If I’d lived my life by what others were thinkin’, the heart inside me would’ve died.
But I was just too stubborn to ever be governed by enforced insanity,
Someone had to reach for the risin’ star
I guess it was up to me. (Bob Dylan)*
In the Prologue to the Interior Castle, Teresa of Avila notes her “obedience” to her spiritual guides and the enabling power of this obedience to write something as enduring as the Interior Castle.
The idea of “spiritual obedience” or similar types of obedience can and should cause us to recoil. We, rightly, want to maintain our independent thinking and action. The term “obedience” suggests a surrender of our independent will to someone else, a group, an institution, or an agenda. That’s dangerous! Our life is not an experiment for incompetent and/or unsupervised “spiritual guides”.
Teresa writes in other portions of the Interior Castle about being highly selective in whom she “listened” to. Our well-being usually requires some sort of guidance and direction. Without guidance, we can continue repeating the same mistakes for decades or unthinkingly jump on board with the latest clever idea we’ve heard. If we don’t have reliable guides we can also fall into a different type of “blind obedience” — enculturation. We believe we’re going our own way, but we’re going everyone else’s way.
I recently listened to therapist Lori Gottlieb (Tim Ferris and other podcasts) describing the problem of finding guidance or redirection in life without a therapist (or some alternative). She explains that when we rely on family and friends, they may tell us what we want to hear or encourage us to change what serves their own interest. We need a healthy “outside voices” to thrive. Francis Bacon indicated the same thing when he said: “Books speak plain when counselors blanch.” Good books and good guides do not change their insights based on our whims or have an agenda for our lives.
A quality guide, in any walk of life, helps us find our own voice, our own health, our own power and autonomy, and our own vision. Warren Bennis captured this delicate balance of merging guidance with independent thinking in describing television producer Norman Lear’s approach to vision and leadership. He said, “There are four steps in the process behind Norman Lear’s success in mastering the context: (1) becoming self-expressive; (2) listening to the inner voice; (3) learning from the right mentors; and (4) giving oneself over to a guiding vision.” ** This combination of listening to self, having the right mentors, and “giving” oneself to a guiding vision is what we want to capture.
Without “obedience” to her spiritual guides, Teresa never writes The Interior Castle. Without discernment, listening to her own inner voice, having her own vision, and carefully selecting her guides, she doesn’t become the person that can write a book like the Interior Castle.
*Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-1985 (p. 371). Knoff Publishing.
**Bennis. On Becoming a Leader (p. 29). Perseus Book Group-A. Kindle Edition.