In some of his conferences, Tony de Mello would most unflatteringly tell his listeners: “Most human beings are already dead. Some people are 3/4 dead, getting decomposed. In fact they already stink.” Then looking at the shocked expression on some of the faces, he would continue, “I know it is a hard thing to say to people. But the proposition stays:‘You are dead!”

He would point to the signs of deadness all around us and in us. When we are alive, we have our senses available and functioning optimally. We are well equipped to live in the world and experience the sights, colours, sounds, tastes, smells and textures and learn, relate, communicate, and avoid dangers. Most of us, however, go through life with our senses switched off and residing in our minds. It is like being on permanent leave of absence from one’s own body.

As little children we could see and hear and touch and taste in simple ways. The world of magic, of fairy tales, and the of richness of imagination could coexist with the senses working fully. Unfortunately a major part of growing up and getting educated involves losing contact with our senses. We learn to deny the senses and head to our minds. The price of knowledge is the loss of innocence. The senses are straightforward but the mind is cunning, and can distort and dress up reality. The senses can give valuable information but can be overruled by the mind. Unfortunately education that leads to sensory poverty and the loss of imagination is the greatest destroyer of children.

Another mark of deadness is in our emotional life. Many of us are out of touch with our feelings, a key to our experience of the world and our relationship with others. Our hearts are often hardened by painful experiences and we try to protect ourselves in different ways, but the habit of the heart closes the door to our feelings which deprives us of the richness of life. So in course of time we are so out of touch with our emotional world that we do not even know what we feel. That is being dead.

Religions and cultures have had a lot of trouble dealing with the vitality of people and have sought to curtail, control and kill it. People who are alive are a challenge to any society. They are fearless, they ask questions, they are a threat as they highlight our own deadness. It is not surprising that most people who take religion and even spirituality seriously murder themselves in some ways or consider their mission to snuff out the life in others, end up inhabiting their own dead bodies. And they forget to laugh, to play and to enjoy their lives.