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Awareness by Anthony de Mello (9.5/10)

This is another book that in normal times would deserve its own review.

Hopefully, after I'm done with the various courses upgrades.

In the meanwhile, here are some of the golden nuggets.

About the Author

Anthony de Mello is a Christian priest.
And hearing from this book, he has his own interpretation of the scripture. Getting to God to the author seems to be through personal enlightenment.

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

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.

And:

We cannot imagine being happy without those conditions.

There Is No "I": Stop Identifying

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”

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.”

Suffering begins when you identify external things with "I":

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

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

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".

On Freedom Within You

“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?

On Confusing Success for Anything Important

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.

And:

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.
Or no compliment, for that matter.

I gotta say, I loved this part 🙂

We Have the Wrong Notion of Love

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

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

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?

Steps to Enlightenment

  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.

More Wisdom

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.

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.

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!

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?

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.

If you can detach from your own anxiety, you can 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.

  • Enlightenment Against 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.

CONS

Sometimes the author goes down hard on "monkeys" who follow social conventions.
On the other hand, I like those passages and the passion in them.

And 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-.

Review

I loved the book.

It was interesting how, albeit apparently so different from this website, so many elements overlap.

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 inability to assess others if you identify with labels and need their approval. That's the foundation of effective social strategizing as well.

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

Dropping Value
And the most shocking of them all: dropping 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.

This website has shown many times how values are often handles and tools for manipulation.

And that dropping the need for values 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.

Very similar.

Definitely needs to come back to this and make a proper article-review.

Ali Scarlett, Tina and Desmen Siler have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettTinaDesmen Siler
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

This is awesome, thank you for sharing, Lucio!

So much gold that I don't want to get into everything right now, but here are a few of my thoughts:

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on August 21, 2021, 6:10 pm

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

When I first read this header,  I didn't understand.

I read:

  • You want things, not happiness (= "I want things? So, maybe this is a different take on happiness that recommends we pursue things?")
  • Stop seeking things to be happy (= "So, we're not supposed to pursue things then? Which is it?")

So, I think a quick fix for comprehension might be:

  • You Want Conditional Happiness. So, Stop Seeking Conditions ("Things") to Be Truly Happy

And, while I'd still have to take minute to process this, it'd be easier for me to understand it faster.

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on August 21, 2021, 6:10 pm

There Is No "I": Stop Identifying

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?

Loved this part.

Early on, when I began speaking from my diaphragm to project a more socially powerful voice, I felt like I was being judged. And, that's because drawing air into my stomach to speak made me look fat (worse, I'm not the buffest guy around, so it was more like "skinny fat" :).

It took a while, but I soon made great leaps and bounds in internalizing that my body could be one way today and another way next year. So, it made no sense to internalize people's judgment of how I look now because how I look is subject to change. And, more than that, as a man and individual, I'm more than my looks anyway.

Now, on the "Am I my thoughts?" part, unluckily, James Allen might disagree with Anthony de Mello's belief that your are not your thoughts (see As a Man Thinketh):

Allen: "As a man thinketh in his heart so is he...As the plant springs from, and could not be without, the seed, so every act of a man springs from the hidden seeds of thought."

If I remember correctly, Allen rationalizes that our thoughts define us because our actions define us. And, our actions cannot take place without the seeds of thought to have moved that action. Therefore, we are our thoughts. (Leans a bit into philosophy there, in my opinion.)

But, I agree more with Aristotle than Allen here:

Aristotle: "[We are not what we do] We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit."

And, comparatively, who we are is not a single thought or act, but a habit.

I believe we are not our fleeting thoughts, we are what we repeatedly think. And, we are not our temporary body shape, we are the habits that shape our body.

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on August 21, 2021, 6:10 pm

You Can't Feel Bad When You Let Others Free

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".

This looks like a core tenet to avoiding giving others resource control over you. And, this part was so good to read, I think it should be added to the traits of a high-value man article.

Something like:

  • #6. Generates His Own Happiness: As part of being emotionally independent (he doesn't depend on the approval, flattery, or validation of others) and socially independent (he doesn't depend on friends, a network, or cool parties), these men can generate their own happiness and won't need others. He may want them, but he does not need them.

And, I'd put it at #6 because I think being emotionally and socially independent is important for the following traits:

  • Self-generated happiness helps one be more assertive because they intuitively know "I'm in charge of my feelings and others are in charge of theirs"
  • Self-generated happiness helps provide the emotional and social resilience to resolve the power moves of others
  • Self-generated happiness helps one be more honest to their value system because they care less what others think (since they don't depend on others to be happy)
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on August 21, 2021, 6:10 pm

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.

"Observe without identifying".

For me, this translated to: "Avoid the 'emotional reasoning' cognitive bias."

And, in this case, the emotional reasoning cognitive bias would go:

Emotional Reasoning: "I feel depressed (right now). So, I must be depressed."

And, I really love that Anthony de Mellow encourages detaching one's identity from their emotions.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Thank you, Ali!

I'll come back to this and amend it according to your suggestion when I'll be moving this review to a standalone article.

And yes, much gold indeed.

Maybe even better on audiobook, because he cracks jokes, laughs, and delivers some lines with lots of passion, which makes the message even more persuasive.

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

One on my favorite books, thank you for sharing this!

Lucio Buffalmano and Ali Scarlett have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli Scarlett
Quote from Tina on August 28, 2021, 4:16 pm

One on my favorite books, thank you for sharing this!

Thank you, Tina!

I'm just getting a bit more into enlightnemdn and spirituality recently.

Some early books overly based on the law of attraction and spirituality-based snake snake oil salesmen had originally put me off to the whole field.  But I realize now that I was probably overreacting and over-generalizing.

I think that religion/spirituality/enlightenment is different stages of self-development.
Or, at least, different paths to self-development.
The rationality-based criticism doesn't always apply to these texts -something that some critics of religions don't always seem to grasp-. I've been guilty of the same myself, after all.
A topic that probably deserves its own thread later on.

Tina has reacted to this post.
Tina
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

I think you will enjoy the works of Buddhism and Hinduism.
This author seems to merge the Western and Eastern ideas together.

I will share my personal experience from practising meditation.
A deep session of meditation makes me feel that

  • Angry thoughts
  • Positive emotions like happiness
  • Sounds of birds chirping
  • Breathing

are observed with the same level of detachment.

So the notion of "I" dissipates.

One is aware of everything while being free to focus on anything.

I have found that this naturally eases the burden of desires and fears.
At least for me, my desires and fears stem from a compulsion to focus on certain thoughts & emotions.
If I'm free to focus on anything, then I'm literally free.

This is why practising meditation involves focusing on a certain thing: object, breath, etc while simultaneously being aware of anything distracting this focus.
If one lacks awareness, it's easy to derail the focus.

I have to practise more often as I have found the quality of the sessions to be very important.

This is my personal experience.
Feel free to share yours.

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Lucio Buffalmano
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