No matter that I understand synchronicity to be an integral part of the Way … it still continues to awe and delight me when I experience it. Going to Avila proved to be a wonderful synchronistic happening for me. Here´s the way it happened.
When we were planning our trip to Spain, Andrew and I decided that we wanted to visit some other city in Spain after completing the camino in Santiago. His request was to find a castle where we could spend a night. So while googling those sorts of possibilities online I found a castle hotel in Avila, which happens to be a city enroute to Madrid so I booked it. From there the plot thickens….
I did not realize upon booking the castle hotel that Avila is indeed the very village where Teresa de Avila lived and died. Teresa de Avila is a Saint who lived in the 15th century who was renowned for her spontaneous visions and visitations with the Christ Energy. I had read her confessions a few years ago and been deeply affected.
By the time we arrived in Avila I'd figured out that this indeed was her homeplace and so was quite excited to have an opportunity to learn more about her. And indeed Avila is a beautiful place. Imagine the setting; Located in high desert mountains, the old city is set on a hill and completely encompassed within a 30 foot high stone wall that was built by the Romans in the 11th century. It is possible to stroll along the top of the wall all the way around the inner city. Standing atop the wall (can you imagine the Saint walking here daily – alone in her dialogue with Christ?) one looks down upon the ancient stone castles, homes, churches and cathedrals and see the red, tiled rooftops and incredible stonework of the Spanish people who still live and work here. Everywhere you look there are flowers of vibrant color; roses and lavender, geraniums and bougainvilla climbing the walls hewn with the incredible craftsmanship of ancient times. To enter the old city, you must drive through an arched opening originally designed to admit chariots and wagons. Only one car (preferably a small one) enters at a time. The streets are cobblestone and large blocks. What makes this city even more intriguing is that it was constructed by the Romans directly on top of an even older civilization. Excavating there has revealed a whole town beneath the surface. Throughout the inner city you can still see the stone monoliths and sculptures of these ancients.
As I've already mentioned the hotel Parador, where we stayed, is situated in a castle. It was built in the 1600's, shortly after Teresa de Avila's death in the late 1500's. It is immense and truly beautiful with courtyards and incredible rooms and floors of stone made cozy with carpets and tapestries of Spanish design.
We checked into our room after a long day of driving from Santiago de Compostela and I laid down across the bed to rest a few minutes before exploring the city. I fell into a deep rest-state almost immediately and was “visited” by Teresa de Avila! She appeared to me, very alive and animated in my waking dream state … I say “waking” because I felt awake. We chatted and shared together like old friends. Our visit was abruptly interrupted when Andrew rapped on the door wanting to be let back into our hotel room. I came back up from my restful state suddenly and then could not remember what exactly we had been chatting about. What I was left with was the vivid details of her physical, and very real, presence. I told Andrew immediately that I'd just received a visit by Saint Teresa! I felt so elated to have seen her – as if I´d known and just seen an old, intimate friend. I described her to Andrew, the way she dressed etc… and, of course, when we went over to the museum there she was, just as I'd described, in picture after picture, dressed exactly as I'd seen her – only I'd seen her in third dimension! (I can't remember if I've seen a picture of her before – it seems likely, but never with the sort of detail with which I saw her that day.)
Later, over dinner, I was telling Andrew bits and pieces that I remembered about her from the one book I'd read about her. I found myself describing a woman who Teresa had described in her writing. This woman (whose name I cannot recall) had been a patron of sorts who had supported Teresa, believing in her visions when others had doubted and questioned their source. I heard myself saying that, even though this woman had not been of a religious order of any sort she had been a strongly spiritual person who Teresa had turned to for support and friendship …. “They were close friends …”, I said and then suddenly felt a rush of recognition … could it be? Perhaps so … maybe Teresa had indeed shown up to say hello to me, her old friend from that time. The way we were chatting certainly felt that way … the way old friends visit after so much time apart!
Of course, this is just a story. Who knows if there is any truth here or if it is just a wonderful imagining? I certainly do not claim it as fact … but I do know that coming to Avila was not accidental or coincidental …there are no such mistakes. And I do know that I experienced the presence of Teresa de Avila as vividly as if she had been standing beside me in flesh and bone. You decide what that might may or may not mean.
Whether or not Teresa and I knew each other in times past, I know that her energy has been an important spiritual connection for me. A couple of years ago when I was reading her words (along with St John of the Cross) I fell into a spiritual darkness. I felt a sort of despair because reading them I felt unworthy of ever being able to experience the Grace of Spirit as they had. These Christian mystics found the Way to Christ through the dark night of the soul. They believed the only way to know Christ was through sharing His cross of suffering – in other words, through poverty and suffering. This felt confusing and difficult. I feared I did not have the willingness, or stamina to go that path and that saddened me. I wanted to have an intense experience of knowing Source- as they had.
I stayed in this dark inner place for several months, feeling confused and sad. Then I was led to the work of Eckhart Tolle and others like him. They pointed the way to a new understanding – one that brought relief and greater understanding. I began to see that berating and hating me was not the way to “lose self in order to know God”. The mystics are right in that this is necessary but it does not have to come through suffering and self flagellation. Theirs is a path that evolved out of their particular religious beliefs. And I have seen that what I BELIEVE is what must be. If I believe I must suffer the wounds of Christ in order to know Him then it must be so.
I have found a different interpretation of poverty and detachment however. It is one that comes through joyful release of attachment to my belief in the many stories to which I have attached in the past. These stories that define and limit my essence. These are that which must be crucified -not through self hatred, but simply through the recognition that they are not real.
There is a parable attributed as one that Saint Francis told. It goes like this:
There once was a godly man who died and found himself outside the gates of Heaven. He beat on the gates and begged admission. God called out, “Who's there?” and the man replied, “It is me, Lord.” God replied, “There is no room here for two of us, go away!” And the man found himself back on earth again. He worked this time more diligently to be a good and godly man and when he died he found himself, once again standing at the gates of Heaven. Again, he beat on the gates begging admission. Again God called out, “Who's there?” and the man replied, “It's me, Lord, let me in.” But again he was turned away with the words, “There is not room here for two, go away!” And the man found himself yet again on earth. This time he aligned his life in every way with God and when he died an old man, he stood, yet again, before the heavenly gates. This time when God called out, “Who's there?” … the man replied, “Just Thee Lord, only Thee.” and the gates opened to reveive him.
This is the final destination for us all – that we give up every single idea of ourselves as distinct from Him. This realization then is the ticket home. May you be blessed in knowing it as your own reality.
I am homeward bound today. Until I see you in the flesh, bon camino-