Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Way to Love (1) - The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello

The title of this little book has at least two meanings: the way to love in the sense of how we should love, and the Way to love in the sense of the spiritual path to love. They are the same.
The lessons of this little book are not easy to swallow when we are reeling from the loss of a love. But they are the necessary lessons that we need to learn in order to heal and to pass to the next level of love. My copy is dog-eared and many passages are underlined. I think I had a lot of lessons to learn.
De Mello’s message is that love is basically a nightmare. Or rather attachment is a nightmare, which in many of our cases is the same thing because we don’t know what love really is.

If you wish to attain lasting happiness, you must be ready to hate father, mother, even your own life and to take leave of all your possessions. Not by renouncing them or giving them up because what you give up violently you are forever bound to. But rather by seeing them for the nightmare they are; and then, whether you keep them or not, they will have lost their grip over you, their power to hurt you, and you will be out of your dream at last, out of your darkness, your fear, your unhappiness.

De Mello shows us that we are programmed by our upbringing and by society to believe we cannot be happy without certain things – money, power, love etc. We exhaust our energies trying to rearrange reality around us to conform to our programming. Sometimes we succeed briefly, but not for long. It is an impossible task. We must change the programming instead. This reminds me of the Buddhist saying: we cannot cover the world with leather, but if we cover our feet with leather it will be the same as covering the world with leather.

On the contrary, getting rid of attachments is a perfectly delightful task if the instrument you use to rid yourself of them is not willpower or renunciation but sight. All you need to do is open your eyes and see that you do not really need the object of your attachment at all…

Attachment is a false belief, a fantasy in your head. Think of your previous loves that you thought you could never live without, says De Mello, and how you got over them. De Mello suggests this affirmation to ‘give the order’ to your subconscious to change the programming:

I am not really attached to you at all. I am merely deluding myself into the belief that without you I will not be happy.

De Mello is pitiless in hammering the message home that the ‘battle of attachments’ can never be won. If we don’t get what we want we are unhappy, but if we get what we want, the minds dwells on the one thing we didn’t get. This reminds me of what we saw in my posts on gratitude: if we are not grateful for what we already have, we are unlikely to be grateful for what we will have. When we get what we want, without gratitude we soon become bored and start wanting something else and the battle of attachments wages on. De Mello enjoins us to enjoy things without becoming attached to them, without clinging to them, without believing that we can’t live without them (because we can and do live without them).

If you learn to enjoy the scent of a thousand flowers you will not cling to one or suffer when you cannot get it.

This brings us in fact to the right way to love: loving in a non-attached way, with no strings ‘attached’, loving from a position of independence. This goes against the way we normally love: we in effect say to the person ‘if you want to be especial to me you must meet my conditions’. Likewise, if we want to be ‘especial’ to someone we must ‘pay a price in lost freedom’.
Again these are hard lessons, when you are hurting, when you would willingly pay any price to get your lost love back. But our lost love is not coming back and usually it is better that way. And our path to healing passes through the realisation that it is better that way and why. De Mello gives us a striking way to see clearly through our pain by saying to the object of our attachment:

I leave you free to be yourself, to think your thoughts, to indulge your tastes, follow your inclinations, behave in any way that you decide is to your liking.

Once we say those words, we will either disagree with them and reveal our clinging, exploiting, deluded self or agree with them, sincerely, in which case we will feel all our attachment and dependence drop. It is likely we will not agree, in which case those words will serve as an affirmation to lead us to that place where they will become true.

I used these affirmations and I can say they help. It is a cruel medicine and it doesn’t work overnight, but it is what the doctor ordered.

More to come in part two

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond