I just returned from a remarkable trip to South Africa and will write about it in a subsequent blog. For the moment, however, let me simply share some thoughts from a book I read on the trip – the last book written by the Indian Jesuit priest, Anthony de Mello. His whole life was focused on the role of awareness in spiritual awakening. In The Way to Love (New York: Image Books, Doubleday, 1995) he offers a series of meditations on the relationship between love and awareness. Noting that the most painful act is the act of seeing, he argues that it is in that act that love is born. Listen to him describe how this happens.
“Love springs from awareness. It is only inasmuch as you see persons as they really are here and now and not as they are in your memory or your desire or in your imagination or projection that you can truly love them; otherwise it is not the people that you love but the idea that you have formed of them. Therefore, the first act of love is to see this person or this object, this reality as it truly is. And this involves the enormous discipline of dropping your desires, your prejudices, your memories, your projections, your selective way of looking, a discipline so great that most people would rather plunge headlong into good actions and service than submit to the burning fire of this asceticism. When you set out to serve someone whom you have not taken the trouble to see, are you meeting that person’s need or your own? So the first ingredient of love is to really see the other.
The second ingredient is equally important: to see yourself, to ruthlessly flash the light of awareness on your motives, your emotions, your needs, your dishonesty, your self-seeking, your tendency to control and manipulate. This means calling things by their names, no matter how painful the discovery and the consequences. If you achieve this kind of awareness of the other and yourself, you will know what love is. For you will have attained a mind and a heart that are alert, vigilant, clear, sensitive, a clarity of perception, a sensitivity that will draw out of you an accurate, appropriate response to every situation at every moment. Sometimes you will be irresistibly impelled into action; at other times you will be held back and restrained. You will sometimes be made to ignore others and sometimes give them the attention they seek. At times you will be gentle and yielding, at others hard, uncompromising and assertive. For the love that is born of sensitivity takes many unexpected forms, and it responds not to prefabricated guidelines and principles but to present, concrete reality. When you first experience this kind of sensitivity you are likely to experience terror. For all your defenses will be torn down, your dishonesty exposed, the protected walls around you burned.”
What is love? De Mello argues that it is sensitivity to every portion of reality – internal and external – together with a wholehearted response to that reality. Sometimes you will embrace that reality, sometimes you will resist it, sometimes you will ignore it, and at others you will give it your fullest attention. Love is responding to that reality not from need but from sensitivity and awareness. Awareness always invites love and when these two are linked we are in the presence of a powerfully transformational dynamic. This is why awareness is and always will be the foundational spiritual practice.