Wise Women Friday: Teresa of Avila on Personal Conduct

Words of wisdom from the Spanish nun, mystic, and writer (1515-1582):

Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.

I do not know a lot about Teresa of Avila.  I know she wrote many beautiful prayers.  I know she committed her life to absolute poverty and served the poor and suffering in Spain.  I know that she was very wise, and that it is true that we should endeavor to be gentle to all and that we should be our best selves.  

But from my perspective, the problem isn't people not being stern with themselves.  In my little microcosm of the world, people are plenty stern with themselves.  They beat themselves up about their weight, about unavoidable obstacles that keep them from reaching fantasy ideals of success, about paying too much for groceries or hair cuts or anything, or about cleaning enough or cooking enough or working enough or saving enough or exercising enough or relaxing enough or even forgiving themselves enough.  

What most people need -- at least the people I see -- is to be more gentle with themselves.  At the very least, we need to treat ourselves with as much kindness and compassion as we would our friends and loved ones.  But so many of us have little Dick Cheney's stuck in our heads.  And those mean Cheney's lie in weight, right behind our visual cortex, plotting and blaming and making us feel inadequate and lame and nervous and worried.  

But the chances are, you are not so bad.  In fact, I will take a gamble and pronounce you good.  You try hard.  You do the best you can.  You think about other people, and you try not to make the world a worst place, and you have a lovely smile and a great laugh, and you deserve to cut yourself a little a slack.  So...cut yourself a little slack.  Make it a lot.  Be gentle to all, even yourself.   


Susan C said...

Years ago I read a book about Teresa of Avila, and she seemed to have mastered the art of being harsh on herself.

Petrea said...

Well. I needed to hear this today. Thank you, Margaret.

Desiree said...

You're an artist, kiddo, of course you're already way too stern with yourself.

"When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended for self-flagellation solely."--Truman Capote

I'm with you, it's time for a little tenderness

Petrea said...

Thanks to you, I took the afternoon off. I went to A Penny for Your Thoughts (one of the most charming, funky, imaginative shops in town) and enjoyed a cup of coffee in a comfy chair while I read a book. I didn't accomplish a darned thing and I feel fine.

Cafe Pasadena said...

That's one I try, try, and again begin to try to follow.

Margaret said...

Desiree: That Capote quote is priceless. Thanks for sharing.

Petrea: I'm glad I had the news you needed to hear. And I'm glad you took the afternoon off. I'm certain you deserved it.

JCK said...

Thank you for those lovely thoughts.

Palm Axis said...

After having read Karin Armstrong's account of convent life I can't help but think that nuns are a rather mean lot content to be self critical.

Desiree: I believe Capote used his whip on others a great deal more then he used it on himself.

see you

altadenahiker said...

Self-sacrifice for it's own sake has always been a very weird concept to me. There's a lot of self-satisfaction and self-agrandizement tangled up in there. Sorry for my spelling, but I'm too lazy to look up.

Laurie said...

Beautifully written. Thanks, Margaret!

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Star said...

One of what must be the world's most beautiful masterpieces ever features St. Teresa of Avila by Bernini. If you're in Rome, it is easy to find: Santa Maria della Vittoria, not far from the Termini train station: