De Mello: Out of the Head

“The head is not a very good place for prayer. It is not a bad place for starting your prayer. But if your prayer stays there too long and doesn’t move into the heart, it will gradually dry up and prove tiresome and frustrating.” —Anthony de Mello in Sadhana: A Way to God (Liguori, 1998).

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Anthony de Mello’s Sadhana: A Way to God is an amazing book—a collection of “one of a kind, practical spiritual exercises” blending Eastern and Western spiritual practice for contemplative prayer. De Mello describes contemplative prayer as communicating with God with a minimal use of words. He lists forty-seven exercises, all of which can be learned through practicing each for a week at a time.

In his first section, de Mello repeatedly teaches about how contemplative prayer comes after achieving an awareness—awareness of the body, not just the mind; and awareness of God’s presence.

The second section is about using fantasy in prayer; and the last section is on employing devotion in contemplative prayer. The awareness exercises especially help us get out of our head and into our bodies—where de Mello says we must return to our senses. He describes the head as a place to begin to pray; but becoming aware of the feelings in our whole body, paying attention to our breath, and returning to our senses is what keeps us in the present presence. It is in the present moment that God meets us—not while we are anticipating or dreading the future or resenting or gloating over the past, but in the now. Our head lives in the past or future. Our body, our heart, grounds us to the present moment.