Excerpted from "Entering the Castle" by Caroline Myss. Copyright (c) 2007 by Caroline Myss. Reprinted by permission from Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
You never know how God is going to get you. What is God asking of you? What is your soul calling you to do or to be in your life now? What purpose is your life’s journey? When you enter the Castle, you will find some answers. Seeing your soul as a Castle and yourself as a mystic is like having a new lens through which to look at your life. You can see more clearly, notice the shapes of events and patterns more sharply. You don’t want to use an old paradigm or an old pair of glasses to find a new path for your soul. And you don’t want to use a new pair of glasses in the wrong way.
This morning, for instance, I was having trouble with the clasp on my necklace. I kept fiddling with it at the back of my neck but I just couldn’t make it work. So I put on my glasses...as if that could let me see behind myself.
You want a new, deeper view of yourself and your life that sees through the visible, ordinary reality and into mystical truth. You don’t want to try to look backward. St. Paul wrote that the invisible must be understood by the visible, and that is what a mystic pursues—knowledge of the divine, the absolute. Most people living ordinary lives would not consider themselves mystics, because they don’t understand what a mystic is or they think mystics reside only in monasteries pursuing absurd compulsions to starve themselves. This is an outdated view.
These days, many people—no doubt you, too—are being called into a deeper experience of God in many ways. That is what a mystic is—someone who wants to engage in direct dialogue with God. That desire ignites an interior flame that burns for the rest of your life, lighting your way. “Great fire can follow a small spark,” wrote Dante. Perhaps you feel a mysterious stirring deep within you, a restlessness or anticipation that you don’t understand. Perhaps you have a sense that you need to get in harmony with an unseen order—it could be the beginnings of your mystical birth. For some people, a soul calling reveals itself in an instant. But most of us have to contemplate the guidance we receive in order to understand and respond to it. To help us read God’s symbols and mysteries, we turn to the spiritual masters—the mystics.
The fairly recent availability of sacred literature and spiritual teachings from all world traditions has brought the experience of the mystic out of the monastery and into our contemporary culture. Sacred literature stirs the soul. Vessels of divine guidance, many mystical texts were long guarded from the general public. Even some ordained brothers and sisters did not work with them because they were not prepared, and one does not toy with the sacred.
The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing warns readers not to talk lightly of its contents or to give the book to anyone who is not prepared to spend some time in sincerely trying to understand it because of the unexpected effects its contents could have. Before opening Loyola’s Personal Writings, or The Dark Night of the Soul, or The Interior Castle, a monk would pray to enter a field of grace because he knew his soul would be aroused by the spiritual truths within them and compelled to explore the mysteries they contain. Teresa of Ávila, for instance, had her first mystical experience after reading St. Augustine’s Confessions.
Today, however, we read these texts in coffee shops and our homes, often oblivious to the fact that we may be awakening something deeper as we read. Arousing the soul has profound consequences, for once it announces itself it requires attention, prayer, spiritual direction; it wants to express itself through acts of compassion and service. Your soul is your connection with eternity, your intermediary between Earth and heaven, between your everyday physical life and a higher reality. It is your calm eye in the hurricane of a chaotic world—yet, it burns to realize its purpose: to communicate with God. It waits impatiently for the opportunity and avenue to unveil itself to you—your own divinity, the God within you.
What does “unveiling your own divinity” really mean? Are you filled with awe at the thought of God within you? That’s impossible, because you cannot imagine awe, you can only experience it. In the Castle you will connect to your divinity—and give your soul an opportunity to stretch out a bit instead of being bound in, as most are, by the routines of daily life, the race to get and to spend. There you will comprehend a fragment of the awe and power by which the early mystics were willingly held captive throughout their lives. As The Cloud of Unknowing states, “Those who feel the mysterious action of the Spirit in their inmost being...[who] taste something of contemplative love in the very core of their being...should such folk read this book, I believe they will be greatly encouraged and reassured.”
Feed your soul just once with words and experiences that bypass the mind’s reflex to edit out “dangerously stimulating spiritual content” and the awakening begins. Consider these words of Teresa of Ávila from The Interior Castle (Starr): “I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions...some above, others below, others at each side; and in the center and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.”
Who would not be seduced by those words? What secrets does God hold for you? If you could find a way into those beautiful mansions in your soul where a dialogue between you and God is possible, would you not pursue that?
But you have a major obstacle to overcome in order to communicate with God: your reliance on your mind in matters of the spirit. Usually, for instance, you pray for help or guidance about everyday matters, such as your health, your career and finances, or your romantic, familial, or other relationships. You expect the answer to the prayer to come in a conventional form, perhaps as a new job or relationship. And you generally look, listen, feel, and think your way through the guidance: You tend to intellectualize it.
The mind, however, is useless in finding a way into mystical waters. As I said to one person who was describing his yearnings to experience God, and his frustrations, “Your mind is exhausted in its search. You need to finally let your soul have at it. Get your mind out of your soul’s way.” The mind, as Teresa would say, is simply not strong enough to make the journey. Coming to God is the soul’s task. And the awakened soul will agitate and pull at you until you wade in and begin to reach out to the divine. To help you anticipate some of the challenges you will encounter in the unknown depths through which you will be swimming, Entering the Castle provides a mystical map and practices that guide and orient you, your mind, and your soul.
All mystics, medieval and contemporary, East and West, Christian and Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist, were familiar with the consequences of exposure to mystical truths. They are, symbolically speaking, blinding. They can stun you, “knock you off your horse and blind you for three days,” as they did to Saul on the road to Damascus. They short-circuit you until you get your bearings. You never know what you will uncover when diving into the unknown—your subconscious and soul. The journey absolutely changes you. You need the guidance and counsel of mystics who have gone before you.
As a medical intuitive, I did a reading on a man who, as I learned in my reading, dealt in stolen goods. I told him that I saw that he was a criminal. He said that he felt as if he had been “caught by heaven red-handed,” which was a bit of an exaggeration, as I told him, but he vowed to change right then and there.
Several weeks later he phoned to give me an update on his newly reformed, crime-free life, and said, “I gotta tell ya, turning honest is limiting my choices here.” Exposure to truth changes your life, period—whether that truth is a revelation about personal honesty and integrity or a divine revelation that reorganizes your place in the universe. This is why most people run from truth rather than toward it.