Caroline Myss says that despite history’s tortured mystics, living a deeply spiritual life can be regular, rich, and rewarding.
Known for her incisive intuition and vast knowledge of human consciousness, Caroline Myss (pronounced mace) is a renowned best-selling author, teacher, and former “medical intuitive.” She’s written on consciousness (“Anatomy of the Spirit); health (“Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can”); finding your true purpose (“Sacred Contracts”); and most recently has completed “Entering the Castle,” a book inspired by Saint Teresa of Avila, about fully exploring and inhabiting your soul. Recently the tough-talking, fiercely private guru discussed her frustration with the perpetually wounded, what it means to be a contemporary mystic, and how to pray without being greedy.
What is the state of “New Age” thinking?
The New Age, when it started in the ’60s, held so much potential. It became a movement that started to speak of a new age of light and a dawning of a time of new consciousness on the horizon, a new type of spirituality. People started to explore–the East discovered the West, and the West discovered the East. At the same time, we discovered the interior of our emotional life. And the inner child and the language of the psyche was born simultaneously. And we discovered woundology, and the age of the self was born. That’s where the wires got crossed–the interior life of healing and the power of attitudes got crossed with the spiritual life. So that the discovery of healing became equated with the discovery of spirituality.
People started using their wounds to get to God.
Yes. And that is not a spiritual path. That is a path of self-discovery, of health, and of wondering, What made me sick? And this kind of twisted thinking developed that said, I know there’s a lesson in this illness and if I get the lesson, God will reward me. And it’s like, if I’m good I will never become ill.
It just filtered in there, whereas a true path of spirituality is a path towards God, transcendent of whether or not I’m healthy or ill. It is a path to God through reflection, through prayer. It is a path of self-knowledge that goes much deeper because the goal is to become a vessel of grace without that goal of What’s in it for me?
In the new book, “Entering the Castle,” you talk about “mystics without monasteries.” What does it mean to be a contemporary mystic?
A mystic is someone who has a sense of interior connection with a force of life, of meaning, much greater than themselves, a connection to God. There are people who are called to be a part of the world with the same passion that once drew people out of society and into monasteries or into ashrams. And now, the calling is to engage [with God] and remain within the mainstream of life. It is the need to live a life that is very clearly full of meaning and clear direction. When somebody says, “For what reason have I been born?” that is a question they are, in fact, releasing to God. That type of invocation ignites a deeper force from within.
And can that kind of question lead to a more mystical life?
I do believe that. I think that leads to a longing for a much more passionate connection to the divine. There is a fundamental need in us to connect to something greater than ourselves. And that’s just the way we are designed. We do not want to think that, at the end of the day, we are simply flesh and bones. The second thing is we have a need to believe that, if we close our eyes and say, “God help us,” there really is someone on the end of that phone call. There is a part of us that absolutely longs to know that’s real.
What’s the most common source of spiritual discontent that you see?
People say things to me like, “I know I was born to do something, but what is it?” That incredible discontentment is like an epidemic in this spiritual community of ours. That passion is a passion to be of service to something greater than themselves. They misinterpret it as a search for an occupation. But what they’re really tapping into, what they’re really sensing, is that they have a need to discover their profound capacity to channel grace.
I looked out over an audience one time. Again, it was an audience in which people said to me ” I just know I was born to do something wonderful. I just don’t know what it is.” I said to them, “Stop it. Will you stop telling yourself that? Look at yourselves. You are, all of you, at least middle-aged. None of you–if you had a beatific vision, if God came in front of you and said, ‘You know what? I want you to take all of your money, go across the street, buy that vacant building, and convert it into a health center,’ you wouldn’t do it. You would not do it because you will not risk your money or your earth-security no matter what. What you really want is to fall in love with the life you have, and discover that who you are is actually who you’re meant to be, where you’re meant to be, with the people you’re meant to be with. And that sense that you’re not enough will go away.”
Do you feel like this book was channeled from Teresa of Avila or did she just offer guidance?
Channeled? No, absolutely not. But, an inspiration, absolutely yes. And I feel very devoted to her. The presence of saints in our lives is very real. I mean, these sacred souls are there for the calling upon, so to speak. They are intermediaries between us and heaven.
Teresa founded the Carmelites, a highly cloistered sect, yet she traveled founding convents. How much solitude and how much worldliness do you think we need to be balanced humans?
Time to reflect is the most important thing you can give yourself because that’s what your conscience needs. You need to think What are the consequence to others, to myself, to my family, if I make this decision or if I make that decision? What will be the consequence to my inner life if I say yes or no at this moment in time? Have I broken my integrity today?
We don’t do that because we don’t have time. But, if you don’t have time, what kind of person are you? You don’t have time to be a good person. What does that say about your spiritual life? Well, it’s not important to you, then. So, being a good person’s not important to you. Being a fast person is, but not being a good person.
You say it’s essential for people to have a spiritual practice: What kinds of practices do you recommend to people?
Effective ones, period. Done. I answered your question.
And what do you do yourself?
Well, that’s private.
But, I mean, a person finds their own way to God. But their route had better have devotion. A person has to pray. Prayer is absolutely an integral ingredient of a spiritual practice. And that’s not something people talk about. Nobody goes to a workshop and says, “Would you teach me to pray?” People will say to me, “Do you have a prayer that works?” And that is not prayer. That is petition prayer. Can I have? Will you do? Will you protect? Where’s my stuff? Is my stuff sleeping with someone’s stuff? That’s Santa Claus prayer.
Real prayer is the capacity to go into deep, deep truth, and use that to turn off the distractive force of your five senses. And withdraw from the world into the power of a truth that takes you out of the physical world.
In your teaching, you have a sweet compassion, and then you have this tough love streak. How you think the latter affects change in people?
Isn’t that funny? I think that I developed that tough love attitude or reputation, I’m not sure which. But I have had enough of wounded people dwelling in their wounds. I realized that people have got to snap out of it and recognize that time is their most precious companion and that dwelling on yesterday simply does not serve them.
And while some people have just horrendous histories–and with all due compassion, I recognize that–but the fact is that no matter how horrendous your history has been, it still, at the end of the day, leaves you one choice. You either get bitter or you get better. You can become an effective, wonderful person in the fullness of who you are today. I see people wasting the gift of their life because of their wounds. And to me, that’s like letting the shadow win.
Because it’s like they’re waiting to be healed before they can start life?
Yeah. They’re waiting for a full healing of their life to occur, and that’s not going to happen.
And why not?
Well, because to wait for a full healing to occur before you do anything effective, you will get lazy. You can get very comfortable waiting for a healing to happen, honey. That’s what’s called “Waiting for Godot” in the language of Beckett. I think people don’t realize how powerful they are as a channel for grace in this world. They just don’t get it.
People still associate an intimate relationship with the divine with a guaranteed journey into poverty, chastity, a disconnect from the physical life, and absolute pain. And that is simply not true. God is not going to take your house from you and everything you’ve treasured. For what reason would He want your real estate? As if heaven couldn’t do that anyway if it wanted to.
It never occurs to people that their life will become better, which just boggles my mind. It never occurs to people that in finding a deeper interior life, that in fact, their life will become exquisite. It never occurs to them that, in fact, their life will become wonderful.
Copyright Beliefnet.com. To see this article in its original context, click here.