The devout Father John Tauler relates this personal experience: For years he had prayed God to send him someone who would teach him the real spiritual life. One day, at prayer, he heard a voice saying: “Go to such and such a church and you will have the answer to your prayers.” He went and at the door of the church he found a beggar, barefooted and in rags. He greeted the mendicant saying: “Good day, my friend.”
“Thank you, sir, for your kind wishes, but I do not recall ever having had a ‘bad’ day.”
“Then God has certainly given you a very happy life.”
“That is very true, sir. I have never been unhappy. In saying this I am not making any rash statement either. This is the reason: When I have nothing to eat, I give thanks to God; when it rains or snows, I bless God’s providence; when someone insults me, drives me away, or otherwise mistreats me, I give glory to God. I said I’ve never had an unhappy day, and it’s the truth, because I am accustomed to will unreservedly what God wills. Whatever happens to me, sweet or bitter, I gladly receive from his hands as what is best for me. Hence my unvarying happiness.”
“Where did you find God?”
“I found him where I left creatures.”
“Who are you anyway?”
“I am a king.”
“And where is your kingdom?”
“In my soul, where everything is in good order; where the passions obey reason, and reason obeys God.”
“How have you come to such a state of perfection?”
“By silence. I practice silence towards men, while I cultivate the habit of speaking with God. Conversing with God is the way I found and maintain my peace of soul.”
Union with God brought this poor beggar to the very heights of perfection. In his poverty he was richer than the mightiest monarch; in his sufferings, he was vastly happier than worldlings amid their worldly delights.
The Interior Castle is divided into seven mansions (also called dwelling places), each level describing a step to get closer to God. In her work, Teresa already assumed entrance into the first mansions by prayer and meditation.
The first three mansions are considered to be ordinary prayer or active prayer.
1. The first mansions begin with a soul's state of grace, but the souls are surrounded by sin and only starting to seek God's grace through humility in order to achieve perfection.
2. The second mansions are also called the Mansions of the Practice of Prayer because the soul seeks to advance through the castle by daily thoughts of God, humble recognition of God's work in the soul and ultimately daily prayer.
3. The third mansions are the Mansions of Exemplary Life characterized through divine grace a love for God that is so great that the soul has an aversion to both mortal and venial sin and a desire to do works of charitable service to man for the ultimate glory of God.
The fourth through seventh mansions are considered to be mystical or contemplative prayer.
4. The fourth mansions are a departure from the soul actively acquiring what it gains as God increases his role.
5. The fifth mansions contains incipient Union in which the soul prepares itself to receive gifts from God. If the fifth mansion can be compared to a betrothal,
6. the sixth mansion can be compared to lovers. The soul spends increasing amounts of time torn between favors from God and from outside afflictions.
7. The soul achieves clarity in prayer and a spiritual marriage with God in the seventh mansions.
She candidly reveals this interior journey as being inseparable from her love for Christ and that the highest mansions can only be gained by being in a state of grace through the Church sacraments, fervent devotion of the soul's will to Him, and humbly receiving a love so great it is beyond human capability or description. Through prayer and meditation the soul is placed in a quiet state to receive God's gifts (she calls "consolations") of contemplation, and Teresa notes that man's efforts cannot achieve this if it is not His divine will. In fact she humbly repeats that she is never worthy of these consolations but is always immensely grateful for them.