Friday, September 24, 2010

Sixth Mansions: The Desire That Consumes the Will

“I spent almost twenty years on this stormy sea, falling and rising and bobbing again between the world's attractions and God.” -St. Teresa of Avila

It could be said that for St. Teresa, life really began at forty. For almost twenty years, she struggled against desires for the world versus desires for God. A natural extravert, a girl described as “vain and vivacious” and “beautiful and she knew it,” St. Teresa went against her nature for a very long time. After age forty, her unusual experiences and ecstasies began. It could be said that she entered the seventh mansions at some point in her forties.

Shortly after, St. Teresa became a prioress and began founding Carmelite convents all over Spain. To do this, she fell back on her natural extroversion that had not ultimately been repressed all those years, but transformed. St. Teresa conducted business and dealt with a wide variety of complex social situations in a most skillful way, while maintaining the gifts of her profound inner journey.

However, she spent twenty years of her life berating herself for “worldly desires.” Now, it is not a bad thing, from my perspective, to desire worldly things. What matters most, however, is fulfillment from within. During the time St. Teresa lived, desires of the world were viewed differently. As a result, St. Teresa was in an environment that encouraged her to channel all of her desire upon union with God.

St. Teresa writes all sort of amazing things in these chapters. They are truly awe-inspiring. As amazing as her transformation was in the sixth mansions, it certainly wasn't all “fun and games.” Reading her work, I began to see the disillusionment I've had with my life at midlife as a true blessing. A few years back, I gave up on my goals in the world. I didn't get the home and family I wanted or the career I wanted. I felt like a failure in life.

Then I realized I could still accomplish one thing- to grow as near to God as I am capable in this lifetime. I've felt fulfilled ever since, not feeling I am “settling” for less in life, but deeply full within that divine connection. St. Teresa has taught me to realize what a gift my life has been, because God has brought about perfect circumstances to draw me near.

I feel blessed that I abandoned my previous “spiritual path” five years ago, because it wasn't for me. Towards the end, the dreams and meditation visions I had were nightmarish. I had to stop because it just felt incredibly wrong at the core of my being. For five years after, I was spiritually shut down, afraid to reach out again. This set me out on a path to approach the Christian mystics with a very open mind and more humility, based on my mistakes of the past. My past experiences have also helped me to appreciate each little thing so much more. As of today and reading these chapters, I feel unbelievably blessed.

The sixth mansions deal with spiritual matters of extreme emotional intensity. St. Teresa writes of visions, locutions, ecstacies and raptures. She writes of the death of the will, which is so intense one feels the body is also dying. She writes of deep, anguished suffering and grief because she cannot experience all that is God or give back nearly enough in response to the gifts given to her through grace. Although no one's spiritual journey will follow the exact pattern hers had, St. Teresa writes a thorough guidebook for anyone who might have some of these experiences, helping them to determine their authenticity, meaning and purpose. St. Teresa was gifted with an extraordinary range of them, so she had considerable experience.

However, these chapters are not about sensationalizing these, but rather celebrating all emotions, from grief to joy, with an immense desire to feel the entire human experience. There is but one over-riding theme: Dissolution of personal will through the deep intensification of desire for God. In fact, upon reading this, I now believe there is but one essential ingredient on the spiritual journey, which is relentless desire for God. Previously, I believed judgment of self and others was the most important thing, but it is not. All consuming desire is the key that unlocks the Kingdom of God.

Of course, with my background in psychology, I considered bipolar disorder as an explanation for St. Teresa's experiences. However, as I read through carefully, I discovered some essential differences between bipolar and the spiritual process of St. Teresa. The experiences she shares are described as “fleeting” and she feels deep peace and calm in between these “episodes.” By fleeting, she means, like a lightning flash or an emotional experience lasting just a few hours. These experiences occurred at a late stage of spiritual development. She was in her forties and had no history of these behaviors before. These experiences also went away in time. In addition, the theme of it all was quite the opposite of what is seen in mania. There is no self-aggrandizement but instead, a sense of the “burning away” of the self.

I am bipolar and bipolar disorder tore my life to shreds. Bipolar didn't build my character or make me more loving. For a time, I stopped psychiatric medications because I believed I had kundalini rather than bipolar disorder. However, my bipolar began in adolescence and was inherited from my grandmother, quite unlike the experience of St. Teresa. Still, I stopped my medication because I believed that if I took it, it would disrupt my spiritual process. When I couldn't take anymore of the life destruction caused by bipolar, I began to take it again. I believe now that no medication can stop God from manifesting. He's too powerful. He's manifesting for me now while I'm on medications and I'm still clinically stable. I don't know what I would do were I to go through what St. Teresa did. I would be even more skeptical of it all than she was, for the sake of my psychological health.

St. Teresa's transformation is not for the weak of heart. She is more courageous than any woman I have known or heard of. St. Teresa writes that there comes a point when God locks all the doors to the previous mansions and opens only the door leading to the seventh, where he dwells. As I read tomorrow, I will discover what happens when this occurs. Until then, I will share some favorite quotes from these chapters below:

"Oh, what blessed madness, sisters! If only God would give it to us all."

(through desire)“Life becomes sheer, though delectable torture.”

“Tears are the water which comes from Heaven.”

“Joy makes the soul so forgetful of itself and of everything that it is conscious of nothing, and able to speak of nothing, save of that which proceeds from it's joy-Namely, the praises of God.”

“The devil gives praises and delights which seem to be spiritual, but he cannot unite pain and great pain with tranquility and joy. Desire following this is no fear of suffering, but determination to suffer if need be.”

1 comment:

  1. Tears come from Heaven. Funny, since in Revelation it says that in the New Heaven God will wipe away every tear.