On Waking Up — DeMello’s Awareness

At the suggestion of an old friend and mentor, I have begun reading Awareness by Anthony DeMello. I’ve been in a bit of a funk trying to integrate what I want to do with my life with my school responsibilities that are at best loosely tied to my deepest interests.

I know that I should feel lucky to have the opportunities and leisure that I have, but it’s a bit of a challenge to actually change my view on the world. I’m trying a triumvirate of gym visits, meditation and topping it off with working my way through this book.

I figure I’ll put the bits from DeMello here along with my own thoughts. Awareness is collected from a series of weekend talks, so it’s meant to unfold over time. I reckon people might not particularly get into reading my thoughts, but DeMello’s might prove interesting for some.

On Waking Up

Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence. You know, all mystics — Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion — are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.

Last year on Spanish television I heard a story about this gentleman who knocks on his son’s door. “Jaime,” he says, “wake up!” Jaime answers, “I don’t want to get up, Papa.” The father shouts, “Get up, you have to go to school.” Jaime says, “I don’t want to go to school.” “Why not?” asks the father. “Three reasons,” says Jaime. “First, because it’s so dull; second, the kids tease me; and third, I hate school.” And the father says, “Well, I am going to give you three reasons why you must go to school. First, because it is your duty; second, because you are forty-five years old, and third, because you are the headmaster.” Wake up, wake up! You’ve grown up. You’re too big to be asleep. Wake up! Stop playing with your toys.

Most people tell you they want to get out of kindergarten, but don’t believe them. Don’t believe them! All they want you to do is to mend their broken toys. “Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success.” This is what they want; they want their toys replaced. That’s all. Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

Waking up is unpleasant, you know. You are nice and comfortable in bed. It’s irritating to be woken up. That’s the reason the wise guru will not attempt to wake people up. I hope I’m going to be wise here and make no attempt whatsoever to wake you up if you are asleep. It is really none of my business, even though I say to you at times, “Wake up!” My business is to do my thing, to dance my dance. If you profit from it, fine; if you don’t, too bad! As the Arabs say, “The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens.”

The earliest experience I remember that I would call one of “waking up” was at the Methodist youth extravaganza, Resurrection, my senior year of high school.

My high school experience was heavily shaped by a persistent rumor of my homosexuality. It was a pit I only climbed out of with the help of the church. In Christianity I found people who were nice to me, and I was connected to a community.

Resurrection, like any good Christian event, ended with an alter call. Everyone was invited to go up and pray to Jesus for salvation and dedicate their lives to Christ. I remember going up and praying with hundreds of other kids. I don’t know what they were praying for, but my prayer was something like:

God, I really like this church. I really like how nice everyone is to each other. It seems right to me that people are so willing to love one another through you. I really only have one issue.

I keep thinking about a Jewish kid who’s just like me except he grew up his whole life with his parents and friends all telling him when they are loving toward him that their loving comes from Yahweh rather than Jesus. I really don’t know that if I was that kid that I would be able to tell that I need to believe in Jesus. It doesn’t really seem fair to send him to hell.

I’ll support it though. Seriously, just let me know somehow, even if it is just a little feeling in my heart, that if people really look that they’ll know the truth of Jesus, and I’ll do the work of converting people.

I spent a couple months trying to listen for God to tell me something. I used to go to the church at night and I would just sit in the sanctuary in the dark and try to be quiet. I never got my sign though that the Jewish me would be able to tell that he was doing something wrong.

The process of leaving the church was certainly not pleasant. I spent a whole lot of time arguing with anyone who would listen about why fundamentalism was a mistake. It didn’t really do much other than alienate me and probably shave ten years off my dad’s life.

Crises have come and gone since. I’d say at this point I’m not particularly aware, but 30 looking me in the face and wading through piles of bullshit in graduate school really highlighted the fact my days are certainly numbered. I’m really lucky to have the life and opportunities that I do, and I’m trying to figure out a way to do something useful with my little span of time.

Most of what it is doing is being less and less willing to change how I act for fear of upsetting other people. Two of my closest relationships went up in flames over the summer because I tried being honest and the other side didn’t like what I was doing. It was pretty unpleasant and I still don’t know that I did the right thing. I figure though if I’m going to fail I’ll have it be on my own terms.

Will DeMello help? Do I actually want to be awake or do I just want to stop suffering? Honestly, at this point, if I could just find something that would leave me feeling happy, I’d take it. I don’t really believe in God anymore. If I could take a pill or find a lie that would make me content, I don’t care about eternal truth. I seek because all the solutions I’ve found so far just aren’t complete enough.

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