Dear Donagh,

I heard you talking in Cork about some writer who said we have 30 or 40 scales over our minds.  I thought at the time that I knew what it was about, but afterwards it went a bit fuzzy on me.  But I remember that it was very interesting.  How do you know the scales are there and how do you get rid of them?  How do you trigger a life crisis so you can identify the scales?  Could you give me the gist of it again, because I felt at the time that it was very interesting.  You can put the answer on your website if you like, I won't mind.  Thanks.  Sorry to be a bother….  Cora

Dear Cora,

No bother.  I remember that we were talking about Johann Tauler (1300-1361), a German Dominican and younger colleague of Meister Eckhart.  Here’s the passage.

“Why, do you think, is it impossible for us to penetrate to the depths of our souls? The reason is that we are overgrown with so many thick, coarse scales. They are as thick as the skull of an ox, and they have covered up our inner selves so completely that neither God nor we ourselves can get in. There is an impenetrable growth in the way. Some of us have thirty or forty layers of scale there, thick, horny skin like the pelt of a bear. What are these skins? They are all the things that we set our hearts on. They are our selfish words and deeds, our likes and dislikes, our pride and obstinacy, our delight in things which are not of God, our hardheartedness and frivolity, our undisciplined behaviour and the rest. All these things form thick skins, a horny growth blinding our eyes.”

Notice that he says these scales are over “the depths of our souls,” or our “inner selves,” not over “our minds,” as you said.  But our minds may be a good place to start in this case.  We talk about someone having a “blinkered” view.   Blinkers, as anyone who grew up on farm will remember, are the part of a bridle that prevents a horse from seeing anything but what lies straight ahead.   It is a vivid image of what a human mind is like when it is partially blinded by prejudice or bias: it prevents a person from seeing what is obvious to everyone else.  The horse’s bridle with its blinkers is removed in the evening, but human blinkers stay on forever.  This form of blindness is difficult to cure, for the very reason that such people don’t admit that they are blind.  In most cases they don’t even know. 

But the blindness of the heart and soul is even more difficult to cure.  Scales are for protection - horny or bony growths that some animals have over their bodies.  The heart is thought to be the seat of feelings, and we know how easily our feelings can be hurt, so we devise ways of hiding and protecting them.  We place theses scales around our hearts, or souls.  Tauler gave a list in that passage, but you can think of lots of others.  ? Some people try to protect themselves by just denying everything they find painful or challenging.  That puts a coating of falsity around them, and you can think of it as a kind of bony protective layer.  ? Many aggressive people fully expect to be criticised, so they feel they have to get in the first strike.  It’s a defensive move, a kind of shield or scale.  ? Then there are people who try to live a life of total action because they are afraid to stop and look at what they are doing.  This activism is a kind of scale.  ? Some people fall out with you and stop speaking with you; notice the rigidity in them when your paths cross; it’s a kind of protective scale…. I mention three or four, but you can easily reach a count of thirty or forty, like Tauler.  It would be a useful exercise to make a long list of these; see if you can reach thirty or forty!

“How do you know the scales are there and how do you get rid of them?” you ask.  I think you can take it for granted that they are there.  I don’t know if anyone after the age of a few months is without scales of some kind.  Later, with the development of the ego, we begin to acquire a whole wardrobe of protective coverings.  They are inevitable, as the development of ego is inevitable.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with them, provided we are aware of them.  So, don’t try so much to get rid of them, as to become aware of them.  When you are aware, they do not lead you blindly; you retain your ability to act in freedom.

“How do you trigger a life crisis so you can identify the scales?” you ask.  Oh, don’t!  A planned crisis is not really a crisis – it’s just a bad idea.  Our crises are well able to arrive without any help from us.  We get all the crises we want in the course of our everyday life.  If we can be clear-sighted while we are in the grip of these crises, big and small, or even tiny, our daily life becomes a spiritual practice – a way of finding God in everything. 

Good luck with your list, Cora!


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