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Life Arts

BOOK REVIEW: What the World Needs Now!

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Anthony de Mello' Thought

In THE WAY TO LOVE, Tony uses the key terms attachment and attachments. As he sees attachments, they usually involve thrills and excitement and pleasure.

Digression: Because Tony was a Jesuit priest, he was trained in Jesuit spirituality (also known as Ignatian spirituality, the spiritual orientation based on the work of the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius Loyola). Jesuit spirituality built on and encourages a certain kind of detachment, as do certain other spiritual traditions. So Tony's reflections about attachments come out of a spiritual tradition that encourages a certain kind of detachment. Not surprisingly, Tony also encourages a certain kind of detachment.

In other words, Tony has not studied attachment theory developed by John Bowlby and his followers. In attachment theory, it is common to refer to secure attachment bonding of the child and parent(s) and non-secure attachment bonding of the child and parent(s). Non-secure attachment bonding is manifested in anxious-ambivalent attachment, avoidant attachment, dismissive attachment, and fearful-avoidant attachment. As perceptive as this kind of attachment theory may be for certain purposes, Tony was not familiar with this kind of attachment theory. As a result, he works out his own understanding of attachment and attachments. End of digression.

I admittedly find it tricky to write about Tony's understanding of attachments and a certain kind of detachment. Tony does his best to write about attachments as clearly as he can. However, at times, his comments about attachments seem like verbal gymnastics. But I am not sure that I have figured out how to avoid his verbal gymnastics in my own efforts here to summarize the key points of his thought.

For Tony, attachments include our cultural conditioning, our programming, our unhealthy desires (such as our desires for thrills and excitement), and our unhealthy fears (of losing things we are attached to and cling to in inordinate ways). Thus as he operationally defines attachments, they are not healthy.

For readers who are familiar with Albert Ellis's thought about rational-emotive therapy, I would suggest that Tony can be described as Albert Ellis on steroids.

But what would Tony call the healthy way to be?

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According to him, the healthy way to be would be to be without attachments, because by definition attachments are not healthy. Nevertheless, he does not regularly use the root word of "attachments" to suggest a name for the alternate healthy way to be. For example, he only occasionally uses the term non-attachment to characterize the healthy way to be.

Instead of using the term non-attachment repeatedly, he uses the term "love" to characterize the healthy way to be -- to be in love. So according to Tony, when we experience love as the healthy way to be, then we are free of attachments, which is to say that our ego-consciousness is not encumbered by the baggage of attachments. For him, freedom involves being free of unhealthy baggage.

In this way, he uses the term "love" to name and explain the mystic experience of the sacred in the present moment.

Tricky, eh?

I should mention that the Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984) formulated five transcendental precepts for people to follow that are 100% compatible with Tony's basic advice about love unencumbered by baggage, as he puts it:

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(1) Be Attentive.

(2) Be Intelligent.

(3) Be Reasonable.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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