One of my favorite Howard Thurman books is Meditations of the Heart. It was the first of his more than 20 books that I purchased which I gave to my husband as a present. But then I started reading it and knew that I wanted to know more about this profound man and his life. The meditations spoke to the core of my being as Howard Thurman asks his readers to ponder more deeply what is at the heart of our daily living. Are we willing to open our hearts and listen more deeply to the call of the Eternal?
As a spiritual director/companion and retreat leader I am often asked what drew me to the spiritual path after leading a life as a driven, tough, no nonsense professor and college administrator. I’d been interested in spirituality since I was first introduced to meditation in college. Like Howard Thurman, I realized that I was enamored with silence, stillness and solitude and understood that my spirituality was flavored with a contemplative bent.
Despite my spiritual inclinations, my life was dominated by a strong, competitive, type A ego. In the midst of my drive to achieve fame in the field of psychology, at age 40 I was catapulted into a physical and spiritual crisis. The diagnosis that a lifelong heart condition had become a life-threatening cardiomyopathy and required a heart transplant triggered the terror which lies in every ego and sparked my spirit simultaneously. What aided my survival was a re-focus toward inner listening. This shift manifested as a series of conversations with my old and new hearts as I traversed the unknown and frightening world of a heart transplant recipient.
It all began when I sought therapy because the symptoms of heart failure—shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen ankles, weight loss began to permeate my life. I could no longer deny that my body was deteriorating. My therapist who specialized in clients with chronic health conditions and whose approach tended to be eclectic suggested that I utilize a Jungian technique labeled “active imagination” and talk with my heart.
What I imagined would be a solo conversation evolved into twenty-two months of conversations with my hearts—the old one that I lost and the new one that I gained with a transplant. Their guidance was unparalleled as I rode a real life roller coaster. Despite the fact that I wrote these dialogues to maintain my own sanity, I shared them with a few friends who urged me to distribute them more widely by writing a book. Perhaps others could benefit from my suffering as well as my triumphs.
The conversations in When the Heart Speaks, Listen-Discovering Inner Wisdom showed me how to uncover the peace and joy in my heart similar to the deep peace and joy I feel when reading Howard Thurman’s Meditations of the Heart. With both books, there is an invitation to engage in deep inner listening each pointing to a heart that is always available for solace, guidance, consolation and wisdom. As Thurman writes, “In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair.” I hope both of these books will inspire you to listen and talk with your heart so you too can uncover more of the peace and joy that lies within.
When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom and Meditations of the Heart are available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million and can also be ordered through your favorite independent book seller.
Having read twice now “When the Heart Speaks, Listen” I feel I owe you an enormous thank you for sharing your experience. A dear friend gifted me your book on my 73rd birthday a few weeks ago. She knew I had been wearing a heart monitor for 30 days and knows that my passion in life for the past 43 years has been spiritual transformation. For me reading your book has been one more example of the multitudes of serendipitous events, people, books, conversations, and insights that come my way, seemingly out-of-the-blue. They serve to propel me forward in my journey of transformation in this earthly existence preparing me for the eventual farewell to this human body and the move into the heavenly realms. Heavy Harvey, Grace, and ‘Loo-rita'” will be with me forever. I fully responded to the “sparkle” and humor that came through in your writing-style. I needed something to lighten the serious aspects my perfectionist personality tendency that punish me for still carrying a load of heavy, dense emotions. She, the perfectionist personality, got the message and is greatly relieved to now be able to chuckle and smile at her relentless attempts to earn the elusive Noble Prize for Sainthood. She now understands that she invented the prize, not God. The efforts to release the heavy, dense emotions require a life-time of deep inward listening, and continuous growing of trust, patience and surrender; and sainthood is not the goal or a prize to be awarded by authority figures; it is more about being of service to others, I think; and respecting and loving all of God’s creatures, including ourselves. I thought it would be easy when I stepped on the path and took my first tentative steps. I also thought the journey would be short. Having read your blogs, I see that you too have learned otherwise. Some years ago I told myself that I needed more humor, more laughter in my life. Though I burst into tears as I read the opening to your story, most likely tears of gratitude that I had been led to someone who would speak to my heart; your story made my heart happy and filled it with joy and laughter. Now my heart feels more like dancing and singing and enjoys chuckles and smiles as I contend with disposing of and releasing the emotional baggage of life on a daily schedule, or at least more frequent schedule than in early life. Though in a struggle for your physical life you expose the truth of the matter, the real struggle is for the awakening of our souls to the life of the heavenly spirit. Your story speaks to my heart and so now you live in my heart as well. Thank you, Lerita. Sincerely, Heather