“A state of great quiet and deep satisfaction” – St. Teresa

by Craig Pearson, Ph.D. on June 9, 2011

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St. Teresa of Avila
1515–1582 • Spain

Born in Avila, in west-central Spain, St. Teresa was one of the greatest women of the Roman Catholic church. She wrote a number of influential books, including The Interior Castle and her autobiography, now considered masterpieces. St. Teresa initiated the Carmelite Reform, which restored the original contemplative character of the Carmelite order, and inspired St. John of the Cross to undertake a similar reform for men. In 1970 she was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI, one of just 33 individuals, and the first woman, to be thus honored.

Church window at the Convent of St, Teresa, Ávila de los Caballeros, Spain

In her book, Spiritual Relations, St. Teresa describes the following experience:

My soul at once becomes recollected and I enter the state of quiet or that of rapture, so that I can use none of my faculties and senses. . . .

Everything is stilled, and the soul is left in a state of great quiet and deep satisfaction. [1]

When she says “My soul at once becomes recollected,” she uses the term recollected in a traditional spiritual sense, indicating that her mind and senses, normally directed outward, now turn within. She then experiences what she calls “the state of quiet or that of rapture,” in which her mind becomes silent, suffused with bliss, and deeply fulfilled.

The Ecstasy of St Teresa by Bernini, basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

In the same book, St. Teresa describes the same experience again:

These interior things of the spirit are so hard to describe, and still more so in such a way as to be understood, especially as they are so quickly gone. . . .

There sometimes springs an interior peace and quietude which is full of happiness, for the soul is in such a state that it thinks there is nothing that it lacks. Even speaking — by which I mean vocal prayer and meditation — wearies it: it would like to do nothing but love. This condition lasts for some time, and may even last for long periods. [2]

Here again she emphasizes the peace, silence, happiness, and utter fulfillment that characterize this experience.

St. Teresa’s experiences remind us of the fourth state of consciousness, Transcendental Consciousness, that comes with Transcendental Meditation practice. Mental activity settles inward, moving beyond perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. We experience an inner quiescence. The mind awake and alert, the ocean of consciousness now aware only of itself, of its own unbounded nature.

Painting of St. Teresa of Avila by the Dutch painter and architect Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

This experience may last for just a moment or two and comes so naturally that we are scarcely aware of it. Or it may last for longer periods. In either case, the practical benefits of this inward settling of the mind are almost beyond description. As hundreds of research studies on the Transcendental Meditation technique have made clear, regular experience of this fourth state of consciousness integrates brain functioning, reduces stress, improves health, increases creativity and intelligence, develops one’s personality, promotes fulfilling personal relationships — even improves the quality of life for others, whether they meditate or not.

For St. Teresa as for so many others, this experience was the goal of the spiritual quest. We are fortunate that Maharishi has brought to light, from the world’s oldest continuous tradition of knowledge, a simple, natural, effortless technique — the Transcendental Meditation technique — by which anyone can readily have this experience and enjoy its innumerable benefits.

The experience of the fourth state of consciousness, Transcendental Consciousness, is the birthright of everyone, Maharishi emphasized — and this experience forms the gateway to still higher states of consciousness, more exalted realms of human development, each bringing a new world of knowledge, experience, and life-nourishing power. Thanks to Maharishi, it is now possible for every human being, whatever their age or education, whatever their religion or culture, to develop their God-given potential, to rise in higher states of consciousness and help transform our world.

REFERENCES
[1] Teresa of Avila, The Complete Works of St. Teresa of Jesus, Vol. 1, trans. Edgar Allison Peers (London/New York/Harrisburg: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002), 306.
[2] The Complete Works of St. Teresa of Jesus, 327.

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  2. Connecting with the “deep soul” –
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  3. Alfred, Lord Tennyson – “A state of transcendent wonder”
  4. George Harrison: Remembering “The Quiet Beatle”
  5. Plato – “And this state of the soul is called wisdom”
  • tim

    I note, regarding this sentence from the article: “My soul at once becomes recollected,” she uses the term recollected in a traditional spiritual sense, indicating that her mind and senses, normally directed outward, now turn within.”
    I respectfully disagree with this assumption. What she wrote about was something that only a completely Awakened individual can describe or understand; where the mind leaves the picture completely and pure consciousness is experienced as all there is. For anyone who is not Awakened, or who has not had a lengthy experience of Awakening to try to understand this would repeatedly try to put it into concepts. It is not for an intellectual to try to understand or translate her works. Only One who has experienced something of the like can know what St Teresa writes about, and not try to change the meaning of it. The best way to be with her works is to just be with it as it is. However, the translations and commentaries that I have seen are all over the map. I highly recommend translations of her works by The Benedictines of Stanbrook, revised by the Very Rev. Fr. Benedict Zimmerman, O.C.D. which by far totally captures the essence of her writings in English. Anything else I have found is too conceptualized and to the point where her works become severely altered. Just stick with what She wrote, and not so much what others have to say about it.

    • Craig Pearson

      Tim, you make a good point — that the description of the experience is not the experience itself. This point has been made over and over again by people who have had transcendental experiences. Like St. Teresa, they have tried their best to describe their experiences in words, only to conclude that their words have failed. But their words have enormous value nonetheless. They remind us that that there is a treasure within each of us, an ocean of pure consciousness, pure bliss, pure divinity. They inspire us that this inner treasure can be experienced directly. They confirm that this is a universal experience and that everyone has this potential.

      We are living at a threshold period in history today when we have
      (a) a simple and effortless technique for transcending and having this experience [the Transcendental Meditation technique],
      (b) an abundance of scientific research detailing the physiological and psychological changes that occur as a result of this practice — confirming that the experience is not just a fantasy or a mood but something with a distinctive physiological basis, and
      (c) a growing number of people who are having this experience along with the ensuing benefits — and who now can read passages like St. Teresa’s and say, “Yes, that is quite like what I am experiencing — I understand from my own experience what she is describing.”

      You are right that if one sees this experience and responds only intellectually, with attempts to “try to put it into concepts,” one would be missing the boat. On the other hand, St. Teresa’s words, like the words of so many others through history, can serve as guideposts, arrows, inspirations to the goal — and today they can serve as confirmations that we are in possession of a simple but extraordinary and powerful technology of consciousness that can be life- and world-transforming.

      St. Teresa’s experience does not have to be a matter of chance or restricted to a handful of reclusive mystics. It is available to everyone.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

      -Craig Pearson Ph.D.

      • tim

        Hi Craig, You are spot on. I love your writings; and am a long time supporter of the Maharishi Purusha Program. Wish I wasn’t so far away (NZ) as I would certainly be sending my daughters to MUM. My point however is that Her mind did not turn “inward”; She became free of the mind. In the other truer translation of Her works, which I mentioned earlier, this becomes more clear to the reader. Actually, the mind is holding us as prisoner. Consciousness is actually in charge, but the mind (the doer) thinks that it is, which is the illusion and the source of all problems. There is no doer. Mind is karma; and is composed of fear. So to be Free from the mind is the Awakening.
        I totally agree with what you are saying. St Teresa Herself was the first to point out Her own difficulty with putting the Oneness that She experienced with Her Soul (which She called the Sun) into words. She obviously was at One with the Divine, which was the reason She was able to write what She wrote.
        Also, because of difficulties with the other translations of Her works, which are a bit off the track, in actuality there is very little about her that was “traditional”. She put Herself in grave danger by attempting to open a convent based purely on mediation and prayer, which was unheard of in the church, who immediately put a stop to it. She could have been put to death in those days (back in the 16th century) for suggesting such a thing, and She knew that. Meditation is still considered dangerous by (many) churches even today, which is obviously absurd and totally fear based. Back then the Church didn’t want anyone to be Awake. However, the Catholic Church eventually sainted her and has / is recognizing many others well deservedly, while many of the Protestant based churches have rejected the Saints, slowing progress.
        All I can say is Jai Guru Dev, with unbounded thanks to Maharishi for giving me insight and for helping everyone so profoundly with His very simple deep meditation techniques, which knows no politics, no geography and no religion, and creates good will and good cheer on the planet. Creating Unity, smiles, and kind acts throughout the world. Yes, we are Living at the threshold of world peace in Unity.
        Very respectfully, tim

        • Craig Pearson

          Tim, I was really inspired to read this further comment — thanks so much. Thanks also for telling me a little more about yourself. I appreciate your deep knowledge of St. Teresa and the challenges she faced for expressing the very experience that rests at the heart of all religion.

          As for the point about the mind turning inward — I think we are talking about the same thing and the only distinctions concern semantics. In your previous note you have the beautiful phrase: “the mind leaves the picture completely and pure consciousness is experienced as all there is.” This exactly describes the experience of what Maharishi calls Transcendental Consciousness, and what goes by other names in other traditions. I was only trying to indicate that there is a process that leads to this experience. One might say mental activity settles down, until the mind becomes silent while remaining awake . . . or that the senses, normally directed outward, turn inward until one transcends sensory experience altogether . . . or that one experiences increasingly subtle levels of thought until one experiences the very subtlest level of thought and then moves beyond thought entirely. All of these describe the same thing. But once one has transcended — that experience has nothing
          to do with senses or mental activity. It’s exactly as you so lucidly describe it: “pure consciousness is experienced as all there is.” This is the Self, pure consciousness, infinite, unbounded, beyond space and time and causation.

          If you ever get to the US, please come to Fairfield and let’s plan to get together.

          Craig

  • http://Offthepagepoetry.com Raven Garland

    Thank you for this article. I was just thinking of Saint Teresa today. I think I will find a copy is The Interior Castle. It is a wonderful title isn’t it? Thank you again.

  • EDWARD DOWNEY

    Approaching which words turn back. JAI GURU DEV.EDWARD

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