The Path of Spiritual Delight
The important thing is not to think much but to love much. ~ St. Theresa of Avila
In her writings entitled The Interior Castle, the mystic St. Theresa of Avila lays out the challenges of her own spiritual practice, observing with consternation how "the mind flies about quickly." She describes a particular prayerful moment when her soul rested in God, but "my mind, on the other hand, was distracted." Theresa's life of contemplation allows her to observe the nature of what Buddhists call the "monkey mind."
Teresa unpacks some tenants of mindfulness, reminding seekers that the mind's thoughts do not reflect reality. Theresa describes how people devoted to a life of prayer sometimes give up because of the mind's relentless activity. Sympathetic, she explains that sometimes when we engage in spiritual practice "we cannot stop our mind; and then our faculties of the soul go with it, and we think we are lost and have wasted the time spent before God." Anyone on the spiritual path has experienced these moments of believing the mind's proclamations of confusion or disconnection.
But Theresa tells us to take heart, insisting that "Terrible trials are suffered because we don't understand ourselves...this lack of knowledge causes the afflictions of many people who engage in prayer." Theresa echoes a main tenant of Eastern spiritual philosophy: we suffer because of ignorance. Feelings of disconnection or failure on the spiritual path simply reveal the mind's ignorance (avidya) of ultimate truth. The cure for that ignorance is spiritual practice, which gradually reveals our inner reality as the radiant Truth of God, the boundless love of pure consciousness.
Theresa, as well as all mystics across traditions, encourages us to dive into the mystery with abandon. Cultivating devotion and love allows us to leave behind the mind's doubt, distress, and fear, listening instead to the guiding call of the soul's deepest longing. That brings us to the place where we realize — as Theresa puts it — that we have always been "completely joined with Him."