I do not know if I have explained this clearly: self-knowledge is so important that, even if you were raised right up to the heavens, I should like you never to relax your cultivation of it; so long as we are on this earth, nothing matters more than humility. And so I repeat that it is a very good thing — excellent, indeed — to begin by entering the room where humility is acquired rather than by flying off to the other rooms. (Teresa of Avila: First Mansions, Chapter 1)
Self-knowledge is indispensable to the spiritual life and Teresa says we should never relax our cultivation of it. In this post I will share five principles of self-knowledge. Subsequent posts will include ways to cultivate self-knowledge.
Five principles of self-knowledge:
Invest time in self-knowledge: When exploring the Interior Castle, Teresa says the soul should not “remain for a long time in one single room . . . unless it is in the room of self-knowledge.” In addition to our spiritual progress, time spent on self-knowledge also benefits our social health, emotional maturity, and leadership.
The spiritually mature must still invest in self-knowledge: No matter how much an athlete develops their skills they must always “Be Brilliant at the Basics” or their performance declines. Spiritually, no matter how much we have matured, we must cultivate self-knowledge and humility. Teresa says, “However high a state the soul may have attained, self-knowledge is incumbent upon it”.
Self-knowledge produces humility: Teresa says, “nothing matters more to us than humility” and “without humility all will be lost”. Humility is the central character trait of the Christian (see John 13. 1-20 and Philippians 2.1-11). We cannot be humble without self-knowledge.
Self-knowledge remedies fearfulness: If humility is the central character trait of the Christian, fearfulness is the anti-trait. Without self-knowledge we cannot escape “the slough of cowardice, pusillanimity and fear.” Paradoxically, the one without self-knowledge never stops thinking of themselves and is driven by fear.
Self-knowledge requires perseverance: In these first mansions we are easily distracted and anchored in spiritual immaturity by “the reptiles“. We must press on to the second mansion or the reptiles will counteract our progress. We also face spiritual warfare and can be “tricked by all kinds of deceptions”. There are some who attribute nearly any obstacle in their life to the devil but give little attention to one of the devil’s greatest weapons — tricking us into self-deception. Once self-deception takes root, the devil has little work to do.
Teresa concludes: “I have said a great deal elsewhere, daughters, about the harm which comes to us through our not properly understanding this matter of humility and self-knowledge . . . it is a matter of the greatest importance to us.”
Self-knowledge Part II (click here)
Self-knowledge Part III (click here)
Self-knowledge Part IV (click here)
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