual enlightenment. De Mello teaches how that enlightenment, or “awareness” as he also calls it, feels like and provides guidance on how ot become more aware and content in life.

Exec Summary

  • True happiness is unconditional of things and events
  • True love does not need the object of love. True love, deeper, comes with awareness and enlightenment
  • Enlightened people are content with themselves, they need nothing and nobody, and they also generally don’t give a damn of things most people chase such as success, things, people they “love”, social status, group belonging, etc.


About the Author:
Anthony de Mello was a Christian priest and psychotherapist.
Going by what he writes in Awareness, de Mello has his own interpretation of the scripture. Getting to God to the de Mello seems to pass through personal enlightenment.

You Want Things, Not Happiness. Stop Seeking Things to Be Happy

Most people think they want happiness by chasing things.

But that’s not true happiness, that’s a distraction.
Or, better yet, it’s a trap:

I was saying that we don’t want to be happy. We want other things. Or let’s put it more accurately: We don’t want to be unconditionally happy. I’m ready to be happy provided I have this and that and the other thing.

Most people thought aren’t yet ready to make that jump.
De Mello says that most people cannot imagine being happy without those conditions.
But those conditions are chains to your happiness, and you must transcend them for that unconditional happiness.

There Is No “I”: Stop Identifying

In good Eastern Buddhist tradition, de Mello embraces the separation between thinking mind and “I”:

Am I my thoughts, the thoughts that I am thinking? No.
Thoughts come and go; I am not my thoughts. Am I my body? They tell us that millions of cells in our body are changed or are renewed every minute, so that by the end of seven years we don’t have a single living cell in our body that was there seven years before. Cells come and go. Cells arise and die. But “I” seems to persist. So am I my body? Evidently not!

“I” is something other and more than the body. You might say the body is part of “I,” but it is a changing part. It keeps moving, it keeps changing. We have the same name for it but it constantly changes.

How about my name? Is “I” my name? Evidently not, because I can change my name without changing the “I.” How about my career? How about my beliefs? I say I am a Catholic, a Jew—is that an essential part of “I”? When I move from one religion to another, has the “I” changed?

Labels Are Not “I”

People love self-labeling and defining themselves through those labels.

However, you are not the labels you use for yourself.

Labels are so important to us.
“I am a Republican,” we say. But are you really? You can’t mean that when you switch parties you have a new “I.” Isn’t it the same old “I” with new political convictions? I remember hearing about a man who asks his friend, “Are you planning to vote Republican?” The friend says, “No, I’m planning to vote Democratic. My father was a Democrat, my grandfather was a Democrat, and my great-grandfather was a Democrat.” The man says, “That is crazy logic. I mean, if your father was a horse thief, and your grandfather was a horse thief, and your great-grandfather was a horse thief, what would you be?” “Ah,” the friend answered, “then I’d be a Republican.” We spend so much of our lives reacting to labels, our own and others’. We identify the labels with the “I.”

Why is this important?
Because suffering begins when you identify external things with “I”, says de Mello:

All suffering is caused by my identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside of me.

And when you don’t identify:

When “I” does not identify with money, or name, or nationality, or persons, or friends, or any quality, the “I” is never threatened. It can be very active, but it isn’t threatened.

Admitting you’re wrong is possible when you don’t identify:

Someone once said, “The three most difficult things for a human being are not physical feats or intellectual achievements. They are, first, returning love for hate; second, including the excluded; third, admitting that you are wrong.” But these are the easiest things in the world if you haven’t identified with the “me.” You can say things like “I’m wrong! If you knew me better, you’d see how often I’m wrong. What would you expect from an ass?” But if I haven’t identified with these aspects of “me,” you can’t hurt me.

You Can’t Feel Bad When You Let Others Free

Central to de Mello’s view of Awareness are the concept of love without possessiveness, and happiness without conditions and “needs”.

That means that if you can love without needing, then you also never feel bad for not having, or for losing, anything or anyone:

We never feel grief when we lose something that we have allowed to be free, that we have never attempted to possess.
Grief is a sign that I made my happiness depend on this thing or person, at least to some extent. We’re so accustomed to hear the opposite of this that what I say sounds inhuman, doesn’t it?

When you can generate your own happiness you won’t need others. You may want them, but not need them:

But to depend on another psychologically—to depend on another emotionally—what does that imply? It means to depend on another human being for my happiness. Think about that. Because if you do, the next thing you will be doing, whether you’re aware of it or not, is demanding that other people contribute to your happiness.

When you need others for your happiness, you become fearful:

Then there will be a next step—fear of loss, fear of alienation, fear of rejection, mutual control. Perfect love casts out fear. Where there is love there are no demands, no expectations, no dependency. I do not demand that you make me happy; my happiness does not lie in you. If you were to leave me, I will not feel sorry for myself; I enjoy your company immensely, but I do not cling.

The author says that “an attachment destroys your capacity to love”.

Ultimate Power is Not Needing Anything (Least of All, “Success”)

This is how that enlightened (and empowered) stage looks like:

You fear no one because you’re perfectly content to be nobody.
You don’t give a damn about success or failure. They mean nothing. Honor, disgrace, they mean nothing!
If you make a fool of yourself, that means nothing either. Isn’t that a wonderful state to be in!

For the record, I believe there is a middle way.

I agree that many values and “success/failure” can be straight jackets on ourselves.

And at the same time, one can pursue goals with a certain level of detachment and with a self-generated level of self-generated happiness that is not overly dependent on external “treats”.

The Freedom Within You Guarantees Your Eternal Freedom

“One cannot make a slave of a free person, for a free person is free even in prison.
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?

Success Doesn’t Matter to An Enlightened Individual

A small-time businessman, fifty-five years old, is sipping beer at a bar

somewhere and he’s saying, “Well, look at my classmates, they’ve really made it.” The idiot! What does he mean, “They made it”? They’ve got their names in the newspaper. Do you call that making it? One is president of the corporation; the other has become the Chief Justice; somebody else has become this or that. Monkeys, all of them.

Who determines what it means to be a success? This stupid society! The main preoccupation of society is to keep society sick! And the sooner you realize that, the better. Sick, every one of them. They are loony, they’re crazy. You became president of the lunatic asylum and you’re proud of it even though it means nothing. Being president of a corporation has nothing to do with being a success in life. Having a lot of money has nothing to do with being a success in life.


Having a good job or being famous or having a great reputation has absolutely nothing to do with happiness or success.

Nothing! It is totally irrelevant.

All he’s really worried about is what his children will think about him, what the neighbors will think about him, what his wife will think about him. He should have become famous. Our society and culture drill that into our heads day and night. People who made it! Made what?! Made asses of themselves. Because they drained all their energy getting something that was worthless. They’re frightened and confused, they are puppets like the rest. Look at them strutting across the stage.

Their mistake was to identify the “I” with things like success, a good career, people’s perception of us.

So when are you a success, then?

You’re a success in life when you wake up! Then you don’t have to apologize to anyone, you don’t have to explain anything to anyone, you don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about you or what anybody says about you. You have no worries; you’re happy. That’s what I call being a success.

And when that happens, no criticism affects you.
Or no compliment, for that matter.

This overlaps with our emotional power dynamics construct of the judge role, plus our “enlightened individualism” philosophy.
We agree, and we loved this part.

We Have the Wrong Notion of Love: Stop Being Possessive

It’s not the love that we learn from our culture of poems and love songs.
That’s infatuation or, as de Mello calls it, “possessiveness”.
Instead, true love is deeper:

It’s been there all along, staring us in the face in the scriptures, though we never cared to see it because we were so drowned in what our culture calls love with its love songs and poems—that isn’t love at all, that’s the opposite of love.
That’s desire and control and possessiveness.
That’s manipulation, and fear, and anxiety—that’s not love.

You Never Love Anyone: You Love The Illusion You Develop Yourself

You are never in love with anyone. You’re only in love with your prejudiced and hopeful idea of that person.

We Have the Wrong Notion of Happiness: Stop Chasing Thrills

Most people chase happiness as a transitory state.
But that transitory nature is exactly the problem: once you attain it, you set yourself up for “non-happiness” right afterward:

But you can’t have the wrong notion of happiness.
Did you think happiness was excitement or thrills? That’s what causes the depression.

Didn’t anyone tell you that? You’re thrilled, all right, but you’re just preparing the way for your next depression. You’re thrilled but you pick up the anxiety behind that: How can I make it last? That’s not happiness, that’s addiction.

And against the consumerist culture:

We were told that happiness is a smooth complexion, a holiday resort. It isn’t these things, but we have subtle ways of making our happiness depend on other things, both within us and outside us.

The focus is always on what we don’t have, says the author.

You don’t need to acquire anything to be happy, says the author.
It’s already within you.
Instead, you need to drop something -like greed and identifications of your I with labels, negative feelings, and external markers-.

Happiness Is Within You, Right Now

Luckily, you don’t even need to chase happiness.
It’s right there, inside you, and within you:

but we have subtle ways of making our happiness depend on other things, both within us and outside us. We say, “I refuse to be happy until my neurosis goes.” I have good news for you: You can be happy right now, with the neurosis, You want even better news?

5 Steps to Enlightenment

Of course, you may know this if this isn’t your first “spiritual enlightenment” book:

There is no easy prescription to enlightnment.
But, teasing out from de Mello’s teachings, we can say:

  1. Admit you don’t want to wake up
  2. Gain awareness of your negative feelings (gloomy, self-hate, guilt, hurt, tension, etc.)
  3. Understand that the feeling is in you, it’s not in reality. So stop trying to change reality, change yourself instead
  4. Never identify with that feeling. Never say “I am… “
  5. Awareness: you only change through awareness and understanding

Says the author:

Your behavior may change, but you don’t. You only change through awareness and understanding. When you see a stone as a stone and a scrap of paper as a scrap of paper, you don’t think that the stone is a precious diamond anymore and you don’t think that that scrap of paper is a check for a billion dollars. When you see that, you change.

awareness book cover

More Wisdom

More great wisdom from Awareness turned into more practical tips:

Detach and transcend the idiocy of nationalism

There are no frontiers or boundaries. They were put there by the human mind; generally by stupid, avaricious politicians.
My country was one country once upon a time; it’s four now. If we don’t watch out it might be six. Then we’ll have six flags, six armies. That’s why you’ll never catch me saluting a flag. I abhor all national flags because they are idols. What are we saluting? I salute humanity, not a flag with an army around it.

If you let the inculturation get to you, you start seeing things that do not exist:

Flags are in the heads of people. In any case, there are thousands of words in our vocabulary that do not correspond to reality at all. But do they trigger emotions in us! So we begin to see things that are not there. We actually see Indian mountains when they don’t exist, and we actually see Indian people who also don’t exist. Your American conditioning exists.

Detach from and transcend the “need to belong”

On detaching from ego-projections and group belonging:

But “me” got in there, so I’m feeling good. I’m feeling good about “my” culture and “my” nation. How stupid can you get? I mean that. I’m told my great Indian culture has produced all these mystics. I didn’t produce them. I’m not responsible for them. Or they tell me, “That country of yours and its poverty—it’s disgusting.” I feel ashamed. But I didn’t create it.

Detach and transcend other people’s opinions

On detaching from what others think of you:

The fact of the matter is that you’re neither O.K. nor not O.K. You may fit the current mood or trend or fashion! Does that mean you’ve become O.K.? Does your O.K.-ness depend on that? Does it depend on what people think of you? Jesus Christ must have been pretty “not O.K.” by those standards. You’re not O.K. and you’re not not O.K., you’re you.

Detach and transcend your own past

On detaching from your past:

Eternity is right now. How’s that for good news? It is right now. People are so distressed when I tell them to forget their past. They are so proud of their past. Or they are so ashamed of their past. They’re crazy! Just drop it! When you hear “Repent for your past,” realize it’s a great religious distraction from waking up. Wake up! That’s what repent means. Not “weep for your sins.” Wake up! Understand, stop all the crying. Understand! Wake up!

Enlightenment is not theoretical, it’s the most practical thing

On enlightenment being the most practical thing:

you have people thinking that big business is more practical, that politics is more practical, that science is more practical. What’s the earthly use of putting a man on the moon when we cannot live on the earth?

If you feel down, observe your negative states, without identifying with them

Observe without identifying:

The reason you suffer from your depression and your anxieties is that you identify with them. You say, “I’m depressed.” But that is false. You are not depressed. If you want to be accurate, you might say, “I am experiencing a depression right now.” But you can hardly say, “I am depressed.” You are not your depression.

Same for anxiety.
If you can detach from your own anxiety, you can be happy in your own anxiety:

And anxiety? There it comes and you’re not troubled. How strange! You’re anxious but you’re not troubled.

Isn’t that a paradox?

And you’re willing to let this cloud come in, because the more you fight it, the more power you give it. You’re willing to observe it as it passes by. You can be happy in your anxiety. Isn’t that crazy? You can be happy in your depression.


Sometimes the author goes down hard on “monkeys” who follow social conventions.

Personally, I like those passages and the passion in them. But to some, it can feel offensive and social climbe-y.

Sometimes there is some of that rosy view of nature that “animals are good, let’s learn from them”.
For example, “look at birds in the air that do not toil”.

And at other times the above idealization overlaps with the generalizations that this website is not very fond of -ie. “we can learn from the animal kingdom, an animal will never eat or drink anything that is not good for him”. Not true-.

However, these are all small cons, and largely inconsequential.


Awareness is a wonderful book, and we loved it.

Albeit Awareness is apparently so different from this website, there is instead much overlap.

How Awareness Overlaps With TPM

Similar concepts include:

Judge Power Dynamics
The author talks about how un-enlightened people are dependent on other people’s approval, which is basically judged power dynamics.

Individualism Over Groups
He then talks about soaring higher groups and nationalities, which is the “enlightened individualism” article.
He says:

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.

The author then takes it a step further and says to go behind the “I”, while this website sees nothing wrong in pursuing self-expanding goals.

But there are more overlaps still with that detachment:

Antifragile Ego
The detachment from the “I” overlaps with the antifragile ego.
Not taking things personally, as the author says, that’s antifragile ego.

Labels & Emotionless Assessment
The author refers to the inability to properly see and assess others if you need their approval and if you identify with labels. That’s foundational to effective social strategizing as well.

Growing Past Fixed Mindset
The author talks about fear of failure. And that’s also equivalent to fixed VS growth mindset.

Dropping Values
And the most shocking of them all: dropping the need for “ethical values”.

The author says:

You don’t need conscience when you have consciousness; you don’t need conscience when you have sensitivity. You’re not violent, you’re not fearful.

More than once we said on this website that values are often hooks and tools for manipulation.
And that dropping the need values as a form of “personal rules” or “personal guidance” can be a good thing for your personal freedom, personal power, and general well-being.

The author says that with “consciousness” you don’t need a conscience.
This website refers more to fluidity under the umbrella of being a general value-adding individual.

But still, very similar.

So, overall, we obviously enjoyed and recommend Awareness by Anthony de Mello.

Check the best books collection or get the book on Amazon.

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