Uncovering the Spiritual Heart through Contemplative Practice

Uncovering the Spiritual Heart through Contemplative Practice May 4, 2019

Today’s post is written by Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD, author of When the Heart Speaks, Listen: Discovering Inner Wisdom

“Inner stillness offers the keys to the universe. The answers to any question or dilemma I encounter are revealed if I listen to the silence within.”

As a spiritual director/companion and retreat leader I am often asked what drew me back to contemplative spirituality after leading a life as a driven college professor and administrator.  

My love of silence, stillness and solitude began as a young child with my penchant for sitting outside in the wind. My introduction to meditation in college sparked my desire for spiritual reading.  

Despite these inclinations, my professional life became dominated by a strong, competitive, type A ego. Driven to achieve fame in psychology, twenty-four years ago, I was catapulted into a physical and spiritual crisis.  A lifelong heart condition evolved into a life-threatening cardiomyopathy and required a heart transplant.

What aided my recovery was a redirection toward inner listening. My therapist suggested further that I utilize a Jungian method labeled “active imagination” and talk with my heart.  

What I imagined would be a solo conversation morphed into twenty-one months of conversations with my hearts—the old one, “Heavy Harvey” (HH) that I lost and the new one, “Grace” (GG) that I gained with a transplant. Their guidance was unparalleled as I rode a real life roller coaster.

I wrote the dialogues to soothe my panic but friends felt others would benefit from reading them. Both hearts emphasize the power of quietness, stillness and solitude.  I muse about their instructions and my progress in vignettes that precede each conversation.  Here is an excerpt from When the Heart Speaks, Listen: Discovering Inner Wisdom.

A Dialogue with the Old Heart…

I have always thought of myself as a deeply spiritual person, but my apprehension about the heart transplant is telling.  I’m starting to question what spirituality means to me. Do I feel that the Spirit of God is in everybody and everything, and I should act accordingly?  Do I believe that the Spirit guides me at every turn on this winding road of life? What exactly am I hearing, if anything, when I sit in silence?

A few years ago, I began seeking inner guidance for every major decision, including choices about houses and jobs.  Sometimes I seek guidance about trips and dating, although I notice that I don’t always follow the wisdom I receive.  What’s so uncanny about this practice, as Heavy Harvey points out, is that the guidance typically emerges from silence.  It occurs during the quiet of the morning, or as I slowly awaken from a nap, on a silent retreat or outside in the stillness of nature.  Now, as I face this life-threatening event, I need more frequent and intimate contact with some greater wisdom.

LERITA: I can hear the Voice, but following it all of the time is challenging.

HH: Remember that Spirit is always conveying messages.  Do the best you can; quieting the inside chatter and the external noise will help tremendously.  It is okay to be reclusive while you are recovering. You don’t have to socialize. In fact, isolation is important.  Be selective about the company you keep, if you keep any company at all, because people will drain you of the energy you need to heal.  

…and also with the New Heart

The wisdom of both of my hearts is phenomenal.  It is a knowingness that I never chose to access because I had the plan all mapped out.  I seem to be emerging from a deep sleep… I work to maintain the same trust in God or a Higher Power that I summoned when they wheeled me into the OR… So many questions flow from these realizations.  What gives me joy? Who and what do I need to change my mind about? Letting go of some of the learned, automatic responses is a scary proposition, but that’s where my faith and trust in my Creator must lead me.  Even though I may be afraid of an intimate relationship with God, I cannot run away from this deeper awareness, nor can I sidestep it to do my own thing anymore.

GG: Hearts hear, feel, and hold everything.

LERITA: How is this so-called still spot going to get me out of the hell I’m in right now?

GG: When you focus on the stillness within you, you create more space in your heart to hear the Voice, the Guidance. It usually doesn’t communicate in words, although in circumstances of imminent danger or for urgent messages, you might hear a direct audible command. It’s more like urges.

LERITA: Like the intuition that Heavy Harvey spoke about?

GG: Yes.

LERITA: The Spirit communicates through the “little Voice”?

GG: Yes, yes. The Spirit will guide you out of the hell you find yourself in if you listen attentively. Taking one day at a time or one moment at a time and taking time for solitude will help tremendously.

LERITA: All I need to do is be still and listen?

GG: Yes, but it isn’t easy. In the stillness, you begin to know when and where to go. You may need to talk about why you think life is hell with your therapist or a spiritual director, or you may need to take some anti-depressive or anti-anxiety medications. You might need to join a support group. I am certain there are many patients who face similar challenges, and they might have great insights to offer. Or maybe you need to read a certain book or call your sister. The guidance is not always the same, and it varies depending on the situation. You suffer needlessly because the answers you receive to your prayers and requests are frequently not in a form you like or they don’t fit your expectations.

Throughout the conversations in When the Heart Speaks, Listen: Discovering Inner Wisdom the lesson is clear.  Listening deeply and regularly to the Silence within can move anyone from surviving to thriving.  Engaging in daily contemplative practices continue to sustain me physically and awaken me spiritually.

When the Heart Speaks, Listen: Discovering Inner Wisdom is available through your local bookstore (if it’s not in stock, ask for it to be ordered) or online. You can order a copy through Amazon by clicking here.

About the Author: 

Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown. Photo courtesy of www.peaceforhearts.com

Lerita Coleman Brown, Ph.D. has survived 24 years with a transplanted heart, 13 of them with a transplanted kidney as well. Since her transplants, she also endured a heart valve replacement and a pacemaker implant. Her medical ordeals fostered an unwavering advocacy of organ and tissue donation, contemplative spirituality, explorations of inner life, and the wisdom of Howard Thurman, all of which she promotes through social media and at her website, www.peaceforhearts.com. Dr. Brown is the Ayse I. Carden Distinguished Professor Emerita of Psychology at Agnes Scott College.

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