The Private Self


Choir of Salisbury Cathedral exhibited 1797 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

William Turner, “Choir of Salisbury Cathedral”

“Bene vixit, bene qui latuit.” (To live well is to live concealed)


An article on Virginia Woolf’s idea of privacy written by Joshua Rothman has caught my attention recently. The author quotes from Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway, in which she explores the idea of solitude in marriage and the need to preserve a gulf between two people who have devoted their lives to each other:

“And there is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa, watching him open the door; for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will, from one’s husband, without losing one’s independence, one’s self-respect—something, after all, priceless.”


I also feel strongly that finding a balance between sharing and withholding in a relationship is an ideal we should perhaps never stop reaching for. There will always be an ineffable part of our being that cannot be shared with anyone: our private self.

Nowadays, intimacy has entered the public sphere, perhaps like never before in the history of humanity. Rothman goes on to explore the apparent exhibitionism of the social media:

“Usually we think of social media as a forum for exhibitionism. But, inevitably, the extroverted cataloguing of everyday minutiae – meals, workouts, thoughts about politics, books, and music – reaches its own limits: it ends up emphasizing what can’t be shared. Talking so freely about your life helps you to know the weight of those feelings which are too vague, or too spiritual, to express – left unspoken and unexplored, they throw your own private existence into relief. ‘Sharing’ is in fact the opposite of what we do: … we rehearse a limited openness so that we can feel the solidity of our own private selves.”

I also feel that with all apparent exhibitionism of the social media the most important truths about our selves remain concealed. What is more, we can spend years with a person under the same roof and never really let them inside our most private realm. It was Saint Teresa of Avila who compared the soul to a castle, the entrance to which is shrouded in darkness. We can choose to reveal our soul to another but they will never know it fully and they will never enter it because it is our private realm:

“There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxication so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget.

This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway…

No one else controls access to this perfect place. Give yourself your own unconditional permission to go there. … Believe the incredible truth that the Beloved has chosen for his dwelling place the core of your own being because that is the single most beautiful place in all of creation. Waste no time. Enter the centre of your soul.”

Saint Teresa of Avila, “The Interior Castle”, translated by Mirabai Starr


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33 Responses to The Private Self

  1. Gneiss Moon says:

    Lovely…words like a waft of sage smoldering, winding through my shrouded solitary soul.

    Your writing is pungent, yet ethereal.
    Thank you for your offerings, peace.


  2. Wow – another diamond, Monika, thank you.

    I’ve always despised sharing trivial matters. I was never any good at it and it always irritated me. I always wanted one’s deepest thoughts or nothing, which made for lots of social awkwardness and very few friends. “I don’t care what you had for breakfast, what happens when we die??” Yeah… After so many years of feeling so isolated, I still long to connect with others in a meaningful way, especially approaching the mystical, liminal space, but…as I’ve tested the waters here, and tried to share my own soul – it always, always feels hopeless, and well, wrong. Only images and elements and metaphor, paired up weird words, and sweet sweet silence speak my language. Hinting at “it” through Abstraction holds its Power. We can bow at each other knowingly, from across the room. That New Yorker article is incredible – this line in particular felt like it could be a personal manifesto:

    “And you gain another, strangely spiritual power: the power to regard yourself abstractly. Instead of getting lost in the details of your life, you hold onto the feelings, the patterns, the tones.”


    Holding the tension brings gifts immeasurable – thanks for the reminder.

    Not to mention Teresa! The first time I read it, Interior Castle had me laid up in the bed for weeks.

    With gratitude,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Amanda,
      I am glad you loved that New Yorker article because so did I. It is a soulful experience for me to know that my readers can “bow at me knowingly.” I am with you on social awkwardness although I feel I have improved my trivial chat skills over the years. But it always leaves me drained and hungry for a different kind of nourishment.
      Much love,


  3. Another beautiful post and vibration. Thank you for this. What an encouragement and invitation.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ptero9 says:

    Hi Monika,
    Yes, this says it all for me:

    “I also feel strongly that finding a balance between sharing and withholding in a relationship is an ideal we should perhaps never stop reaching for. There will always be an ineffable part of our being that cannot be shared with anyone: our private self.”

    I think the more settled and comfortable I am within my own interior private space, the less I feel the need to expose myself, as if I ever could. Aloneness and separation in this sense is a gift. Can you imagine if we could share interiors with others what a mess that would be?

    St. Teresa of Avila is my favorite saint. She lived a tremendously significant life in a world and culture that did not easily make room and allow for her talents.

    I am reminded too of the saying “deus absconditus,” the unknowable god who loves to hide.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Deus absconditus – yes! I am also reminded of Meister Eckhart. I think we have shared this before – you and I – but I will let you in on a secret. I run a very exhibitionistic blog…


  5. Love St. Teresa of Avila and am enthralled with the cover of The interior Castle. So beguiling. Do you think I could earn a living reading books? There are so many to read ( several by your introduction) and simply not enough time. Yesterday amazon arrived at my door with 4 more books. I read a lot at work but mostly clinical notes on a computer screen 🙂

    I know I am being tangential here.. I think only one or two people on this planet really know me and they are not in my life (in real time) anymore. I am not a superficial person and abhor small talk, plus an INFJ to boot. So your ideas resonate with me.


    • Oh, I am all about tangential. I must admit I had to look that word up in a dictionary and I will be using it from now on. I did not think about being an infj while writing this but obviously it makes a lot of sense. Thank you for bringing that up, Linda.


      • you are quite welcome Monika. I use tangential often as my moon in Gem and merc conjunct neptune keep me thinking and talking off the beaten path 🙂
        enjoy your new word , its the least I can do, I learn so much from you!

        xx Linda


  6. Excellent! Thank you.


  7. roughghosts says:

    A lovely post but I need to share my own reaction at this moment.
    The sanctuary of the private self implies a world in which that self is threatened in some way. In a marriage, in a communal living setting or with excessively public self-exhibition that may be an especially important focal point. But it is important to remember that sometimes people are, or feel that they are, isolated and invisible within that private space. Ideally one needs a balance between that which is private and that which can be shared. I always balanced a highly people focused job with an intensely private life – take the job away suddenly and the private self is a lonely space as I am currently all too aware.


    • Hi, I really value your insights about the need for balance between what is shared and what is not shared. I think it is the most beautiful think in the world when two souls recognize each other. That can ease off the feeling of isolation. I hope you find your balance. Thank you for your comment.
      Best wishes,


  8. The quote from Teresa of Avila hits the mark perfectly. Lovely post.


  9. Pingback: The Private Self | lampmagician

  10. Amy Campion says:

    Ah, you have referenced two of my favourite women, thank you 🙂
    And to add from another favourite writer: “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life and a secret life.” – Gabriel García Márquez to Gerald Martin. When Martin asked if García Márquez might give him access into the last of these three, the novelist replied: “No, never.”


  11. H3nry J3kyll says:

    Got a lot of catching up to do. Great stuff as always Monika!


  12. Soul Fields says:

    Your post reminded me of a favorite quote of mine from Kahlil Gibran/Prophet: Let there be spaces in your togetherness….(and so on)….For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

    It´s still seems to be quite a relevant thing in the world in general to understand where “I” end and the “other one” begins. Can be applied in multiple areas.

    Thanks and hugs,


    PS. What was the the address of the versatile ephemeris website you shared? Have deleted it by mistake from my bookmarks. And are there any special synastry sites you can recommend? For so far I have been exploring, of course, and also Cafe Astrology.


    • Hi Deelia, this is also one of my favourite quotes! Rilke wrote something very similar but I do not remember the quote exactly… The asteroid ephemeris that I use is
      I do not use any websites for synastry – just trying to rely on my intuition, I am afraid.
      I am always happy to hear from you but I feel your presence on my blog even if you remain silent.


      • Soul Fields says:

        Thank you, Monika! And okay, I understand so well, intuition is the best guide to me, too.

        Went straight to my heart that “feeling your presence”. 🙂 I feel so connected to you as well, even though I´ve been even more silent recently than earlier. Still it feels good to say it aloud as well.

        As the whole post of yours I also loved the quotes you shared. May I use the one from Saint Teresa of Avila with a link to your post? It is so beautifully expressed and refers so well to the name of my blog.


      • Absolutely!


      • Soul Fields says:

        Jippii, thanks! 🙂


  13. Pingback: Quote: The Centre of Your Soul | Soul Fields

  14. Reblogged this on Cate Frazier-Neely and commented:
    I was recently introduced to this blog by Kim Falconer, the Harper Collins’ fantasy writer. Kim is a friend who lives on the other side of the world.

    I am reposting this here for mid-life women forging new self-identities and identities for their marriage. Lots of good stuff.


  15. alohaleya says:

    so beautifully written! thank you for sharing ‘the interior castle’. i’ve never read it, but have long been drawn to it, from the moment i was first introduced to st. teresa in my religious studies classes several years ago. her words above pierced me…in a really good way. perhaps it is now time to read. aleya


  16. Another thought-provoking post. It really hits home for me. I wrote recently in a blog post about how my marriage has evolved–few lines where we meet, lots of white space. I’ve always been an extremely interior person, but have pushed myself to adapt to a public life when needed. I feel so much more comfortable in private.

    But I wonder how you feel about blogging? While so much social media can seemed canned and trivial, a way to project a public self, I’ve found blogging so freeing. A way to communicate with others from the interior, my private self, in a way I could never do in person, in simply sitting and talking with others. Perhaps this is true for all writing, but I’m not so sure. For writing I want to publish, I feel much more guarded. But online, I can be spontaneously interior, and share things about myself that no one would ever know if they did not read my blog. I wonder if that is the same for others.


    • I am an intensely private person. I recently talked to a fellow blogger who said I have a guard that I never let it down while blogging. Having said that, I have shared more of my inner secret soul life here than I had ever imagined would be possible and I feel this blog is a projection of my inner sanctum. It has been very inspiring and freeing to find so many people who get fired up about the same stuff as I do. I am grateful for each comment I receive. Thank you.


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