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August 2, 2004

News & Opinion: Awareness: A Prerequisite to Effective Action

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 2:16 PM – Filed under: Personal Development & Human Behavior

I haven't been drawn to read a purely business book lately. And I've felt a bit in a stress-induced creative slump and was hoping to read a different type of book - one that would challenge me, prime my creative juices, and reinvigorate me. Tall order. I read half through two seemingly promising books with dissatisfaction - neither turned out to ultimately say anything illuminating or applicable. As soon as I read mention of the book, Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, by Anthony De Mello (via A VentureBlog), I knew I had my next book to read. And it is a page-turner. And even more than I bargained for. The bonus with a book like Awareness is it won't stop with your business life, as it's ultimately about "unconditional" happiness. Self-understanding I've come to believe with conviction is a prerequisite for effective action and if you prefer to tackle problems and opportunities at their root the foundational skill to possess. Catching up with my blog reading, I stumbled across this recent post at An Entrepreneur's Life:
The most successful people I know are absolutely ruthless with self-inspection. With what Napoleon Hill called Accurate Thinking. And what GE ex-CEO Jack Welch called The Reality Principle.
The book is anything but conventional and is akin to dumping a bucket of ice cold water over your head - a bit of a shock, and in these sultry summer days, also a bit refreshing. Author Anthony De Mello was a Jesuit priest who taught in India and died in 1987. Former founding senior executive of FedEx, Francis Maguire, a fan of De Mello, says of the book, "Awareness will be the critical test of American business in the next decade. I call it the 'business of awareness'." The book is based on transcripts from an in-person workshop, and because of this it more entertaining and direct as in-person audiences' attention spans are invariably shorter than patient readers'.
What kills the sensitivity is what many people would call the conditioned self: when you so identify with "me" that there's too much of "me" in it to see things objectively, with detachment. It's very important that when you spring into action, you be able to see things with detachment. What, then, would we call that kind of passion that motivates or activates energy into doing something about objective evils? Whatever it is, it is not a reaction; it is action. - Awareness, by Anthony De Mello
Since I've enthusiastically consumed stacks of self-help, pyschology, philosophy, and all manner of spiritual and religious books in the past, I wasn't sure if Awareness was as accessible as I thought it was to others. My view is that Awareness tackles the personal development issue in a highly accessible, straightforward and effective manner and consequently I had another business-oriented friend - whom is decidedly not a self-help or philosophy junkie - read it and vouch for it.
"Why do you want to read others books when there is the book of yourself?" - The Little Book on Living, J.Krishnamurti
De Mello challenges you to read yourself with non-judgment. Awareness' simple, straightforward language belies the profundity of its message. While certainly readable while traipsed on a lounge chair sipping margaritas by the pool, its depth and impact skyrockets when it not only read but practiced and experienced. If you've done a lot of wide, introspective reading (for instance, this reminds me of a highly accessible version of J. Krishnamurti's work), you'll note the concepts aren't original - although they will be startling fresh and even radical to most readers. I was impressed at how De Mello skillfully presents and distills the concepts with simplicity. It find it difficult to pull snippets that stand alone from the book because the concepts build upon each other in an iterative fashion. So many books these days feel like a magazine article fluffed up to book length but this feels as if all 184 pages are wisely used. Interestingly enough, the current August issue of Fast Company magazine recommends summer novel reads "that on their face have nothing to do with business." On the list is definitely not light-beach-fare Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse which I read eleven years ago in a Philosophy in Literature course. I was ultimately frustrated with Siddhartha and found it mystifyingly vague (to a newbie anyway) and its main message was no one (including the book) can reveal to you anything worthwhile, especially the meaning and purpose of life. In a world seeking silver-bullet answers and quick-and-easy top-ten-sure-rules lists, Awareness has exactly the same (and alas, accurate "no one can tell you anything") message sans the vagueness and frustration. It deftly points to one of the most effective ways for revelation and understanding: self-observation.
That's what it is to watch yourself. No one can show you how to do it, because he would be giving you a technique, he would be programming you. But watch yourself. When you talk to someone, are you aware of it or are you simply identifying with it? When you got angry with somebody, were you aware that you were angry or were you simply identifying with your anger? Later, when you had the time, did you study your experience and attempt to understand it? Where did it come from? What brought it on? I don't know of any other way to awareness. You only change what you understand. What you do not understand and are not aware of, you repress. You don't change. But when you understand it, it changes." - Awareness, Anthony De Mello
For all those whom eschew self-help books (myself included), I wouldn't classify Awareness in this category as De Mello is engaging us to observe our own selves and beliefs objectively - without need of external experts or gurus - and certainly not to take his word for it either. It is one of the most practical and wholeheartedly recommended books on personal development I've ever read.
One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself. - Leonardo da Vinci