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Anthony de Mello on Presuppositions

"No Stone Will Be Left" in The Way to Love (Random House: 1995), pp. 61-6

Think of a flabby person covered with layers of fat. That is what your mind can become — flabby, covered with layers of fat till it becomes too dull and lazy to think, to observe, to explore, to discover. It loses its alertness, its aliveness, its flexibility and goes to sleep. Look around you and you will see almost everyone with minds like that: dull, asleep, protected by layers of fat, not wanting to be disturbed or questioned into wakefulness. ¶ What are these layers? Every belief that you hold, every conclusion you have reached about persons and things, every habit and every attachment. In your formative years you should have been helped to scrape off these layers and liberate your mind. Instead your society, your culture, which put these layers on your mind in the first place, has educated you to not even notice them, to go to sleep and let other people — the experts: your politicians, your cultural and religious leaders — do your thinking for you. So you are weighed down with the load of unexamined, unquestioned authority and tradition.

Let us examine these layers one at a time. First your beliefs. If you experience life as a communist or a capitalist, as a Moslem or a Jew, you are experiencing life in a prejudiced, slanted way; there is a barrier, a layer of fat between Reality and you because you no longer see and touch it directly.

Second layer: your ideas. If you hold on to an idea about someone, then you no longer have that person but your idea of that person. You see him/her do or say something or behave in a certain kind of way and you slap a label on: She is silly or he is dull or he is cruel or she is very sweet, etc. So now you have a screen, a layer of fat between you and this person because when you next meet him/her you will experience them in terms of that idea of yours even though they have changed. Observe how you have done this with almost everyone you know.

Third layer: habits. A habit is essential to human living. How would we ever walk or speak or drive a car unless we relied on habit? But habits must be limited to things mechanical — not to love or to sight. Who wants to be love from habit? Have you ever sat on a seashore spellbound by the majesty and the mystery of the ocean? A fisherman looks at the ocean daily and does not notice its grandeur. Why? The dulling effect of a layer of fat called habit. You have formed fixed ideas of all the things you see and, when encountering them, it is not them you see in all their changing freshness, but the same dull, thick, boring idea acquired through habit. And that is how you deal with people and with things, how you relate to them: no freshness, no newness, but the same dull, routine (boring) ways produced by habit. ou are incapable of looking in other, more creative ways, for, having developed a habit for dealing with the world and with people, you can put our mind on automatic pilot and go to sleep.

Fourth layer: your attachments and your fears. This layer is the easiest to see. Put a thick coating of attachment, of fear (and therefore dislike) on to anything or anyone — in that very instant you cease to see that person or thing as it really is. Just recall some of the persons you dislike or fear or are attached to and you will see how true this is.

Do you see now how you are in a prison created by the beliefs and traditions of your society and culture and by the ideas, prejudices, attachments and fears of your past experiences?