What I’d like to stress right now is self-observation

This reminds me of this fellow in London after the war. He’s sitting with a parcel wrapped in brown paper in his lap; it’s a big, heavy object. The bus conductor comes up to him and says, “What do you have on your lap there?” And the man says, “This is an unexploded bomb. We dug it out of the garden and I’m taking it to the police station.” The conductor says, “You don’t want to carry that on your lap. Put it under the seat.”

Psychology and spirituality (as we generally understand it) transfer the bomb from your lap to under your seat. They don’t really solve your problems. They exchange your problems for other problems. Has that ever struck you? You had a problem, now you exchange it for another one. It’s always going to be that way until we solve the problem called “you.”

Until then, we’re going to get nowhere. The great mystics and masters in the East will say, “Who are you?” Many think the most important question in the world is: “Who is Jesus Christ?” Wrong! Many think it is: “Does God exist?” Wrong! Many think it is: “Is there a life after death?” Wrong! Nobody seems to be grappling with the problem of: Is there a life before death? Yet my experience is that it’s precisely the ones who don’t know what to do with this life who are all hot and bothered about what they are going to do with another life.

One sign that you’re awakened is that you don’t give a damn about what’s going to happen in the next life. You’re not bothered about it; you don’t care. You are not interested, period.

Do you know what eternal life is? You think it’s everlasting life. But your own theologians will tell you that that is crazy, because everlasting is still within time. It is time perduring forever.

Eternal means timeless—no time. The human mind cannot understand that. The human mind can understand time and can deny time. What is timeless is beyond our comprehension.

Yet the mystics tell us that eternity is right now. How’s that for good news? It is right now.

 People are so distressed when I tell them to forget their past. They are so proud of their past. Or they are so ashamed of their past. They’re crazy! Just drop it! When you hear “Repent for your past,” realize it’s a great religious distraction from waking up. Wake up! That’s what repent means. Not “weep for your sins.” Wake up! Understand, stop all the crying. Understand! Wake up!

The great masters tell us that the most important question in the world is: “Who am I?” Or rather: “What is ‘I’?” What is this thing I call “I”? What is this thing I call self?

You mean you understood everything else in the world and you didn’t understand this?

You mean you understood astronomy and black holes and quasars and you picked up computer science, and you don’t know who you are? My, you are still asleep. You are a sleeping scientist.

You mean you understood what Jesus Christ is and you don’t know who you are? How do you know that you have understood Jesus Christ? Who is the person doing the understanding? Find that out first.

That’s the foundation of everything, isn’t it? It’s because we haven’t understood this that we’ve got all these stupid religious people involved in all these stupid religious wars—Muslims fighting against Jews, Protestants fighting Catholics, and all the rest of that rubbish. They don’t know who they are, because if they did, there wouldn’t be wars. Like the little girl who says to a little boy, “Are you a Presbyterian?” And he says, “No, we belong to another abomination!”

But what I’d like to stress right now is self-observation.

You are listening to me, but are you picking up any other sounds besides the sound of my voice as you listen to me? Are you aware of your reactions as you listen to me? If you aren’t, you’re going to be brainwashed.

Or else you are going to be influenced by forces within you of which you have no awareness at all. And even if you’re aware of how you react to me, are you simultaneously aware of where your reaction is coming from?

Maybe you are not listening to me at all; maybe your daddy is listening to me. Do you think that’s possible? Of course it is. Again and again in my therapy groups I come across people who aren’t there at all. Their daddy is there, their mommy is there, but they’re not there. They never were there. “I live now, not I, but my daddy lives in me.” Well, that’s absolutely, literally true.

I could take you apart piece by piece and ask, “Now, this sentence, does it come from Daddy, Mommy, Grandma, Grandpa, whom?” Who’s living in you?

It’s pretty horrifying when you come to know that.

You think you are free, but there probably isn’t a gesture, a thought, an emotion, an attitude, a belief in you that isn’t coming from someone else. Isn’t that horrible?

And you don’t know it.

Talk about a mechanical life that was stamped into you.

 You feel pretty strongly about certain things, and you think it is you who are feeling strongly about them, but are you really?

 It’s going to take a lot of awareness for you to understand that perhaps this thing you call “I” is simply a conglomeration of your past experiences, of your conditioning and programming. That’s painful.

In fact, when you’re beginning to awaken, you experience a great deal of pain. It’s painful to see your illusions being shattered. Everything that you thought you had built up crumbles and that’s painful. That’s what repentance is all about; that’s what waking up is all about.

So how about taking a minute, right where you’re sitting now, to be aware, even as I talk, of what you’re feeling in your body, and what’s going on in your mind, and what your emotional state is like? How about being aware of the blackboard, if your eyes are open, and the color of these walls and the material they’re made of? How about being aware of my face and the reaction you have to this face of mine?

Because you have a reaction whether you’re aware of it or not. And it probably isn’t your reaction, but one you were conditioned to have. And how about being aware of some of the things I just said, although that wouldn’t be awareness, because that’s just memory now.

Be aware of your presence in this room. Say to yourself, “I’m in this room.” It’s as if you were outside yourself looking at yourself. Notice a slightly different feeling than if you were looking at things in the room.

Later we’ll ask, “Who is this person who is doing the looking?” I am looking at me. What’s an “I”? What’s “me”?

For the time being it’s enough that I watch me, but if you find yourself condemning yourself or approving yourself, don’t stop the condemnation and don’t stop the judgment or approval, just watch it.

I’m condemning me; I’m disapproving of me; I’m approving of me. Just look at it, period. Don’t try to change it! Don’t say, “Oh, we were told not to do this.” Just observe what’s going on.

As I said to you before, self-observation means watching— observing whatever is going on in you and around you as if it were happening to someone else.

– Anthony de Mello – Awareness –