Let me begin by telling you what I plan to do. The theme is the rediscovery of life.
I discovered something about ten years ago, and it turned my life upside down. It revolutionized my life. I became a new man. This is what I’m going to share with you. I am happy to share it with you, in a special kind of way, though you might say to me, “How come you heard this just ten years ago? Hadn’t you read the Gospels?” Of course I’d read the Gospels, but I hadn’t seen it. It was right there, but I hadn’t seen it.
Later, having discovered it, I found it in all the major religious writings, and I was amazed. I mean, I was reading it, but I hadn’t recognized it. I wished to God I’d found this when I was younger. Oh, what a difference it would have made.
So, how long will it take to give it to you? A whole day? I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think it will take more than two minutes. Grasping it or getting it might take you twenty years, ﬁ fteen years, ten years, ten minutes, or one day, three days—who knows. That depends on you.
Various people have told me over the years, since my initial discovery, that their lives were pretty much revolutionized, too. But not too many people—I’m sorry to say, very few have. I tend to think that if out of the one thousand people who are listening to me, if one person hears it, that’s a pretty good average. Is it difﬁcult to hear? Is it difﬁcult to understand?
It’s so simple that a seven-year-old child could understand it.
Isn’t that amazing? And in fact, when I think of it today, I think, Why didn’t I see it?
I don’t know. I don’t know why I didn’t see it, but I didn’t. Now, maybe one or another of you might see it today, or might see part of it. What would you need to see it? Just one thing: the ability to listen. That’s all. Are you able to listen? If you can, you might get it.
Now, listening is not as easy as you might think it is. Why? Because we’re always listening from ﬁ xed concepts, ﬁxed positions, ﬁxed prejudices. Listening does not mean swallowing, though. That’s gullibility. “Oh, he says it, so I take it.”
I don’t want any of you to have any spirit of faith while you’re listening to me. I mean, you could take what the Church teaches on faith; you could take the Bible on faith, etc. Don’t take me on faith. What I want you to do is to question everything I’m saying, think about it, come back at me. Feel free to do that even while I’m talking. Ask questions, raise your hands anytime.
But then, listening doesn’t mean attacking, either, though I’m going to say something that is so new that some of you are going to think I’m crazy, that I’m out of my mind. So, then, you’re going to be tempted to attack. If you tell a Marxist there’s something wrong with Marxism, the ﬁ rst thing he’s likely to do is attack you. If you tell a capitalist there’s something wrong with capitalism, he’s up in arms. If you tell an American, “Hey, you know, there’s something wrong with the United States”— and the same with the Indian person if you’re attacking India, and so on.
It doesn’t mean swallowing, it doesn’t mean attacking. It doesn’t mean agreeing.
Did you hear about the Jesuit superior who was a great success? People would ask him, “How come you’re such a great success as a superior?”
He would reply, “Very simple. The formula is simple: I agree with everyone. I just agree with everyone.”
They would say, “Don’t be absurd. How can you be a successful superior, agreeing with everybody?”
He would reply, “That’s right. How could I be a successful superior, agreeing with everybody?”
So, it doesn’t mean agreeing with me. You could disagree with me and get it. Isn’t that amazing? It means being alert. Be alert. Be watchful. Listen with a kind of a fresh mind. That’s not easy, either— listening with a fresh mind, without prejudices, without ﬁ xed formulas.
Just yesterday somebody told me a story. You know the famous saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Well, this guy was having an affair with the doctor’s wife and was eating an apple a day, so—he got it all wrong. He got it all wrong! He was living from a ﬁxed formula, see? A ﬁ xed position.
Someone also recently told me a story about a priest who was trying to convince an alcoholic parishioner that he ought to give up drinking. So, the priest gets a glass of alcohol, pure alcohol, and he gets hold of a bug, a worm, and he drops it into the glass. And the poor worm begins to wriggle and dies. And he says to the parishioner, “You got the message, John?”
John says, “Yeah, Father, I got the message. I got the message. You know, you got a bug in your stomach, alcohol is the thing to kill it.” So he got the message, yes. John wasn’t listening, see? He wasn’t listening.
I know a case where a Father wasn’t listening, either. This man goes to see the parish priest. The parish priest was reading the newspaper, didn’t want to be disturbed. He said, “Excuse me, Father.” Father was irritated; he ignored him. “Excuse me, Father.”
Father said, “What is it?”
He said, “Could you tell me what causes arthritis, Father?”
Father was irritated. “What causes arthritis? Drinking causes arthritis, that’s what causes arthritis. Going about with loose women causes arthritis, that’s what causes arthritis. Gambling causes arthritis, that’s what causes arthritis. Why do you ask?”
He said, “Because it says in the paper here that the Holy Father has arthritis.”
Father wasn’t listening, see? If you are ready to hear something new, simple, or unexpected against almost everything you’ve been told ’til now—ready to hear that?—then, maybe you’ll hear what I have to say.
Maybe you’ll get it.
When Jesus taught the good news, I think he was attacked not only because what he taught was good but also because it was new. We hate anything new. I hated anything new. Give me the old stuff. We don’t like the new. It’s too disturbing. Too liberating. So, the ability to listen: Buddha formulated it beautifully. He said, “Monks and scholars must accept my words not out of respect, but must analyze them, the way a goldsmith analyzes gold: by cutting, scraping, rubbing, melting.” You must not accept my words out of respect, but should analyze them by cutting—the way the goldsmith analyzes gold, see? Cutting, scraping, rubbing, melting. Okay, so we’ve got that clear.
What’s this thing we call life? Take a look at the world and then I’ll invite you to take a look at your own life. Take a look at the world. Poverty everywhere. I read in the New York Times recently that the bishops of the United States claim that there are thirty-three million people in the United States who are living below the poverty line, a distinction drawn by the government itself. If you think that is poverty, you ought to go to other countries and see the squalor, the dirt, the misery. You call that life?
Well, I’ve got news for you. I can show you life even there. About twelve years ago, I was introduced to a rickshaw puller in Calcutta. It’s awful. I mean, a human being; riding in a rickshaw, you don’t have a horse pulling you, you’ve got a human being pulling you. The life span of these poor men is from ten to twelve years once they begin pulling the rickshaw. They don’t last very long. They get tuberculosis. They die quickly.
Now, Ramchandra—Ramchandra was his name— Ramchandra had TB. At that time, there was a small group of people engaging in an illegal activity involving exporting skeletons. The government eventually caught on to them. But you know what they used to do? They bought your skeleton while you were still alive. If you were very poor, you went to them and you sold your skeleton for the equivalent of about $10.
So, these people would ask the rickshaw pullers, “How long have you been working in the street?” Someone like Ramchandra would reply, “Ten years.”
And these buyers would think: He doesn’t have much longer to live. “All right, here’s your money.” Then, the moment one of these men died, they would pounce on the body, they would take it away, and then, when the body had decomposed through some process they have, they would take hold of the skeleton.
Ramchandra had sold his skeleton, that’s how poor he was. He had a wife, he had kids, and he had the squalor, the poverty, the misery, the uncertainty. You’d never think to ﬁnd happiness there, right? Yet, nothing seemed to faze him. He was all right. Nothing seemed to upset him. I said to him, “Aren’t you upset?”
He said, “About what?”
“You know, your future, the future of the kids.”
He said, “Well, I’m doing the best I can, but the rest is in the hands of God.”
I said, “Hey, but what about your sickness? That causes suffering, doesn’t it?”
He said, “A bit. We gotta take life as it comes.” I never once saw him in a bad mood. But as I was talking to this guy, I suddenly realized I was in the presence of a mystic. I suddenly realized I was in the presence of life. It was right there. He was alive. I was dead.
Remember those lovely words of Jesus? Look at the birds of the air. Look at the ﬂowers of the ﬁ eld. They don’t sow, they don’t spin. They don’t have a moment of anxiety for the future. Not like you. He was right here. I know that rickshaw puller must be dead by now. I met him very brieﬂy in Calcutta and then went on to where I live now, farther south in India. What happened to that guy, I don’t know. But I know I’d met a mystic. Extraordinary person. He discovered life. He rediscovered it.
The human mind is such an extraordinary thing. It has invented the computer. It has split the atom. It has sent ships into space. It has not, however, solved the problem of human suffering, of anguish, loneliness, emptiness, despair. You’re pretty young, most of you, but I honestly don’t think you’re strangers to loneliness, heartache, emptiness, depression, despair. How come we haven’t found the answer to those?
We’ve made all kinds of technological advances. Has that raised the quality of our living by one inch? Want to know my opinion? No, not one inch. Oh, we have more comfort. More speed. Pleasures, entertainment—that’s right. More erudition. Greater technological advances. What I’m saying is, has there been any improvement on ending that loneliness and emptiness and heartache? Any improvement on eliminating that greed and hatred and conﬂict? Less ﬁghting? Less cruelty? If you want my opinion, I think it’s worse.
And the tragedy is, as I discovered about ten years ago, the secret has been found. But why don’t we use it? We don’t want it, that’s why. Would you believe that? We don’t want it. We don’t want it. Can you imagine my saying to somebody, “Look, I’m going to give you a formula that will make you happy for the rest of your life. You’ll enjoy every single minute of the rest of your life.” Imagine my saying that to you.
Okay, I’m going to say that to you today. I’m going to give you that formula. You know what most of you are going to do? Sorry for insulting you in advance, okay? But if you’re anything like the audiences I’ve had until now, you know what most of you are going to do? You’ll say, “Stop it. Don’t tell me. Stop it. I don’t want to hear it.” They don’t want to hear it, and you don’t even have to take that on faith; I’m going to prove it to you.
Falling into Happiness by Letting Go
Six months ago, I was in St. Louis, Missouri, giving a workshop. There was a priest there who came to see me. He said, “You know, I accept every single word you’ve said over these three days, every single word of it. And you know why? Not because I’ve done what you encouraged us to do—to cut and rub and scrape and analyze. No, about three months ago I assisted an AIDS victim on his deathbed. And the man told me the following. He said, ‘Father, six months ago the doctor told me I had six months to live.’ ” The man was dying, see.
“ ‘He said I had exactly six months to live, and I believed him. And you know something, Father? These have been the six happiest months of my whole misspent life. Happiest. In fact, I’ve never been happy till these six months. I discovered happiness.’ He said, ‘As soon as the doctor told me that, I dropped tension, pressure, anxiety, hope, and fell, not into despair, but into happiness at last.’ ” And the priest said, “You know, many is the time I’ve been reﬂecting on the words of that man. When I heard you this weekend, I thought, The guy’s come alive again. You’re saying exactly what he said.” Here’s a guy who had it. Here was a man who found it.
The formula’s here; you’ve got it right here. It can be found in Philippians: “For whatever the situation I ﬁ nd myself in, I have learned to be self- sufﬁ cient. I am experienced in being brought low, and I have known what it meant to have abundance. I have learned how to cope with every circumstance: how to eat well or to go hungry; to be well provided for, or to do without.”
That is, “I have learned to cope with every circumstance: how to eat well or to go hungry; to be well provided for, or to do without.” A little earlier, Paul says, “Rejoice always. Rejoice in the Lord. Again I say it: Rejoice.” I think of Ramchandra in Calcutta. I think of that AIDS victim in St. Louis. That’s what Paul is talking about. I had read it all my life and had never understood it. I mean, it was staring me in the face. I didn’t grasp it.
Your Life Is in Your Hands
Okay, let’s suppose you want to grasp it. Let’s suppose you want to see it. What do you have to do? You have to understand a couple of truths about yourself.
What do you have to understand about yourself ? First, your life is in a mess. Don’t like to hear that? Maybe that proves that it’s true. Your life is in a mess. People will say to me, “What do you mean, my life is in a mess? I’m doing pretty well in my studies, I got good parents, I got good relations with my family. I’ve got a boyfriend, I’ve got a girlfriend. Everybody likes me, I’m doing well at sports, and I have a pretty brilliant career ahead of me.”
“You think your life is not in a mess? All right, tell me—here’s the acid test. Ever feel lonely? Any heartache? Ever get upset by anything?”
“You mean—aren’t we supposed to get upset?”
“You want the clean, clear, simple answer?”
“You mean, not be upset by anything?”
“That’s right, you heard me. No.”
“Shut up. I don’t want to hear any more.”
See what I mean? He’s got a theory, and it’s that a person has to be upset or he’s not human. Okay, go ahead and be upset. Good luck. Bye.
You know, there’s a lovely saying, which I frequently quote. It says, “Don’t teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and irritates the pig.” I had to learn that lesson the hard way. I’ve stopped trying to teach pigs to sing. You don’t want to hear what I’m saying? Bye. No arguments. But I’m ready to explain, ready to clarify. Why try to argue? Not worth it.
So, ever suffer any interior conﬂict? No? All your relationships are going well with everybody? Yes? You mean, you’re enjoying every single minute of your life? Well, not quite. . . . See what I told you?
Hey, wait a minute. The incarnation—yeah, yeah. All right, bye. See you later, alligator. Why argue? I’m not interested in arguing with you, period. I know because I was doing that all along. I’m not interested in arguing. You either face the fact that your life is in a mess or you don’t. You don’t want to face it, I’ve got nothing to say to you.
And now, “Your life is in a mess” means you’re a victim of heartache, at least occasionally. You feel lonely. There’s emptiness staring at you. You’re scared.
“Yeah. Your life is in a mess.”
“You mean, we’re not supposed to be scared?”
“No, sir, or madam, as the case may be. No, you’re not supposed to be scared.”
“But Mohammed was . . .”
”Excuse me, we’ll deal with Mohammed later, all right? Let’s talk about you.”
Fearlessness. You don’t know what it means. And the tragedy is, you don’t think it’s available. Yet, it’s so easy to get. Since they told you it’s not available, you never try to ﬁnd it, but it’s right here, all over the Bible, and you won’t see it. Because they told you it’s not available.
Are you anxious for the future? Any whiff of anxiety, worry, upset? Yeah, you’re in a mess. How about that—want to clean it up? I’ll clean it up for you in ﬁve minutes, depending on how ready you are. You don’t have to move out of that chair. You can be sitting in that chair and you can clean it up in ﬁve minutes. And I mean that. This isn’t a sales gimmick. I mean it. It’s so simple and it’s so deadly serious that people miss it. And you can have it.
Do you know how they discovered the diamond mines in South Africa? It’s a very interesting story. I read it some time back. The author said that some guy, a white man, is there in South Africa, sitting at the hut of the head man of one of these South African villages. He sees the kids playing with what look like marbles. And his heart skips a beat when he recognizes that those weren’t marbles at all; they were diamonds. He picks a couple of them up— they are diamonds.
So he says to the village head man, he says, “Could you give me some of these? You know, I’ve got children back home who play this sort of game too, and yours are a bit different. I’d be ready to give you a pouch of tobacco for this.”
And the chief laughs. He says, “Look, this would be highway robbery. I mean, it’d be real robbery to take your tobacco for these things. We’ve got thousands of them here.” So he gives him a basketful. The guy leaves, comes back with a lot of money, buys up all of that land, and within ten years he’s the richest man in the world.
That could be a parable. It’s tragic, it’s painful. I think back on my own life and I think, Why did I waste it? I wasted it. And all kinds of wonderful things, believe me—pastoral ministries, theological enterprises, liturgical services, etc., etc., etc. The more occupied we are in the things of God, the more likely we priests are to forget what God is all about—and the more complacent we’re likely to become. That’s the story of Jesus. Who do you think got rid of Jesus? The priests—who else? The religious people. That’s the terror of the Gospel, see?
So now, I think, I wasted it. But I don’t have a minute’s regret. Why waste even a minute regretting the past? But the fact is, I wasted it. I’m reminded of that powerful story of the ﬁsherman who goes out early in the morning to ﬁsh, and it’s too—whatever, I don’t understand these things—but apparently it’s too dark or something, and his foot hits upon something that seems like a sack. So he picks it up, probably washed ashore from some shipwreck or whatever. And he opens it and he can feel pebbles inside. So he takes these pebbles and he entertains himself until dawn, ﬂinging those pebbles far out into the sea to see if he can judge from the “plop” how far he sent the pebble.
When day begins to dawn, he looks into the sack and he ﬁnds three precious stones there. God, the sack was ﬁlled with precious stones and he hadn’t known it! Too late.
Not too late—three stones left. Not too late.
Let’s go back and suppose that these people who were sitting on top of those diamond mines are starving. Their children are undernourished, and they’re looking for food. They’re begging, they’re pleading with people to feed them. And someone says, “Hey, don’t sell that property. You’ve got diamond mines. You see this thing? It’s a diamond. You could sell it. You could get $100,000 for this, you. . . .”
They say, “That’s no diamond. That’s a stone.” They got it in their heads that that’s a stone. They refuse to listen.
Now, that’s the condition of people everywhere. They don’t hear you. They won’t listen. You’re telling them that life is extraordinary, life is delightful: “You could enjoy it. You wouldn’t have a minute of tension, not one. No pressure. No anxiety. You want it?” The response: “Not possible. Never been done. Cannot be done.” No spirit of research, of investigating, no “Let’s ﬁnd out. Let’s go.” No, no, no. Can’t be done. “We don’t want to hear you. I mean, our priests have told us it can’t be done, our psychologists tell us it can’t be done. You’re coming to tell us it can be done?”
Excerpted from Rediscovering Life by Anthony De Mello. Copyright © 2012 by Anthony De Mello. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.