THE PHARISEES SAID TO HIS DISCIPLES, “WHY DOES YOUR TEACHER EAT WITH TAX COLLECTORS AND SINNERS?” -MATTHEW 9:11
If you wish to get in touch with the reality of a thing, the first thing you must understand is that every idea distorts reality and is a barrier to seeing reality. The idea is not the reality, the idea “wine” is not wine, the idea “woman” is not this woman. If I really want to get in touch with the reality of this woman I must put aside my idea of woman-ness or Indian-ness and experience her in her this-ness, her concreteness, her uniqueness.
Unfortunately most people most of the time do not take the trouble to see things like this in their uniqueness; they just see the words or the ideas, they never look with the eyes of a child at this concrete, unique, fluffy, alive thing that is moving out there in front of them. They only see a sparrow, they never see the wondrous marvel of this unique human being here in front of them. They only see an Indian peasant woman.
The idea therefore is a barrier to the perception of reality. There is yet another barrier to the perception of reality – the judgment.
This thing or person is good or bad, ugly or beautiful. It is barrier enough to have the idea of Indian or woman or peasant when I look at this concrete individual. But now I add a judgment and I say, “She is good,” or “She is bad,” or “She is attractive and beautiful,” or “She is unattractive and ugly.” That further prevents me from seeing her because she is neither good nor bad. She is “she” in all her uniqueness.
The crocodile and the tiger are neither good nor bad, they are crocodile and tiger. Good and bad are in relation to something outside them. Inasmuch as they suit my purpose or please my eyes, or help me, or threaten me, I call them good or bad.
Now think of yourself when you were called good or attractive or beautiful by someone. Either you hardened yourself because you really thought you were ugly and you said to yourself, “If you really knew me as I am you would not call me beautiful.” Or you opened yourself to the words of that person and you really thought that you were beautiful and you allowed yourself to be thrilled at the compliment.
In both cases you were wrong, because you are neither beautiful nor ugly. You are you.
If you get caught up in the judgments of people around you, you are eating the fruit of tension and insecurity and anxiety, because when today they call you beautiful and you are elated, tomorrow they will call you ugly and you will be depressed.
Therefore the proper and accurate response when someone calls you beautiful is to say, “This person given his present perception and mood sees me as beautiful, but that does not say anything about me. Someone else in his place and depending on his background and mood and perception will see me as ugly. But that again says nothing about me.”
How easily we are taken in by the judgment of other people and then form an image of ourselves based on this judgment.
In order to be truly liberated you need to listen to the so-called good and bad things that they tell you, but to feel no emotion at the feedback any more than a computer does when data is fed into it. Because what they say about you reveals more about them than about you.
As a matter of fact you also have to be aware of the judgments that you make about yourself, because even those are generally based on the value systems that you picked up from the people around you.
If you judge, condemn, approve, do you ever see reality? If you look at anything through the eye of judgment or approval or condemnation, is that not the major barrier to understanding and observing things as they are in themselves?
Take the time when somebody told you that you are very special to him; if you accepted that compliment then you ate the fruit of tension. Why do you want to be special to someone and to submit to that kind of approval and judgment? Why not just be content to be you?
When someone tells you how special you are, all that you can accurately say is: This person given his particular taste and needs, desires, appetites and projections has a special desire for me, but that says nothing about me as a person. Someone else will find me quite unspecial and that too says nothing about me as a person.
So the moment you accept that compliment and you allow yourself to enjoy it, you will give control of yourself to that person. You will go to great lengths in order to continue to be special to this person. You will be in constant fear lest he meets someone who will become special to him and thus you will be dislodged from the special position you occupy in his life. And you will be constantly dancing to his tunes, living up to his expectations, and in doing so you will have lost your freedom.
You have made yourself dependent on him for your happiness, for you have made your happiness depend on his judgment of you.
Then you can make things worse by beginning to search for other people who will tell you that you are special to them and you invest so much time and energy in making sure that they never lose this image they have of you. What a wearisome way to live! Suddenly fear comes into your life, fear that the image will be destroyed, and if what you seek is fearlessness and freedom, you must let go of this.
How? By refusing to take anybody seriously when they tell you how special you are.
The words “You are special to me” simply say something about my present mood regarding you, my taste, my present state of mind and development. They say nothing else. So accept that as a fact and do not rejoice in it. What you may rejoice in is my company and not my compliment. What you may enjoy is my present interaction with you, not my praise. And if you are wise, you will urge me to find many other special people so that you are never tempted to hold on to this image that I have of you.
It is not my image of you that you enjoy because you are ceaselessly aware that my image of you can change so easily. So what you enjoy is the present moment, because if you enjoy the image that I have of you, I will control you and you will be afraid to be yourself lest you hurt me, you will be afraid to tell me the truth, to do or say anything that would damage the image that I have of you.
Apply this now to every image that people have of you and they tell you that you are a genius or wise or good or holy, and you enjoy that compliment and in that minute you lose your freedom; because now you will be constantly striving to retain that opinion. You will fear to make mistakes, to be yourself, to do or say anything that will spoil the image.
You have lost the freedom to make a fool of yourself, to be laughed at and to be ridiculed, to do and say whatever feels right to you rather than what fits in with the image others have of you.
How does one break this? Through many patient hours of study, awareness, observation, of what this silly image brings you.
It gives you a thrill combined with so much insecurity and unfreedom and suffering. If you were to see this clearly you would lose your appetite to be special to anyone, or to be highly regarded by anyone. You would move about with sinners or bad characters and do and say as you please, regardless of what people think of you. You would become like the birds and flowers that are so totally unselfconscious, too busy with the task of living to care one little bit about what others think of them, about whether they are special to others or not.
And at last, you will have become fearless and free.
– Anthony de Mello – The Way to Love –