If you like Eckhart Tolle…, Part II: More about The Happy Wanderer, Anthony deMello

I have taken a good long break from writing, and not sure exactly why.   Shoot, my last post was about the election of Pope Francis, and look at all he’s done since then!  That tells you how long of a writer’s break I’ve taken.

But from time to time I’ll check stats here and I’ve noticed that the most popular, most viewed post by far is this one:  “If you like Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, With a Touch of Bill Hicks… You’ll love Anthony deMello.”   It makes me think that people get to the end of books like The Power of Now and realize there’s a whole other world out there where it may be possible to let go of attachments, be one with the present moment, and accept what is.

I hope that some people have been drawn to Anthony deMello as a result of reading that post.    He is so accessible, so light and yet so deep.   Since my last post, I learned that his brother, Bill deMello, wrote a biography about him.  It is called The Happy Wanderer, and it is a great, loving account of the road that “Tony” deMello took in his journey to mystic awareness.   But I will talk more about that later.

I’ve explored other deMello books in the meantime as well:  The Way to Love:  The Last Meditations of Anthony deMello and Sadhana:  A Way to God.  

  • The Way to Love is a series of short chapters, or meditations on topics such as how to unloose the false beliefs that keep us from happiness; dealing with feelings of insecurity, how essential it is to cleave ourselves from our attachments before we can love.
  • Sadhana:  A Way to God is a more structured series of spiritual exercises, described by Amazon as “Truly a one-of-a-kind, how-to-do-it book, this small volume responds to a very real hunger for self-awareness and holistic living. It consists of a series of spiritual exercises for entering the contemplative state — blending psychology, spiritual therapy, and practices from both Eastern and Western traditions.”  Apparently the word Sadhana means “A means of accomplishing something.”    Very useful tool.

Once you’ve read a couple of these books, you may be inspired to check out the credentials of the author.  After all, f you want to learn to paint, you look to Picasso.  If you want to learn to build a building, you look to Frank Lloyd Wright.  If you want want spiritual awareness and enlightenment, you look to one who has walked the walk.

And that’s where Bill deMello’s The Happy Wanderer comes in.  Bill gives us a window into the life of his extraordinary brother, but he does not rely on just his memory or experience with him.  He was just a young boy when his brother left home, so Bill has done extensive research and conducted interviews with friends and colleagues in the Jesuit community who knew his brother in order to give us an accurate and multi-dimensional picture of who he was. At the same time, Bill’s love and appreciation for his brother shines through the book, which becomes both tribute to Tony and spiritual inspiration for the reader.

“The Happy Wanderer” title comes from a song deMello loved.  And it is an apt title for how he lived his life, as a person with no attachments, a wanderer in God’s world;  joyfully inspiring us to pick up our knapsacks and bask in the beauty of every moment.  His books take us with him on that journey.

And by the way, click this link to go to Bill’s Facebook tribute to his brother’s writings–and “like” it while you’re there!

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If You Like Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, With a Dash of Bill Hicks…

…you will certainly enjoy Anthony de Mello.

Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist.   If his being Catholic leads you to believe that perhaps his view of faith might be different from yours, look further.  He didn’t preach dogma, he preached awareness, which was actually the title of one of his most famous books:  Awareness:  The Perils and Opportunities of Reality.

Reading him is like reading a little Eckhart Tolle (dying to the ego and disidentifying with thoughts), a little Byron Katie (accepting what is) and even Meister Eckhart (detachment). Overall, he embodies the wisdom of the sages and saints throughout time.

His approach is a little different–he’s part Aesop, part Joseph Campbell, part Bill Hicks--making his points with parables, fables and jokes (admittedly his jokes were a little cleaner than those of Bill Hicks).  His reading style is very easy, because many of the books he has “authored” are simply transcripts of seminars he gave to increasingly expanding audiences, up until he died prematurely at the age of 56.

There are some conspiracy theories about his death–he, like Thomas Merton, died an untimely death just when their popularity could be construed as a threat to the strict teachings of the Church.  Both Merton and de Mello melded Buddhism with Christian faith.  De Mello also often drew in teachings of the Bagavad Gita and other sacred teachings of his native India.  I don’t personally have any opinions as to the cause of his death:  as he himself would say, who cares?  But I only mention it because it shows how he, like many spiritual leaders who are most interested in the truth, defied fitting into a box based on ideology or religious precepts.

I read Awareness some time ago, and loved it then.  I don’t know why, but I was compelled to go back and read a little more–I guess as part of my New Year’s resolution to increase my mindfulness.

So, you know how when you go to Amazon, they say, “If you enjoyed THAT book, you might enjoy THIS book”?  Well, if you enjoy Eckhart Tolle quotes, you might enjoy this de Mello quote:

As you identify less and less with the “me”, you will be more at ease with everybody and with everything. Do you know why? Because you are no longer afraid of being hurt or not liked. You no longer desire to impress anyone. Can you imagine the relief when you don’t have to impress anybody anymore? Oh, what a relief. Happiness at last!

If you like Byron Katie quotes, you might enjoy this de Mello quote:

Suffering points out that there is falsehood somewhere. Suffering occurs when you clash with reality. When your illusions clash with reality when your falsehoods clash with the truth, then you have suffering. Otherwise there is no suffering.

And if you like Bill Hicks, you might enjoy this bit of de Mello stand-up:

Up the Down Staircase to Happiness

updownThere was a popular book by Bel Kaufman in the 60s, followed by the movie with Sandy Dennis, called Up the Down Staircase–about a new, struggling teacher who made the mistake of climbing the staircase in the school that was used for “down” traffic in order to go up.  She found herself, struggling, pushing against the tide of students pressing down on her as she fought her way to the top.

It was a great metaphor for a self-imposed struggle to getting somewhere, unaware that you are headed in the wrong direction–persisting in the struggle instead of simply finding the right path.   Instead of “going with the flow” you fight it and wind up further from your destination.

There is an article in Time Magazine this week called “Yes I Suck:  The Power of Negative Thinking,” and it highlights a study just published in the journal Psychological Science which says trying to get people to think more positively can actually have the opposite effect: it can simply highlight how unhappy they are.

The study’s authors, Joanne Wood and John Lee of the University of Waterloo and Elaine Perunovic of the University of New Brunswick, begin with a common-sense proposition: when people hear something they don’t believe, they are not only often skeptical but adhere even more strongly to their original position…

And so we constantly argue with ourselves. Many of us are reluctant to revise our self-judgment, especially for the better. In 1994, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a paper showing that when people get feedback that they believe is overly positive, they actually feel worse, not better. If you try to tell your dim friend that he has the potential of an Einstein, he won’t think he’s any smarter; he will probably just disbelieve your contradictory theory, hew more closely to his own self-assessment and, in the end, feel even dumber. In one fascinating 1990s experiment demonstrating this effect — called cognitive dissonance in official terms — a team including psychologist Joel Cooper of Princeton asked participants to write hard-hearted essays opposing funding for the disabled. When these participants were later told they were compassionate, they felt even worse about what they had written.
Wood, Lee and Perunovic conclude that unfavorable thoughts about ourselves intrude very easily, especially among those of us with low self-esteem — so easily and so persistently that even when a positive alternative is presented, it just underlines how awful we believe we are.
The paper provides support for newer forms of psychotherapy that urge people to accept their negative thoughts and feelings rather than try to reject and fight them. In the fighting, we not only often fail but can also make things worse. Mindfulness and meditation techniques, in contrast, can teach people to put their shortcomings into a larger, more realistic perspective. Call it the power of negative thinking.

When it comes to seeking happiness, steering your focus on finding happiness or self-worth to the exclusion of activities that will actually make you happier or feel better about yourself is a case of going up the down staircase.   Forcing the issue by constantly affirming to yourself, like Stuart Smalley, that “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me!” may actually sentence you to never-ending struggle to get to the top of the happiness staircase.

Wise people have told us, in many different ways, that the minute we stop focusing on ourselves, the struggles stop and the door to happiness appears.  All the theories about ego-consciousness points to this (read Eckhart Tolle).   Tolstoy told us this in the parable of the Emporer’s Three Questions.  All the wisdom of the saints tells us this.  That famous peace prayer attributed to St. Francis tells us that in order to get, we don’t strive to get, we give.   In finding love, we don’t demand it, we simply perform acts of love towards others.   We don’t beg others to understand us, we listen to them and we seek to understand them.

In one of my favorite Dick and Jane stories from my grammar school reader, a dad gives his son and his daughter their own gardens, and tells them it is theirs to tend.  Each of them starts with the same number of seeds, and soon both gardens are blooming.  The boy starts giving his flowers away–to the elderly neighbor next door, to his teacher, to a sick friend.  The girl refuses to cut off her beautiful blooms, preferring to keep the beauty to herself.

If you are a gardener, you can guess the end of the story–the boy’s garden flourished because when you cut one bloom, you get two back.  On the other hand, within a few weeks, the girl’s garden had spent its blooms and sat there, lifeless and sparse.

I subscribe to Self-improvement ebooks, and they recently sent me an article on “The Secret of Abounding Happiness.”  The recipe, in short:

As you rise above the sorded self; as you break, one after another, the chains that bind you, you will realize the joy of giving, as distinguished from the misery of grasping–giving of your substance; giving of your intellect; giving of the love and light that are growing within you.  You will then understand that it is indeed ‘more blessed to give than to receive.’

Lose yourself in the welfare of others; forget yourself in all that you do; this is the secret of abounding happiness.”

So instead of running to your therapist, run to your local food bank and volunteer.  Instead of buying stuff you don’t need to make you happy, give away stuff you don’t need.  Instead of looking down into the depths of your own unhappiness, get off that DOWN staircase, find the UP one and ascend with ease.