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Friday, May 04, 2007

Carolyn Myss on the Mystic Path (Part One) 

The following appeared in Caroline Myss' Newsletter recently. It offers an extremely clear descriptiong of the mystic path and of the circumstances which led her to write her book on Teresa of Avila. I received the letter through an e-mail, and hence the peculiar spacing and (possibly) some glitches in the script.

A Message From Caroline Myss


This past March Salon has had so many responses that we have decided to
share it with the entire
Myss.com Newsletter. Enjoy!

Now that ENTERING THE CASTLE is out, I am on a book tour, which
includes a fairly constant
schedule of interviews. I thought I would share with you the most
frequently asked questions about
ENTERING THE CASTLE and “The Divine Miss T,” as one of my dearest
friends now refers to Teresa of

How did you discover Teresa of Avila, the extraordinary 16th-century
Spanish mystic and saint who
inspired your new book?

I knew about the life and work of Teresa of Avila as the result of my
studies in mysticism in
college, actually beginning in high school. I did not study her work as
a high school student, of
course, but all of us were certainly introduced to her as a great
saint. But that was as far as it
went until a few years ago. I have an educational institute called CMED
(Caroline Myss Education)
through which I teach two extensive programs that are divided into
three seminars per year. During
the second seminar of the course that was originally listed as
intended to teach a full day on the Christian mystics and a full day on
the mystics from the
Eastern and other traditions. I intended to begin with St. John of the
Cross and his classic work,
"The Dark Night of the Soul," but on my way to teach I had grabbed, by
accident, St. Teresa's great
spiritual work, "The Interior Castle." I thought, "It doesn’t matter,
I'll start with her." As I
introduced St. Teresa, the individual, to the audience, I felt myself
surrounded in silence. I
couldn't hear my audience. It was as if I had entered a soundproof
room. And then I heard the
words, "Follow me, daughter." I knew instantly that St. Teresa was
speaking to me. That was the
beginning of our work together. We had an extremely subtle
relationship, one that demanded prayer,
silence, and isolation. Our communication was extremely subtle and very
soft and rare, but like
the most refined perfume, a small drop was sufficient to direct the
outline, structure, and
content of each chapter. Into my expanding relationship with Teresa I
then wove my research about
the spiritual struggles of the contemporary world, and the result is

Why are this medieval nun's life and thoughts and practices relevant
to our lives and spiritual
practice today?

What makes great spiritual teachers great? Why does their work remain
relevant for centuries? The
reason is that they transcend the boundaries and limits of their own
traditions and reach the
level of cosmic truth - truth that applies to the eternal human
experience. That is the nature of
St. Teresa's work. For example, she addresses the human struggle with
power, the need for
recognition, the delicate struggle with the control one's family has
over an individual and the
need that individual has to break free in order to discover her or
himself. I don’t know any other
spiritual teacher who even articulates that need, and yet I have met
hundreds of people who
struggle with the crisis of feeling divided between their desire to
explore their interior life
and still remain a primary nurturing figure in the family. Exploring
your interior life, by the
way, does not in any way mean that you have the desire to leave or
abandon your family. Yet, that
is so often the fear on both sides of the deeper spiritual experience:
that an individual cannot
have a rich interior life and a rich exterior life. This is simply not
true. The ideal is to blend
the two. By dividing the two, keeping your soul separated from your
physical life, you create the
endless suffering that comes from always searching for where you belong
in this world.

In ENTERING THE CASTLE, you use the same symbolic image of the castle,
which St. Teresa used, to
represent the soul. How can St. Teresa’s image of a medieval castle
with many mansions be
effective today?

The Castle was St. Teresa’s metaphor for the soul. She was from the
Spanish town of Avila, which
is a castle town. It is still a castle town, surrounded by medieval
walls in the design of a
castle. The image of a castle is positively seductive to our
imagination. It works and that's all
that counts. The idea of crossing a drawbridge and closing that
drawbridge to your outside world
and finally being in an interior place where no one can find you is
very effective. The Castle
represents your inner soul, your deeper soul, the part of you that
requires prayer, reflection,
and the pursuit of self-knowledge to access. It's divinely seductive
inner work.

You suggest that people are craving a breakthrough - a means to
connect to a grounded,
contemporary theology that they can practice every day. What are the
means that we should use to
do this?

Prayer, a devotion to contemplation and personal reflection, and an
application of your interior
life to the whole of your exterior life. That is, the Western person is
fond of the
God-in-their-mind, a rational concept of God that is accessible through
books and seminars and
discussion and perhaps group worship, such as church, synagogue, or
mosque. But the type of
breakthrough that I am referring to is a mystical breakthrough; that
is, to move past a mental and
behavioral relationship to God and into an experiential relationship
with the Divine. That
actually defines the mystic and the nature of a mystical experience –
to experience the power and
authority of the divine with complete abandon as opposed to defining
the nature of God through
intellectual definition.

What does it mean to be a “mystic without a monastery?”

Mystics are people who are called to experience life at the visionary
level, to experience the
power of God as opposed to thinking about it, or keeping it at arm’s
length because they fear it.
Traditionally, mystics were found in monasteries or ashrams or, in
earlier centuries, living as
recluses in the forests or desert, like the Indian sadhus or the Desert
Fathers. Like all ways of
being, those mystics served the world effectively at that time. But
times change and demand that
all models and forms of human expression change their garb. There was a
time when all Western
women were more repressed and had to "wait to be asked to dance,"
so to speak, but that model is
no longer effective. And there was a time when all men accepted war as
a necessary evil, but now
they see that they can resist and oppose it openly. Times change and
ways of being in the world
change to accommodate our changing times and the shifting patterns of
chaos, both outside and
inside of ourselves.
We are living at a time of great transformation. The spiritual
awakening that began in the 1960s
needs to mature to its next level, which is a deepening into devotion
to a mystical practice while
remaining an effective force in the world. And by that I mean remaining
in your skin, in your role
as who you are. Mystics knew how to channel grace through prayer and
they knew the power of that.
They knew how to receive guidance through reflection and contemplation;
they knew how to share the
gift of illumination with each other. These are great gifts of life and
profound grace that we are
capable of providing for each other and the world. This is what it
means to be a mystic without a
monastery. You make a commitment to your own interior illumination and
through that discover the
“sacred" part of your "contract" and the true meaning of your
highest potential.

(To be continued)

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