It's only when we shed our love affair with the mind and let the soul come in that we can hope to heal ourselves and our world, says Caroline Myss. Here she speaks with Margaret Evans
"Let nothing disturb the silence of this moment with you, dear God. Hover over me." - St Teresa of Avila
"Change is the only constant." Since the Greek philosopher Heraclitus shared his insight around 500 BC, it's tempting to say that nothing's changed. But that would be to deny the extraordinary rapidity of change that, if anything, seems to be gaining even more momentum as we mark the end of the first decade of the 21st century.
Just pause for a moment and think how much your life has changed in the last 10 to 15 years. How what you do now would have been beyond your wildest imaginings. In 1995, I began my first business and was one of the few people I knew with email. I paid Microsoft Network several dollars per download! I counted my emails, just as well, in single digits. When I moved to NOVA in mid 2001, one server handled all incoming emails. Now as we individually groan under the daily arrivals in our inboxes in two offices, it seems ridiculous, quaintly old fashioned. Perhaps we were!
Such high tech advances are just part of the evolving landscape of our lives (much of it good, much more of it confronting and, if we're truthful, frightening. Global warming, species extinction, the spectre of systematic terrorism, shaky financial markets, epidemics of lifestyle disease, the rampant greed of big business reaching into our daily lives, dysfunctional families, even the momentum shift in the world order from West to East......
We could collapse into a state of overwhelm, and it's likely that's a factor in the current epidemic of depression and spiritual distress that's manifesting in our Western world. Or we could centre ourselves and allow the realisation to sink deep within that we are blessed to be living at a time of change so momentous that it becomes transformative.
One influential thinker and healer who's addressed this evolving landscape, the deep seated awareness I think we all must have that our lives are poised on the edge of an orbit we can barely grasp, is the American medical intuitive and mystic Caroline Myss.
In Australia recently for the I Can Do It workshops in Perth and Sydney, she both thrilled us with her vision and, with searing honesty, challenged us to embrace it with her.
The speed of change, she told us "is now incomprehensible". "All change is now immediate where once we had time to reflect." The phenomenon is magnified further, as she explains in her latest book Defy Gravity, because all change is now global in its impact with a profound capacity to affect individuals, communities, nations, and the environment.
"These are the conditions of a new era," writes Myss, "an age of interconnectedness with threads so tightly woven that each of us must now truly consider our role in this life as significant to the whole of life." In that one phrase she gives meaning, and at the same time, extends responsibility, to each one of us.
A key point in both her talk and our later discussion after her Sydney appearance, was her conviction that this new era marks the end of the Age of Reason and the dawn of a new age of spirituality. The mind, says Myss, has reached its use-by-date and now it's time for the soul to take over. "It's interesting," says this modern day mystic, "that the Age of Reason came at the end, the denouement of the age of great mystics, people like Teresa of Avila, Clare of Assisi and St John of the Cross, at the end of the 1500s. It's then that the soul shuts down and takes a back seat to the mind.
"We begin then to think we can reason our way through everything. And now we've reached this age where we can no longer reason our way and the soul has to take over. We've come exactly 180 degrees and in order for us to resolve the crises the world is in, we have to move from the Age of Reason. And we've never been so unreasonable."
One major limitation, she suggests, is that our 21st century model of reason doesn't allow for any variation on the right/wrong duality. "We don't have a posture that people can possibly grasp that two sides can be right and have opposite positions, an antinomial position which means 'against the known' position.
"Opposite does not mean right or wrong. There is a higher plane where truth means both sides can be right and opposite. It's a transcendent posture where two opposing truths that seem to be in opposition to each other are, in fact, harmonious."
She sees a case in point in the apparent polarised positions of Palestine and Israel. "It would appear that they cannot coexist in Israel because of two opposing mythologies that sees one as the chosen people. But they both come from the Abrahamic peoples and, in fact, they both regard themselves as the chosen people. And throw Christianity in there as well. They all believe they're the chosen people.
"In fact, their truths are not opposing. The core truths are, in fact, completely supportive. But if you get to the soul of their religion, you would see they don't oppose each other at all." Tragically though, the truth "is caught in the politics".
Myss leaves us in no doubt about her views on religion: "they're just costume parties". The limitations of formal religions have fostered the illusion over centuries that "God only lives in this planet. All our religions are Earth-centric and the ultimate Earth mythology is that we run the Universe.
"The truth they do hold that is universal is that all of us are seeking to understand the spiritual journey that is our life here; that to be kind and loving seems to work out better than the opposite; to be sharing and benevolent seem to produce better results than to not be that way to a fellow human being. It just seems to be."
It illustrates the universal truth that, "What is in one is in the whole. What is above is below."
"So in praying for you I'm actually praying for me. And in praying for me, I'm actually praying for you." It's essentially the same idea as the Bodhichitta vow of Tibetan Buddhism where the goal of the seeker is to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Or as expressed in the poetic phrase, "A rising tide loves all ships."
Caroline Myss's passion has taken on a new urgency with her realisation as a blinding truth that the soul is crucial to the healing process: "Otherwise it's a lost cause."
Defy Gravity describes her own moment of illuminating change at a workshop to promote her then latest work Entering the Castle based on St Teresa of Avila's "interior castle" image to describe the inner soul. Her realisation that her words alone were failing to convey the awe of St Teresa's vision -"that my listeners were craving an actual mystical experience" - led her to introduce prayer to her workshops. And since that day, says Myss, it is only prayer in specific workshops that has been the catalyst for healing, so that she now has reached her own personal turning point in being comfortable in calling herself "healer", as well as "writer" and 'teacher".
She describes an apparently miraculous healing that arose after her breakthrough workshop in Austin, Texas where she first promoted herself as a healer. Eight months later, a young woman who had been at the Austin event introduced herself and related her story. She had gone to Austin with a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer and the workshop represented her last hope. Afterward, she prayed every day in her "interior castle" for a healing. Within two months, not only had the tumour disappeared, but the damage it had caused to her neurological system had also repaired itself. The woman gave thanks that her marriage, too, had recovered from the trauma of her illness.
This remarkable experience among others has convinced Myss that, in this age governed above all by reason, people are "missing a sense of awe in their lives, a connection to the sacred - a connection they can't make through their intellects. Only the soul has the power to bring the body back to life."
As she writes in Defy Gravity: "Ultimately, healing is the result of a mystical act of surrender, an awakening that transcends any religion. It is an intimate dialogue of truth between the individual and the Divine." And that dialogue, she tells us, is only possible through prayer.
It's in the context of denial of the transformative power of the soul that Caroline Myss levels criticism at our own holistic health industry - and I believe it's something we should heed coming as it does from a true visionary in our field.
As she explains in her Introduction to Defy Gravity, she believes that as a society we haven't "fully animated the mind-body-spirit trinity" simply because "we are still enamoured of the more familiar power of the mind and intimidated by the less familiar, the mystical and transformational regions of the soul." In talking to me, she's more blunt: "The holistic industry speaks only in terms of energy - energy, energy, energy! Energy has no sacredness to it. I may as well plug in a lamp - that's energy."
She goes further: "And it talks about energy specifically to avoid the sacred. And you don't have to pray. And you don't have to take your shoes off on sacred ground. You don't have to do anything and God can still be a hobby. Energy never gives you any guidance does it?"
While I digest that broadside, I know how much I've been moved by her impassioned talk to a large Perth audience (the long book signing queue afterwards and in Sydney too showed me I was only one of many) and the resonant truths of her book. Just the moment or two she devoted to prayer with her favourite Teresa of Avila offerings has stayed with me - and silencing my ridiculously rational and interfering mind, I know in my heart she's right.
"A true spiritual path," Myss continues on familiar ground, "is a path of illumination and inner simplicity. It's a search for truth, not a search for stuff."
While Australia is an undeniably materialistic society, I can't help but think that there are many people within our holistic industry who have begun to move away from "stuff" and who would share Myss's condemnation. But let's not kid ourselves and, instead, welcome such an uncompromising challenge.
As the Green Room fills with the event crew, desperate for a late lunch, I venture one final question: "Are you becoming more hopeful for our evolution, our ability to realise our soul truth? Or are we still too limited?"
Caroline Myss fixes me with her customary direct gaze: "Until people study the nature of good and evil with equal devotion, I think we have a long way to go. We are not willing to go deep enough, we like the icing only.
"We need to look at both sides with an equal devotion to examining 'How is this me?" A person has to say, 'Why am I not loving to you and I can't blame my parents'. I have to say, 'Is it because I'm afraid you're going to humiliate me, because I'm greedy for your job?
"I have to go and look at all those shadows because I have to hold myself accountable as to why I am not gracing you, as to why I am not filling this moment of our time together with grace.
"This is the day you have to finally realise that this is what love looks like. Not this schmaltzy nonsense. It's this worker bee stuff right here."
With her signature in my book and an unexpected hug, I'm left thinking that if we'd pushed the mind into the backseat long ago and allowed our soul to sing, how much better off we all would be now!