Each of the seven mansions represents an elevated place in the soul for self-examination and encounters with God. At each mansion you increase your understanding of your soul and gain a deeper capacity to experience and know God. Each mansion represents a stage of development and self-discovery in which you peel off layer upon layer as you go in room after room. Your task is to enter these rooms, clear out the debris, and discover hidden treasures and untapped inner gifts that are meant to recognize and develop as part of your soul. This is the essential work of the soul-journer.
The world is as seductive as it is frightening, and that is the paradox you will confront in the First Mansion. You will try to figure out a way to serve two masters and get away with it. That is, you will try to remain attached to the power dynamics of your physical life while attempting to jumpstart wondrous mystical experiences. You’ll soon discover that this won’t work, but it does lead you to realize that you have a relationship to the archetypal pattern of chaos. When a situation becomes unreasonable and uncontrollable, chaos erupts. You, too, can be unreasonable and uncontrollable, so, not only does chaos happen in your life, you also create chaos, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes deliberately. Ultimately you create chaos as a means of avoiding a confrontation with truth or divine guidance. These are some of the matters and spiritual directives that you will examine in the rooms of the First Mansion.
In the Second Mansion, you aim to become more discerning about your thoughts, motivations, and personal companions. We all need to be more discriminating about whom we allow into the circles that influence our souls. Beyond your friendships and social interactions, you need to become aware of how your psyche and soul are changing, of their shifts in perceptions. As you become more awakened, you may become psychically hypersensitive and reactive to other people’s emotional energy, to highly charged negative atmospheres, to stresses in people around you, or even to the great tensions of the planet. Teresa warned her nuns that as they progressed in their Castles, they would become vulnerable in some ways to other people’s emotional, psychological, mental , and spiritual debris. You need to learn, as an emerging mystic, how to protect your energy field.
In the Third Mansion, it is essential that you come to understand how you perceive the nature of reality, because that reflects the content of your mind—your beliefs, perceptions, and prejudices. Teresa of Ávila lived long before the Age of Reason, so, in her time, the soul was immanent—constantly present and active within the individual body, community, and nature. The divine, too, was a constant companion that infiltrated the whole of life, whether you were in a conversation with a friend, in a public meeting place, or in a private thought and prayer. It was impossible to keep secrets from the active—though invisible—God in Teresa’s theology. The reality of God was everywhere.
For Teresa, entering the Fourth Mansion represented crossing yet another bridge, but this time it is inside the Castle, where you enter what she called “the realm of the supernatural.” Finding words to convey adequately the experience of cosmic consciousness was frustrating for Teresa. Even today, with a sophisticated psychological and theological vocabulary, we still cannot convey the stratospheric ecstasies reported by mystics who have attained transcendence. Teresa, like most mystics, relied on the use of metaphors to communicate profound insights. To her, this state was as if a heavenly water began to flow from a deep inner spring, a source that has always been there.
In a workshop, when I first brought up the Fifth Mansion and its challenge of dissolving in holiness, one student gave me a look and said, “I can”t imagine what that means, but I’m completely seduced by the notion of dissolving into divine light. When I visualize what it could be, I feel as if I’m releasing burdens and old rubbish and floating in divine fluffy clouds. Sometimes I envy those saints because I think, What is it that you experienced? Who and what is that God that so captured you? I mean, they were in love beyond love.” This man’s face had just touched the power of this mystical experience.
Although the Sixth Mansion is but one away from the Seventh, where divine marriage is discussed, the mystical sojourner is still like an initiate: so close to God and yet so far. Revealing so many secrets of the soul draws evil as well as light, for light always attracts the dark. Final tests and obstacles arise in this mansion, as if you are going into the desert for forty days—a final walk of fire, a last cleansing. Simultaneously, the interior life and insights are heightened further, as if God is stretching your consciousness to its full capacity. You must contain your humanness and divinity, shadow and light, all consciously. Your soul may be flooded with realizations from the collective unconsciousness or divine illumination, which can cause agony and ecstasy. Your challenge is to find the stamina to maintain your human and heavenly connections with prayer.
In the Seventh Mansion, your soul sheds its earthly skin and becomes completely absorbed by the presence of God. The essence of mystical marriage, for Teresa, was two streams of light coming into a room from two windows, forming one bright river in which the boundaries distinguishing the two vanish. It was also like rain falling into a pool of water, leaving no trace of the individual raindrops in the water. Still, for all her exquisite attempts to lift us into her mystical world, we can only observe her experience and try to follow. For the nature of mystical experience is an intimacy between only the mystic and the divine. Ultimately, as you might discover through your mystical experience, you cannot communicate in words the sensation of the divine entering the walls of your soul any more than you could sell acreage in paradise.