On My Sister Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle

When I shared with my best girlfriend that I was reading Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, Kacie held up her copy and said, “This one?”  I laughed, “Yes!”  She is reading The Interior Castle for a paper she is writing on women and metaphor.  Kacie and I meet every Monday for an 11AM zoom call of about 20 minutes.  She is in the second year of a hybrid MFA program in poetry writing, so we frequently talk books.  “Did you know she’s the patron saint of migraine?” I asked (she did not know).  Kacie and I both live with chronic migraine and she smiled at Teresa of Avila joining our sisterhood.

Kacie and I try to go on a few “faith retreats” each year.  We pack up the camping gear and head to a hidden campsite at Lake Murray down near the Texas border.  We call our trips faith retreats because during one in which I had the migraine, I yelled at a noisy Christian (unspecified) youth group, “EXCUSE ME, WE ARE TRYING TO HAVE A FAITH RETREAT” to shoo them off.  The Native American tradition in Oklahoma mean you can just say you are practicing your “faith”, and folks will show you respect.  Kacie and I have never had a faith retreat not interrupted by a migraine—mine last half a day and come with head clanking and violent vomiting, hers last days and feel of pressure around the eyes.

Every faith retreat features a daily period of silent writing.  Kacie writes poetry by hand and is always productive, I write in my mind, describing every move I make in tormenting detail, expanding on details within details within details, problem-solving my way to the perfect description of the teeniest speck of dirt on my hand.  Many wonderful ideas come to me, but I do not write them down.  I believe that I will remember the ones worth keeping.  From this practice, I found a connection to Teresa of Avila’s castle in Mirabai Starr’s (Kacie loves her) description of the castle as a “perfect place” where one lets themself be free of failure.  Silent writing time with Kacie always feels like entering that castle.

I knew I liked Teresa because in the first paragraph of her book she complained of her “clattering” head.  I know just the clattering, and clattering exactly it is!  Reading the first chapter, I wondered if Kacie and I would invite her to one of our faith retreats.  I adored that Teresa got to live her life with women and that she wrote to women, and as she explained her wild notion that some magic voice spoke through her, I was charmed!  I believe there is an unknown force pushing space further apart, and Kacie salts the earth before she burns anything, and in my mind today’s Teresa d’Avila definitely always votes democrat, a criterion I hold before I allow intimacy.

As wild as our ideas are, my relationship with my higher power is fundamentally different from Teresa of Avila’s. Where she settles into prayer and worship to spur meditation that brings creativity, I sit in conversation with my higher power when I meditate.  My higher power is not a person, it is an idea—liberation, and it does not teach me painful lessons, nor does it ask me to adore it.  Moreover, my higher power is not a partner to my life, it is infused throughout my existence, but I believe Teresa of Avila and I both check in frequently with our spiritual guides to make important decisions during non-meditation time.

I agree with Teresa of Avila that meditation is not about “beating the mind into submission.”  I, too, find that the more I tell my mind not to think about something, the more I think about it.  I can imagine Teresa and me sitting in our floats in the calm, red lake, commiserating on the enslavement of silent meditation.  Though our faith practices are profoundly different, I have found great utility in a similar “prayer” practice.