Saturday, September 18, 2010

Learning to Trust: Interior Castle by St.Teresa of Avila

Sometimes, when we go through trauma, it is difficult to know whom or what to trust. Complicating that, when entering a spiritual path, we are often taught not to trust our minds. On top of that, because we are hurting, we crave comfort and consolation. Therefore, sometimes whatever thought makes us feel better is often chosen, true or not. Love is not always comfort and consolation, yet when we are in the depths of pain, we seek it strongly and without question.

All of the above factors place us in a very vulnerable position. In this state, it is easy to be manipulated. As I was pondering what is safe to trust, I came upon a book called Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila. St. Teresa writes about our inner life as a castle containing many manor houses. The center is where Christ dwells. In the midst of psychic pain, it is understandable to want to jump to the middle to be with Christ. However, St. Teresa advises us to begin by opening the door to the castle and to explore what we can experience at the outer-most level.

Starting with humility is the only way to move towards the innermost mansion. You may have already been told not to trust your mind, because it can stand in the way of direct experience of God, but St. Teresa cautions us to question our desires as well. What do we most want in life? Is it a new car, a new house, a new career or a romantic partner? If so, it is difficult to even open the door to the interior castle. While desiring material things or success in the world is not wrong, to undertake the interior journey is to desire union with God above all things. Some people never have and never will. In fact, few are called to the contemplative life. Those who are will find guidance through St. Teresa's writing, as she is an excellent tour guide of the interior castle, having immersed herself in the castle thoroughly as she dwelled in it.

We all know people who live for television and beer after work, who day after day seem to have no need to ponder the meaning of life or their relationship to God. This isn't wrong. They are simply not called to do so. If you are reading this, you are probably called by grace. It is certainly nothing you have done of your own volition. However, you stand outside the gate with all the reality show addicts and others, but unlike them, you have a desire to go inside. This desire opens the gate.

St. Teresa describes this room as dark. You can barely see. The light of Christ allows you to see, but very little. You are surrounded by what she describes as “reptiles.” As I read this, I imagined snakes and crocodiles. I imagined that these reptiles represented by compulsive desires to think at the expense of faith, to be trapped in negativity, and to desire other things than God before Him. These reptiles are everywhere! Is this a pleasant meditation for someone who has experienced trauma? I would think not. However, as you walk through this room, you learn that the only way to get through this mansion is to discover the things you can trust.

As I moved through this meditation, I noticed how carefully I was placing my feet, so as not to bump into anything, especially not a reptile! I discovered I could trust my steps. I also discovered that I could trust my breath, as this reminded me that I was visualizing this world as my body sat safe in my chair.

Through making these careful steps, I learned I could trust my humility, my patience and my deliberateness. By not giving over emotional energy to the reptiles, I was safe and well. So it is similar that survivors of trauma may also learn to trust simple things. You are trusting no man. You are learning to walk in alignment with God's will.

For those afraid of snakes or of being in dimly lit rooms, I would say, avoid this meditation. In some cases, facing this exercise anyway may help you to discover untapped courage. However, you can still practice the essence of it in your daily life, through remembering to trust what is simple and to direct your desires toward God.

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