Years ago, I came across the work of Anthony (Tony) De Mello and it helped me immensely. He opened my eyes to a profound truth: namely, that all is well. Though everything remains a mess, all is well. A strange paradox, to be sure.  If this really is the truth about life, then it would follow that we are all OK, with really nothing to fix or change in ourselves. We are not a problem to be solved. If there is a problem, then it would be that we have not yet understood this. But few if any of us experience life from this understanding, and as a result we continue being anxious, insecure, fearful, resentful, unforgiving, and aggressive. In short, we suffer, even though, as Tony states, we are surrounded by a divinity that is within easy grasp and would make our lives meaningful, beautiful, and rich in happiness, if we would only discover it. Then these things we struggle to fix would change all by themselves. That’s grace, which is what Tony is pointing to, and grace is at the heart of De Mello’s new book, Stop Fixing Yourself.  The book shows how simple this discovery can be.

Like so many of us, I was raised on society’s old formula that said if I worked hard, success would follow, and then happiness would come out of that.  But by midlife, it was clear to me that this wasn’t how happiness happened.  I began to see that there was a whole program based on that formula that had been stamped into my brain, enforcing a set of demands about how the world should be, how I should be, and what I should strive for, and it was taking my life in the opposite direction of happiness.  If I thought I wasn’t succeeding according to society’s criteria, my brain would instantly trigger negative emotions. When people didn’t live up to my expectations, my brain would subject me to frustration, anger, or resentment. If conditions weren’t under my control, or if it seemed my future was in doubt, my brain would react with anxiety, tension, and worry. The only peace and happiness I’d ever known in my pursuit of success was a tenuous break from negative emotions. I had been programmed to upset myself. It was my brain’s automatic default, producing a pathetic way of life constantly at the mercy of people and events, constantly seeking happiness outside myself and never finding it.  Even more insidious, was the way I felt guilty over my unhappiness, believing it was all my fault.  But as much as I tried to fix it, nothing worked.

Then I stumbled onto Tony De Mello. Ironically, the first time I opened one of his books at random, I landed on a page which posed the very question I’d been struggling with for years:

What do you need to do to change yourself?

Tony’s answer astounded me.  He said, you don’t have to do anything; it’s enough for you to simply be watchful and awake. Awareness, he said, releases reality to change you. “You’re OK,” he asserted, “and by simply being aware, all that seems false and neurotic in you will drop, and your eyes will open to the divinity surrounding you. You will suddenly see that all is well; that you are already happy, right now, and always have been.  You are already at peace right now, and always were, but you just did not know it.   You are born for happiness; it’s your nature, and as such it is available right here, right now. In this moment, there is always freedom and there is always peace. This moment, now, is the only place where we see that all is well.

That’s where life becomes beautiful, Tony said, and all we must do is to be aware of our reactions to life and let grace do the work of restoring us to the happiness we were born to experience. Do that, Tony said, and you will make the biggest discovery in your life.

Beauty and happiness were what I wanted.  I think it’s what every human being wants.  So, I committed myself to becoming aware as Tony described.  For two weeks, I observed the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that generated the way I stressfully reacted to people and events. I watched how my reactions distorted the way I saw the world. I reminded myself, as Tony prescribed, that the stress and negativity were in me, not in reality, and I was careful not to judge myself for the negativity.  I simply observed my behavior as if I were observing another person.

Then one fine day, I experienced the big discovery Tony was pointing to. I discovered that, every moment, I possessed everything I needed to be happy.  I realized that the only reason I was ever unhappy or discontent was because I was focused on what I did not have, instead of what I had.  The grace to see this came from out of the blue, in, of all places, New York’s Grand Central Station during rush hour. I was late and had missed my train and there wasn’t another train for hours. I was angry with myself, but I managed to step back into awareness. As I stood in the crowd, I observed my angst rattling my nerves, agitating me with anger and self-condemning thoughts that were turning into projections, looking to blame someone else. But as I allowed my reaction to be the way it was, getting clear that the negativity was in me and not reality, the reaction gradually passed. All at once, I was aware of the splendor of Grand Central Station and dazzled by the immense human drama happening all around me. Something wonderful awakened in me and I felt love for every single person in that crowd. It was like a veil had been lifted, revealing the beauty and joy that was always there, free for the taking. Awareness had set me free. It really was that simple.

Don Joseph Goewey is the executive director of the Center for Spiritual Exchange, which is the official archive for the work of Anthony De Mello.  He has also worked at Stanford University Medical School department of psychiatry and headed The Center for Attitudinal Healing which pioneered a psycho-spiritual approach to overcoming catastrophic life events and that in 2005 was awarded the AMA’s Excellence in Medicine Award.  He is the author of The End of Stress and Mystic Cool, and editor of Stop Fixing Yourself, a compendium of Anthony De Mello’s major works.