Praying Naked: The Spirituality of Anthony de Melloby J. Francis SJ. Stroud
In his books Awareness and The Way to Love, among others, the internationally acclaimed spiritual guide Anthony de Mello presented an approach to spirituality that integrated the ancient traditions of the East with the psychological and philosophical perspectives of the West. Twenty years after his death, de Mello’s books continue to attract readers and his work remains a powerful influence on contemporary spiritual thought and practices. J. Francis Stroud, S.J., who helped de Mello with his hugely successful lectures, seminars, and books, has dedicated himself to keeping de Mello’s teachings alive through the de Mello Spirituality Center at Fordham University. In Praying Naked, Father Stroud draws on his peerless understanding of de Mello’s works to help readers keep their lives on track and navigate their own spiritual journeys. In clear, simple language, he explains how to master de Mello’s approach to meditation and shows that meditating for even as little as three minutes a day can resolve the problems caused by difficult life conditions and guide us on the quest for spiritual happiness, self-discovery, and self-awareness.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt
The de Mello Three-Minute Meditator
Meditation offers five advantages or rewards:
1. Meditation helps you to live in the present. It eliminates the tendency to relive now not only all the ills of the past, such as resentments, guilt, fears, but even the good experiences of the past. Tony de Mello described it graphically by saying that when something good happens to you, you tuck it away in your little silver box and then, instead of enjoying the present moment (which is new, energizing, and exciting), you stop and look into your little silver box and contemplate nostalgically those past happy times. God forbid you should ever lose your silver box that you carry around with you all the time: an unnecessary piece of baggage.
2. Meditation gives you a direct experience of your self. We create so many false selves, which later we will call primary ego defenses. Then we identify with these false selves. For example, when as a little boy you are pushed around, you find that by pushing back, you are given a little respect, so you do it more often. Finally you get the reputation of being a bully, so you think of yourself as such. Another example: You find that as a little girl, if you snuggle up to your father or grandmother, you get the candy or whatever else you wanted. Soon you think being a coquette is not so bad. As you grow older, the same process takes place when you become a doctor or a bishop or the CEO of your company. It is almost impossible to know who the true "you" really is. Meditation helps by giving you a direct experience of your self. The happy result of this experience is that you eliminate the two major causes of suffering in life: isolation and loneliness. No longer do you feel separate and alone, but united and connected, which, of course, is the basis of love.
3. Meditation quiets down the interior dialog, the inner chatter that goes on in the brain all the time. This quieting down enables you to get in touch with your emotions, with anger, grief, and love. And it is crucial, because if you don't have the ability to feel your emotions genuinely or if you deny these feelings when you have them, they will show up somewhere else through alcoholism, obesity, sexual dysfunction, and sometimes even worse.
4. Meditation alleviates all addictions, such as alcoholism, drug use, and overeating, because it helps you achieve what you are seeking through these addictions. We don't overeat because we need this food. There is something missing in our lives and we try to fill up that missing part by eating. Meditation helps you to love yourself. This is best illustrated by a story, entitled "Don't Change," found in de Mello's book Song of the Bird. It is worth quoting here since it will be referred to several times in the book.
I was a neurotic for years. I was anxious, depressed, and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change. I resented them and agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn't, no matter how hard I tried. What hurt the most was that, like the others, my best friend kept insisting that I change. So I felt powerless and trapped. Then, one day, he said to me, "Don't change. I love you just as you are." Those words were music to my ears: "Don't change. Don't change. Don't change. . . . I love you as you are." I relaxed. I came alive. And suddenly I changed! Now I know that I could never change till I found some one who would love me whether I change or not!
5. Even well-known doctors like Deepak Chopra from La Jolla, California, and Herbert Benson from Harvard University attest to the benefits of meditation for health. Chopra says in his conference, "Journey to the Boundless," that it is the most valuable thing you can do in your life.
The Meditation Method
This exercise, though short, will illustrate the Three-Minute Meditation Method. In the shower (after you have finished washing), be aware, first of all, of your breathing. Is it shallow, medium, or deep? Breathe only through your nose. Don't try to control it, just be aware of its quality. This is a brief exercise, but if you do it consistently, you will feel its benefits almost immediately. Later, in a sitting or squatting position, you will want to extend the meditation to five or ten minutes more. This will be the beginning of a practice of meditation that will last you a lifetime and provide you with enormous benefits.
Then gently shift your attention to the sounds you hear: the water coming from the spigot, the gurgling of the water going down the drain. You will notice a number of different sounds, sounds you paid scant attention to before, such as the sound of water splashing on the floor. Simply be aware of them all.
How long should you do this? Don't worry about it. Just do it briefly. It probably will take no more than a minute. Next shift your focus to the sensations of the water hitting your head and neck, then your back. Feel it running down your legs, onto your feet. Be aware of your feet touching the floor.
If you have put your hands on the wall, notice each finger touching the marble or tile.
Finally, return to the awareness of your breathing. Be aware of only three breaths. That will end the exercise.
Here are some sincere words of encouragement, as you begin reading this book. So often we do so much for others, our whole lives are spent taking care of others. That is why congratulations are in order. For once you are doing something for yourself. And the reason this matters is that, of all creation, you have an extraordinary power.
Plants have laws that govern their existence. Animals' lives are directed by instinct. No one draws a map for the birds to go south. A squirrel has never experienced the winter yet knows how to hide chestnuts for the cold months ahead.
Yet even animals do not have what you have: the power to create your own world. You do this by adopting an attitude. When you wake up in the morning, you are able to create your day by adopting an attitude of cheerfulness. You can say, "This is going to be a wonderful day." And you know what? It will be. No matter what happens, it will be a wonderful day. Try it now. See if it isn't true.
Improving Your Self-Image:
Earl Nightingale, a famous radio motivator, once had lunch with Maxwell Moltz, the author of Psychocybernetics, and said to him, "Max, I know that we are bounded, even limited in our accomplishments by our own self-image. But is there any way to improve or expand our self-image, our self-concept?"
Maxwell Moltz replied, "Of course." And he outlined a four-point plan that he used to improve self-image. I was amazed that this plan came from a scientist and not from a clergyman. Listen to these steps.
Step 1. Forgive everyone.
Get rid of all those resentments that you have carried around all these years. Just forgive everyone, and watch all that weight fall from your psychological shoulders. You not only feel lighter, you actually feel happy with yourself. You feel you are much bigger than these little hurts. Hence, your image of yourself goes up, increases.
Tony de Mello tells the story of two monks, an older and a younger one, going on a journey. When they came to a small river they saw a beautiful woman sitting on the bank of the river. When the older monk asked the lady what her problem was, she replied, "I want to get to the other side of the river but I cannot swim." The older monk said, "I'll solve that." He put the woman on his shoulders and carried her across the river.
When the monks continued their journey, the younger one complained bitterly. "Do you realize the occasion of sin that you have placed yourself in by carrying that woman across the river?" And later he continued, "Can you imagine the scandal this will create in the monastery, when they hear?" After about an hour of this diatribe the older monk paused in his journey, looked directly at the younger monk, and said, "Son, I left that woman at the bank of the river an hour ago. You are still carrying her with you."
Step 2. Forgive yourself. (And this is even harder than Step 1.)
Learn to look into a mirror and say, "Don't change, I love you just as you are."
This is the basis of Step 2. You can do it for yourself. Look into a mirror and imagine a dark cloud around your heart. (This cloud is the painful part of your life.) When you breathe in, breathe that dark cloud into yourself, and breathe out in its place your joy, your peace, your serenity, your happiness. Continue breathing in and out. Do it not only for yourself, but for others as well, and see what a difference it will make in your life.
Here's an example. There's a magnificent meditational practice from Tibet called Kundalin. Joan Borysenko once suggested it at a conference in Boston. She described how the Dalai Lama responded when asked how he felt about the Chinese (who murdered the priests, raped the nuns, practically destroyed Tibetan civilization in order to break the will of the people). His response was "I try to take in their pain and give back my joy and peace."
Step 3. Always see yourself at your best. Expect the best in yourself.
This step I want to emphasize. When you read this book, simply expect that you will be the best when you have finished. One of the golden keys to success is to act as if failure were impossible. This way you override all the negativity that has been drummed into your subconscious. You were inundated with it from your culture, your parents and teachers, your neighbors, and your education (not to mention your religion, which is one of the greatest programmers and conditioners we have, despite its enormous benefits).
How often did you come home from school with an A on your report card to be greeted with "Why not an A+?" We are simply not good enough! Always expect the best of yourself. This posture of expectancy will actually move you in the direction of what's best in you. And it will start happening to you the day you try it.
There was a story in the news about a little girl who was unable to smile because the muscles in her face wouldn't respond. The doctors operated, and happily she is able to smile today. It is a known medical fact that exercising the muscles of the face employed in smiling can have a salutary effect on the rest of your well-being. Your life really is directed by your subconscious mind most of the time. What you are doing is planting the seed of cheerfulness in your subconscious mind, where it will have its effect during the day.
Step 4. Stop comparing yourself with others. Go at your own pace.
Some will be ahead, some behind. Just go at your own speed.
A further way to program anything you desire into your subconscious is simply to breathe in deeply and then relax your entire being and say, Relax now. Do it a second time, and then a third time. Then breathe three times and say, Wide awake now. Then do the breathing and relaxing, and when you are completely relaxed, suggest to yourself that today you remain cheerful no matter what happens. Watch how your subconscious mind will operate even when difficult things occur during the day.
An interesting footnote to this point was made by Norman Cousins (author of ) in an interview he had with Tony Robbins in Tony's "Power Talk" series. Cousins described students who took blue and red pills, one a super calmer, one a super exciter, but the contents were reversed. The students were told that the blue pills had the chemicals that produced calm. (Really the red pills had the calming chemicals.) Fifty percent of the students experienced what their expectations led them to believe, proving that mind was more powerful in these instances than was the drug. Of course, this is the principle underlying the use of placebos in medical practice.
Another variation on this idea is Tony's story of the teachers who were told by professional examiners that the students they would teach were "spurters," children who would advance very quickly in their lessons. The professionals had determined this by the tests they had given. At the end of the term, when the professionals returned to check the results, sure enough, those students designated as spurters had advanced rapidly. But the professionals admitted that the results of the tests were doctored. There were no spurters. The children advanced because their teachers "expected" them to advance. And of course this expectation was transmitted to the students continually throughout the term.
Tapping into Your Own Treasures
Everything you read in this book has been written to emphasize your strengths. I am reminded of the great story of Russell Herman Conwell. He was born in 1843, became an editor, a teacher, a clergyman. One day some young people asked him to offer them some college-level classes, because they couldn't afford to go to college. He envisioned that it would be wonderful to start a college for capable, willing, yet financially indigent youngsters. So he went around the country giving talks in order to raise the money, which eventually was used to build Temple University, in Philadelphia.
One of his stories on his lecture tour was this:
A farmer in Australia heard that other farmers had sold their little farms, gone off prospecting for diamonds, and had become very wealthy. He couldn't wait to do the same. Finally he found a buyer, took the money, and started prospecting for diamonds. At the end of one month, nothing happened, then three months, fruitless, then six months, no success. Finally after a year of fruitless effort, he became so despondent that he jumped off a bridge and committed suicide.
Meanwhile, back on the farm, the man who bought the acreage from the farmer invited a friend over for dinner one night. His friend was admiring a rock that was on the mantelpiece. He was astounded. It was the largest diamond he had ever seen. The farmer said, "I just found that in the stream on our property. We have acres of them all over the place!" The diamonds were unrecognizable because they were in rough, uncut form.
The moral of the story is simple. The first farmer went in search of diamonds everywhere, whereas he was sitting on them at home all the time. Also, even if he saw them, he wouldn't recognize them because they were in a form he wasn't familiar with. They were uncut.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
J. FRANCIS STROUD, S.J., is the executive director of the de Mello Spirituality Center at Fordham University, which produces books, videocassettes, and audiotapes on the teaching of Anthony de Mello.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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