Book Reviews, Spiritual Direction

Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality

The 50-year-old art teacher and I sat in her incensed meditation room and sorted through her books. We came across this book, and knowing that I was Catholic, she suggested that we read it together. (It is written by a Jesuit priest after all.) I was in my 20’s and did not fully grasp the ideas in it at the time, but I liked the way it made me think about my perception of reality and what I was attached to. We had great discussions about the book and I revisited pieces of it through the next couple of years. But after 2 moves, I forgot all about it as it got buried under other books. Fast forward to being shut in during the pandemic. As I decluttered one day, I dug this book out of a pile. I decided to read it again and see if it still had an impact on me. Yet, every time I went to pick it up, I found something else more pressing to do or to read. Then, as often happens with me, God’s timing struck, and I picked it up after an incident that triggered my anxiety. Reading it in this state of anxiety, I found great comfort. I could detach from my anxiety and from the person and situation that I believed was causing it. The words were not just something to mull over, because they had a real application in my present moment experience. That was when the concepts of the book became concrete for me.

The Breakdown:

It is like Anthony De Mello is sitting in your living room or speaking to a group of you and your friends at a retreat. The conversational style of the book makes it easy to read and captures his humor and personality. Yet when I say it is is easy to read, that is in style only, not in concepts. He marries together Eastern and Western philosophies and religions with allegories from Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. The whole idea repeated in various ways throughout the book is the idea that I think most of us struggle with our whole lives. That is to let go and to live in the present, accepting what is without judgement. He tells us that this is the path to happiness, by being aware, being love. There is much liberation in this idea that we have only to be and not to have to do. We become like Jesus not when we copy his actions, but when we exist in the state he existed in. Then you know what to do in each moment and with each person, because you are living in a state of awareness, compassion, and love. “The day you attain a posture like that, you will experience a miracle. You will change effortlessly, correctly. Change will happen, you will not have to bring it about. As the life of awareness settles on your darkness, whatever is evil will disappear. Whatever is good will be fostered. You will have to experience that for yourself…There is nothing as important in the world as awakening.”(39)

What I like about this book:

  1. The way it is written in short chapters, conversational style, filled with anecdotal stories from different traditions, and circling back to repeat concepts in different ways.
  2. The way it makes you think, question, or even challenge your way of perceiving your life, the way the world works, and even who you are at the core.
  3. The idea that all we need and truly desire as humans is to love and to be free.
  4. The constant urging to wake up! Especially in this culture of being “woke”, his message is as important now as it ever was. Simply being aware is how you change, almost without even knowing it, and then everything around you changes as well.

Fair Warning:

  1. You need to keep a sense of humor to not get offended. I love his one-liners like, “I’m an ass and you’re an ass.” If only we all just admitted that we didn’t know the answers.
  2. Be prepared to think while you read this.
  3. Awareness is a discipline and can be a struggle. Some grow frustrated with all this talk about letting go of attachments and just being the observer because it can be difficult to do.
  4. The book has dated references like everyone wanting to get transistor radios 🙂

Life is a banquet. And the tragedy is that most people are starving to death.”

About the Author: Julie Glaser is a healer who creates sacred spaces for people to share, release, and grow. She’s in the habit of being in awe and wonder and writes to share her own experiences and learnings with other inquisitive souls in the process of transforming.

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