Skip Sub-navigation

Channeling Grace

Caroline Myss on contemporary mystics

Caroline Myss is always one step ahead, taking our collective spiritual pulse and creating a bridge to the next level of our development. Her teachings usually explore questions that people have only just begun to ask themselves. As she tells it now, the spiritual awakenings and experiments that began in the West around 40 years ago are moving into a riper age, a middle age in which, for many, the call to turn inward beckons louder.

In response to her own call inward, Caroline wrote a book called Entering the Castle. The result of personal crises and profound experiences that occurred in the last couple of years, the book was inspired by St. Teresa of Avila’s book The Interior Castle and contains reflections on what it means to answer the mystical call and live in the spirit of true surrender. Perhaps one of its most important messages is that it is only through core spiritual practices that we can advance along the path.

Caroline’s latest work provides a framework for understanding the path of the contemporary mystic and will likely open the door for many people to answer their own mystical calling. As with any genuine spiritual path, its gifts are available to anyone who has the courage to begin and takes the time to follow it.

Grace is the breath of god, a Divine force that moves through us, within us, and around us. Grace holds the potential to heal our souls, our minds, and our hearts, as well as the dynamics within relationships and other life circumstances. We are natural channels of grace. The monasteries that are dedicated to prayer for the world and the people in them are continual channels for grace in this world. These individuals know that while they are in that state of prayer, grace can flow through them and into the world at large.

I believe that we are experiencing a mystical renaissance at work in the world today. We are emerging from a period of "spiritual innocence," if not naiveté, mixed with narcissism. Here in the United States, we have created a hybrid spirituality that reflects our need to make our spirit "work" for us, as seen in the New Age focus on "manifesting what you want." Well, this new age is now middle-aged, and there just hasn’t been enough focus on the soul. Too many of our spiritual paths are superficial, and you can only go so far on these paths without more serious commitment and daily practices.

I’ve become aware of these "mystical rumblings" over the course of these past 20 years. As people described their interior lives to me, I began to realize that they were describing spiritual crises, not psychological or emotional ones. Their spiritual lives had hit a wall, and they were at a standstill because they did not understand the mystic’s call within the contemporary world.

The "new mystic" is no longer the person heading off to the monastery. The new mystic is a person like you and me—an individual devoted to a spiritual life while simultaneously being devoted to a life of service in the world. For contemporary mystics, the world and the society one lives in are the monastery-at-large. And, as in the past, their lives are built around prayer and contemplation. It is part of the work of the mystic to pray for those who do not pray for themselves, and there are many, many who don’t these days.

Mystics today are as conflicted about being "called" as mystics were in the past. It is not an easy call to answer. Few mystics woke up one day in the full realization that they were mystics. Rather they fought their callings, or they came to them only after failing at other paths in life or reaching dead ends. It is not easy, this task of being called to serve in an intimate way with and through the Divine. Yet nothing is as fulfilling as when you realize that such a call makes your life "congruent," and all the pieces fall into place.

Many of us have misunderstandings about the nature of a spiritual life. We believe that people who went to live in monasteries were turning their backs on the world. In fact, their souls were so powerful that they changed their worlds without even leaving their monasteries. These were fierce individuals that God called. Many did not go quietly, but when they did, they served God with their entire being. And through that mystical union of human and Divine, they changed the world.

It is onto this path that many people are being called today. That is why I wrote Entering the Castle, which explores the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila, a mystic saint from Spain. Teresa describes the soul as a crystal castle with seven mansions, each mansion having several rooms. She maps out an archetypal path through them, leading to embodied union with God. I also share my own mystical awakening and path, which turned my world upside down again!

I am happy to be guiding people back into their souls. When I teach this work, so many people recognize themselves in what I am saying, and they finally surrender. In Teresa’s words, "Stillness and quietude fill their being for the first time." Nothing is as extraordinary as recognizing your place in this world.

Q&A with Caroline Myss

Kripalu What exactly is a mystic?

Caroline Myss A mystic is a person madly in love with the Divine. A mystic is a person who walks into the mystery of the Divine instead of walking or running away from it, always wanting life to be "safe." A mystic sees with inner vision, preferring to trust beyond the five senses, seeking the mystery instead of the obvious.

Kripalu What does it mean to be called?

Caroline "To be called" means that you are literally chosen to be of service on this earth, and the heavenly forces conspire to let you know it. Being of service means that heaven intends to make use of the power of your soul, your personality, and the fire in your nature. It is not about your occupation. It’s who you are and how you live.

Kripalu What are the signs that a person is being called?

Caroline For some people, it is the feeling that they "are born to do something," yet they continually have a sense of emptiness. They never quite find that "something" and the yearning to find that something simply does not leave them.

For others it is a passion for an inner tranquility, a deep soul tranquility from which you no longer fear standing in your own flesh and bones, from which you no longer fear being alive.

Some people experience random emotional crises, depression, or anxiety that are not attached to any life situations. Still others are called through a transformative spiritual experience or a profound awakening. There are also many, many people out there who know they’ve been called but who are afraid or unsure of committing.

When a person experiences a mystical call, it is important to begin to "listen" inwardly on a daily basis through prayer and self-reflection, clearing the debris of the mind’s chatter and gradually opening a light shaft for guidance. Begin to gradually open your heart, and, when you are ready, consciously accept the demands of this path and make a decision to walk the path of the mystic.

Kripalu How does answering the call change your life?

Caroline For one thing, you have to be willing to let go of your painful history and live in the present. You have to say good-bye to narcissism and become a spiritual adult. You listen to and honor your mature soul, which knows what it means to serve without feeling neglected and knows how to practice forgiveness and develop compassion.

Kripalu Can you say no?

Caroline You can think you have. We’ll leave it at that.

Kripalu What does the life of a mystic look like?

Caroline A mystic’s life is built around the disciplines of prayer and contemplation, which is what allows us to do our essential inner work. A regular spiritual practice is the cornerstone on which to establish a monastery without walls. There is simply no other way.

A mystic’s life also includes a spiritual director, a qualified mentor who can guide you along your spiritual path. If a spiritual director cannot be found, the next best thing is a friend that qualifies as what Teresa of Avila would describe as a "soul companion," someone wise and worthy enough to honor the awakening of your soul.

The modern mystic may also have a career, a relationship, family, and friends and is able to negotiate inner and outer worlds, moving between the two, deeply present in both. Unlike our ancestors, we are not being asked to live monastic lives of isolation, celibacy, and poverty. Contemporary mystics are active participants in the world, drawing from their connection with God to be of service in the world in the way that only they can be.

To a large extent, mystics are continually in the unknown, waiting for the next right expression of the grace that flows through them. It is an ongoing process of surrender to love, to a life of devotion.

Recommended reading

Difficult to find just 40 years ago, books with the writings of spiritual mystics are now best-sellers. The most widely read mystics include

  • Rumi and Hafiz, Sufi masters
  • Rabindranath Tagore, Hindu poet
  • Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese poet
  • Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Merton, and Teresa of Avila, Christian mystics.

Caroline Myss is a unique guide through our contemporary spiritual landscape. She enlightens, educates, and challenges as she paves the way for us to come to a new understanding of ourselves. Her best-selling books, including Anatomy of the Spirit, Sacred Contracts, and Invisible Acts of Power, have been read by millions. Her cutting-edge energy work and collaboration with Harvard-trained neurosurgeon C. Norman Shealy opened up energy medicine as a new field of study and practice. www.myss.com

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in the Winter 2006–2007 issue of the Kripalu catalog. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.