Listening in With … Caroline Myss

With her 1996 best-seller, Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss outlined how, as a medical intuitive, she sees direct correlations between our issues (including what’s unhealed from our past and what we fear about the future) and our dis-ease in specific parts of our bodies. As she so succinctly puts it, “biography becomes biology.” Since then, Myss has expanded her teaching into a rich and detailed study of archetypes, mysticism, and healing. Below, she talks frankly with Unity Magazine editor Katy Koontz about what it takes to live a congruent life and how that entails not only channeling grace but also giving it.

Katy Koontz: You’ve always been a big proponent of being authentic. I think many of us think we’re being authentic when we’re really not. How can we tell when we’re fooling ourselves?

Caroline Myss: One example is that you’re uncomfortable hearing the truth or speaking the truth. For instance, it’s difficult for many people to even say whether they like the restaurant chosen for dinner. But consider more serious matters, such as if someone says, “I’m going to share something with you—will you keep it to yourself?” and you don’t. What many people don’t realize is that gossip is an act of betrayal. 


KK: Gossiping is ultimately betraying yourself, isn’t it?

CM: Yes, and yet if someone did that to you, you’d erupt. We all would, because no one likes to be betrayed. And we so often don’t realize that’s what we’re doing.


KK: So is awakening to that reality one of the steps in becoming authentic—seeing what’s happening for what it actually is?

CM: First we should ask, what does authentic really mean? It’s such an expansive word, just like consciousness. These are impractical words, hollow reeds. In fact, using the word consciousness has weakened our spiritual backbone. Instead, use a word with some titanium in it—conscience. Conscience has a right and a wrong attached to it, a good and an evil. There’s a sense of the sacred to it. Consciousness is not attached to anything holy or sacred. It’s an anything-goes word, which is why people like it. It’s the ultimate word of irresponsibility. So you want to be authentic? Stop using words that have no meaning, that don’t hold your feet to the fire. Use words that matter. 


KK: You also talk a lot about being congruent. 

CM: Congruent is a much stronger, more laser-sharp word. Congruent means that what you say, what you think, and what you do are in alignment with your spiritual and soul values, so they all work together. To me, authentic is like a noun—you can say something is authentic and it stops there. But congruent is like a verb because it’s an ongoing practice of moving into alignment. To be congruent, you really have to put effort into paying attention to the relationship between what you think, say, and do.

I’ve worked to find ways to deal with people or situations that throw me a curveball, because that’s what the spiritual practice is all about. It’s not about being able to conduct yourself in a meditation or on a retreat. It’s about being in the worst environment and being able to pull from your resources. That’s when it counts.


KK: One major benefit of congruence is the ability to trust that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay—even if the situation isn’t pretty. As you write in Defy Gravity, randomness is the most feared characteristic of God. What’s the key to seeing that all our fretting takes us off course? 

CM: One way is identifying where  you’re not congruent and how frightened you are about it. It’s not as simple as saying, Well, how does an addict heal?” You have to first recognize you’re an addict and how much you like being an addict. You have to own that you like it and that it works for you—and that becoming a nonaddict is not something you want to do, because if you wanted to do it, you would’ve done it yesterday. You’re only doing it now because being an addict has cost you everything. So it’s a forced position. No gambler gives up gambling because they want to. No alcoholic gives up booze because they want to. No liar wants to stop lying. You never want to give up a dark habit. 


KK: Because it’s too comfortable—too known?

CM: People trust the dark far more than they trust the light. They get no buzz off the light. It’s not erotic. It’s not sexy. It’s not sensual. The dark is all those things, and people know how to maneuver in the dark. They know it protects them. They know a lie is safer than the truth. People are afraid of the truth. 

Let’s say you want to tell your husband the truth—and you know, you’re sleeping with this man, you have children with him. But if you want to say something honest to him, you have to have the right setting, wait for the right moment, and pick the right words because the rest of the time you’re not talking truth to each other. You both share a fear that speaking directly about your feelings or your problems could bring the house down—it would be too much for the other person to hear. Remember, he has a truth, as well. Maybe he wants to tell you, “I’m lonely in this marriage. It’s not working for me.” You’d be surprised how many people don’t consider that as a possibility. 


KK: I bet!

CM: We speak self-deceit fluently. We are very good at being manipulative as a way to avoid being truthful. Someone asks if you’re happy with a situation, and you say, “Sure,” when that’s not true. But here’s something to really think about: Another way of saying, “This isn’t true” is saying, “It’s a lie.” People don’t realize how often they lie. Not telling the truth is another way of saying you’re lying. It’s a harsher way, certainly. Nonetheless, it’s the same thing.


KK: Is the first challenge recognizing the truth?

CM: What you’ve got to recognize is that you’re terrified both to be truthful and to hear the truth. When I speak the truth people say, “You’re so direct.” Why is truth considered direct? Why is it considered being blunt? Why is truth considered the sharp knife and lying is considered the butter knife? Why?


KK: You speak frequently about making choices that empower us versus those that disempower us. What many of us don’t initially appreciate is that empowerment isn’t an act of self-importance, because when we disempower ourselves, we can’t help anybody. Can you comment?

CM: Right, self-empowerment is never about self-importance. People always start out asking themselves, What’s mine? What can I have? And then when they go through a crisis and their soul finally takes over and they transform, the question then becomes, What can I give? That’s the place where being congruent becomes the value. Up until that point, congruency is a threat. Deceiving and being clever are what’s important to the ego. Speed is a value. Comfort is a value, as is narcissism. That’s why people have to lose so much, why they have to be crushed, in order to wake up. 


KK: Does everyone go through a dark night of the soul?

CM: I think to some extent, yes. But you have to understand the dark night is a very specific archetypal journey. It is not just feeling bad because your relationship broke up. There’s a landscape to the dark night. The first part is the passive dark night. It’s specifically aimed at the shattering of somebody’s need to have everything about their life be reasonable, to have their way, to think they are so righteous that everything should work out for them. The journey of the dark night is about becoming humble—not being humiliated. 

The second part is the examination of the self. When someone takes a look at the shadow aspects—their relationship with greed, entitlement, envy—this is how they discover the abundance of grace they have in them and how they have warehoused grace instead of releasing it. For example, they see how pride has prevented them from releasing the grace of reverence and letting a reverence for life and for others flush through them. 

What everyone does not get is that we are wired to channel grace—not just to receive it, but to channel it. Grace is how a person becomes a vessel for transformation for themselves and for others. When you come out of the dark night, you recognize you are filled with grace—grace to give. That’s what the dark night is all about.


KK: What about those who are born givers?

CM: Many of them don’t get what a blessing this is. They often feel burned out and sorry for themselves, but I look at them and I think, Oh, you silly little diamond. You just need some polishing. You just need to be set in platinum instead of 14-carat gold, and then you’d see what a diamond you are.

To be born a giver, to be born to serve, is such a spectacular grace. Takers appear to have so much and to always get ahead, but the selfish soul is always the empty soul. They’re the loudest ones in the room, always saying, “Me, me, me,” because they’ve got the journey of going from empty to full, whereas givers are already full. Even though givers can feel exhausted, it’s not the giving that is exhausting them. It’s their surroundings. 

If they would just close their eyes and say, “God, thank you for making me a giver. I need your help with these surroundings, and I am going to trust that you can do something here so that my jewel in being able to give is not exhausted.” Pray right.


KK: I can definitely see that praying for help in that case would be much more effective than praying to be something other than what you are.

CM: That’s how prayer works, and not everyone gets that. I remember a person once asked me, “Do you have any prayers that work?” I think that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever been asked in my life. 


KK: As you wrote in Defy Gravity, there’s a direct relationship between prayer and healing because prayer engenders grace. 

CM: Yes, and you are never not praying. You hear people use the word energy all the time—they say they feel energy, they share energy, they want more energy. But as they are able to comprehend higher truth at the mystical level, they understand energy is a very impersonal word that has no meaning whatsoever. Then they have a mystical awakening and they realize, “Oh, my God, it’s not energy. It’s grace!”

Everything is actually grace-driven, and if I live in that truth then I have to see everyone as essentially holy and look at their soul instead of their personality. I have to honor the God in them instead of just talking about it. I have to actually see it. I have to actually know it. I have to actually breathe it with them. I can’t discriminate. I need to pray for everybody because what is in one is in the whole, and in praying for others, I am praying for myself. 


KK: Is true mysticism an experience we can call to ourselves, or does it choose us?

CM: There are numerous degrees of mystical experiences from the levitations of Teresa of Avila to what poets feel when they write poetry. We don’t have mystical experiences like in the good old days of John of the Cross and Teresa anymore because we’re no longer wired that way. They lived at a time when doubt had yet to be created. They did not have a complicated exterior world. 

Today, people have never been more unconscious. We have invested our eggs in the wrong basket. We are so arrogant and narcissistic that we’ve banned conversations about death as if eating organic food will prevent it. We demand our bodies stay youthful. This is how much we have mutated the ordinary life journey—and we think we’re conscious. We are completely kidding ourselves.


KK: Are you saying that instead of evolving, we’re devolving?

CM: We cherry-pick our consciousness. People think, If I turn off television, no negativity can come to me. Well, excuse me, but aren’t you part of the whole? Don’t you want holism? They say they do, but the truth is they really don’t. I’ve never seen people more insular, more withdrawn, who claim they participate in holism. It’s the complete reverse of what people say they are aware of. For people who claim to be on a spiritual path, they have no concept of their spirituality. 

I’ve also never seen people more uncomfortable with prayer. We can    tell our kids, “You don’t need to pray. You don’t need the sacraments. You don’t need any spiritual discipline. So never mind the whole archetype of the sacred, okay?” That’s as foolish as saying,

“I’m never going to teach my kids to be good children because I came from a bad home.”


KK: I’ve seen you disassemble people’s thought processes like that, and then build them back up from a much stronger foundation. I’d say it’s a hallmark of yours.

CM: I am so committed to helping people see how truly strong and blessed they are. I cannot allow someone to feel sorry for themselves. It doesn’t work. I don’t indulge it. If a teacher indulges it then they don’t have the courage to be a teacher. If you let someone walk out of your classroom still feeling sorry for themselves it’s because you don’t have the courage to be disliked. 

I’m not in the business of being liked. I’m in the business of teaching and of helping people heal, and if it means someone is going to dislike me, that’s meaningless to me—meaningless. What I really care about is this: Did I keep my word? Did I teach well? Did I remain true to my integrity? 

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