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Life Arts

BOOK REVIEW: What the World Needs Now!

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(Article changed on January 31, 2013 at 18:25)

Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) January 31, 2013: Anthony ("Tony") de Mello's fine book THE WAY TO LOVE: MEDITATIONS FOR LIFE has recently been reissued (Image, 2012). In this short book Tony offers us the most coherent and cogent presentation of his thought. He begins each short chapter with a brief quotation from one of the Christian gospels. As a result, there is a general ambience of Christian thought about the book.

However, non-Christian readers could disregard the Christian conceptual scaffolding and still find much in the book to value if they are interested in pursuing the spiritual life. After all, Christians do not have a monopoly of the spiritual life -- the life of mystics.

Tony de Mello, S.J. (1931-1987), the Jesuit spiritual director from India, was a mystic. He was born and raised and lived most of his adult life in India, where he entered the Roman Catholic religious order known formally as the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuit order). However, at times, Tony presented spiritual conferences in various other countries, including the United States. Some of his spiritual conferences were recorded and audiocassettes of them sold. In addition, a couple of his spiritual conferences were transcribed and published posthumously as books. During his lifetime, he published a number of books that he had written. His posthumously published book THE WAY TO LOVE consists of a series of short meditations that he wrote as reflections and elucidations of certain passages in the Christian gospels.

I myself have not had the kind of mystic experiences that Tony had. As a result of his mystic experiences, he came to a new understanding of certain passages in the Christian gospels. He elucidates each gospel passage in light of the new understanding that his mystic experiences enabled him to have. Even though I have not had the kind of mystic experiences that he had, his elucidations of the selected passages make sense to me.

Some Background Information

Arguably the most famous compilation of instructions for meditation and contemplation in Western culture is the book known as the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Roman Catholic religious order known as the Society of Jesus, mentioned above. Before he founded this religious order, Ignatius Loyola was a mystic. In addition, he was a spiritual director, directing people who wanted to make retreats following so-called "spiritual exercises" that he himself had been given by various spiritual directors he had consulted. Eventually, he wrote up instructions for a sequence of meditations. The book titled the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES is the result.

This book belongs to the larger category of books that cookbooks belong to, which is to say that it is a book of instructions for doing some things in a particular order. Just as you could read a cookbook carefully from cover to cover without ever trying to follow any of the recipes, so too you could read the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES carefully from cover to cover without trying any of the spiritual exercises yourself.

Viewed in another way, however, the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES of St. Ignatius Loyola could be categorized as a self-help book, at least if you undertake to do the spiritual exercises yourself, instead of just reading over the instructions for doing them. But stand forewarned: Doing this kind of imaginative meditation can trigger a psychotic episode, because doing these spiritual exercises involves using one's imagination to try to access the archetypal level of the human psyche. But certain archetypes can take over one's ego-consciousness, resulting in a psychotic episode. So if you plan to try doing these spiritual exercises, you would be well advised to do them under the guidance of a spiritual director who has done them and consult once a day with that person about how things are going.

In any event, mystic experience involves the experience of the sacred. The young Jew known to the world as Jesus of Nazareth almost certainly had a profound mystic life. As a result, he famously proclaimed that something wonderful is here, which is rendered in English (from the Greek texts) as the kingdom (or rule) of God. In THE WAY TO LOVE, Tony is also proclaiming that this kind of wonderful experience is still here for us to experience for ourselves, a message that Jiddu Krishnamurti from India also proclaimed to the world. Tony's thought in general and in THE WAY TO LOVE was deeply influenced by Krishnamurti's thought -- perhaps more deeply influenced by his thought than by St. Ignatius Loyola's thought.

Definition of Certain Terms

In his famous book THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE (English translation reissued 1987), Mircea Eliade discusses the experience of the sacred, as the title indicates. But most of the time, all of us experience the profane world of space and time.

Arguably the most common experience of the sacred today occurs in what is referred to as experiences of nature mysticism, which are usually brief but memorable experiences of inner harmony and peace and tranquility.

But across cultures today and in world history, certain people have aimed deliberately to experience the sacred, however briefly. Such people can be referred to as mystics, or at least as mystics in spirit. People can deliberately aim to experience the sacred through the cultivation of forms of meditation and contemplation. Some forms of meditation involve the use of one's imagination, as mentioned above. But certain other forms of meditation such as Buddhist meditation do not involve the use of one's imagination.

We can use C. G. Jung's conceptual framework to understand the experience of the sacred. The experience of the sacred involves the brief experience of the Self. But in such brief experiences of the Self, the person is not taken over by an archetype in the archetypal level of the human psyche, the kind of takeover that results in a psychotic episode.

In any event, the experience of the sacred discussed by Eliade can be understood as the experience of the Self discussed by Jung.

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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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How many among us have shed our maladaptive learni... by Thomas Farrell on Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 at 11:35:45 AM