Just as the white-noise chorus of pundits, politicians and screamers reached new levels of stupidity last week (present company included), I discovered a voice of reason from beyond the grave. It cut the din like a sweet song through radio static, and what made it sweeter still, for so many reasons, is the fact that I found “The Way To Love: The Last Meditations Of Anthony De Mello” via a stranger’s gift to that small slice of socialism that is the Little Free Library (littlefreelibrary.org).
De Mello was a Jesuit priest, psychotherapist and spiritual guide whose books, speeches and other works have been gaining popularity since he died of a heart attack at the age of 56 in 1987. “The Way To Love” is a pocketbook; 196 pages of compact type that succinctly puts forth the radical notion that your life and your version of happiness is entirely up to you and your love and not reliant on, say, who happens to be the sitting president, or what government says is or is not love or marriage.
“Take a look at the world and see the unhappiness in the world and in you,” writes De Mello. “Do you know what causes this unhappiness? You will probably say loneliness or oppression or war or hatred or atheism. And you will be wrong. There is only one cause of unhappiness: The false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.
“Because of these false beliefs you see the world and yourself in a distorted way. Your programming is so strong and the pressure of society so intense that you are literally trapped into perceiving the world in this distorted kind of way. There is no way out, because you do not even have a suspicion your thinking is distorted, your thinking is wrong, and your beliefs are false.”
De Mello can be wonderfully didactic and cranky, but his anti-pabulum rings true in these surreal times of global economic ruin, social unrest and media-sucked souls. A kindred spirit of both the gentle Thomas Moore and the scolding J. Krishnamurti, his curt prose always comes back to loving the purest version of the self; a self unshackled from the constraints of external mores, mindlessness and conditional love.
“When you are in love,” writes De Mello, “you find yourself looking at everyone with new eyes; you become generous, forgiving, kindhearted, when before you might have been hard and mean. Inevitably people begin reacting to you in the same way and soon you find yourself living in a loving world that you yourself have created.”
To that end, it’s heartening that “The Way To Love” came to me as a gift from a stranger — a neighbor — because the truth is reading can be a lonely endeavor, an intense summoning of our quietest “pilgrim soul,” as Yeats called it. Reading it, I was thankful to be part of an underground book club of two, grateful to know there are other seekers out there, and thankful for the give-and-take mystery dance that is the Little Free Library, hundreds of which have sprouted up all over Minneapolis this year.
The idea is simple — small well-crafted wooden boxes placed on poles in front of homes and businesses and filled with donated books to be shared — but its effect on communal well-being is anything but. I’m a case study. I’m a believer.
My favorites are at 26th and Lyndale (in front of Zeus Jones and the SooVAC art gallery) and Lake Harriet Parkway, but at first I found breadcrumbs — Vince Flynn and John Grisham recyclables, pre-“50 Shades Of Gray” romance novels, and some read-and-forgotten Oprah’s Book Club picks. This autumn, though, my people have grown brains, libidos, souls and senses of humor by anonymously lending me all sorts of stuff, from a St. Thomas Aquinas bio to “An Introduction To Communism,” “High Fidelity,” “Care Of The Soul,” “The Ethical Slut,” the New Testament, some Rilke, Rumi, Neruda, and “Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest” for the tagline, “He steals from the rich and gives to the poor,” which appealed to my inner lakes mansion cat burglar.
In thanks this month, I’ve replenished various Little Free Libraries with a copy of the Tao Te Ching; “The Replacements: All Over But The Shouting” (my oral history of the great Minneapolis band); a Hemingway short-story collection; Anneli Rufus’s ode to introversion “Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto,” and extra copies of Legs McNeil’s important punk history “Please Kill Me,” John Irving’s still epic “A Prayer For Owen Meany,” and Chad Harbach’s wonderful “The Art Of Fielding.”
In the spirit of the free book revolution, I’ll return “The Way To Love” this weekend so some other lucky souls can have a crack at it. Until then I’ll savor the connection made with the mystery librarian out there who introduced me to De Mello and these words:
“Look at everything that you think and feel and say and do that you do not like in yourself. Your negative emotions, your defects, your handicaps, your errors, your attachments and neuroses and hang-ups and yes, even your sins. Can you see every one of them as a necessary part of your development, holding out a promise of growth and grace for you and others that would never have been there except for this thing you so disliked?
“And if you have caused pain and negative feelings to others, were you not at that moment a teacher to them, an instrument that offered them a seed for self-discovery and growth? Can you persist in this observation, in your observation till you see all of this as a happy fault, a necessary sin that brings so much good to you and to the world?
“If you can, your heart will be flooded with peace and gratitude and love and acceptance of every single thing. And you will have discovered what people everywhere are searching for and never find. Namely, the fountainhead of serenity and joy that hides in every human heart.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.