The Awakened Heart: Opening Yourself to the Love You Need

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"Integrating the wisdom of ancient mystics and the insights of contemporary thinkers, May examines the spiritual longings that are often hidden and controlled by society's pressures and expectations.
"—Publishers Weekly

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The Awakened Heart

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"Integrating the wisdom of ancient mystics and the insights of contemporary thinkers, May examines the spiritual longings that are often hidden and controlled by society's pressures and expectations.
"—Publishers Weekly

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060654733
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 623,601
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerald G. May, M.D. (1940-2005), practiced medicine and psychiatry for twenty-five years before becoming a senior fellow in contemplative theology and psychology at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Bethesda, Maryland. He was the author of many books and articles blending spirituality and psychology, including Addiction and Grace, Care of Mind/Care of Spirit, Will and Spirit, and The Dark Night of the Soul.

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Read an Excerpt

The Awakened Heart

Chapter One

Bearing The Beams Of Love

And we are put on earth a little space
That we might learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call our heart. We were born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies. We are often unaware of it, but it is always awake. It is the human desire for love. Every person on this earth yearns to love, to be loved, to know love. Our true identity, our reason for being, is to be found in this desire.

I think William Blake was right about the purpose of humanity; we are here to learn to bear the beams of love. There are three meanings of bearing love: to endure it, to carry it, and to bring it forth. In the first, we are meant to grow in our capacity to endure love's beauty and pain. In the second, we are meant to carry love and spread it around, as children carry laughter and measles. And in the third we are meant to bring new love into the world, to be birthers of love. This is the threefold nature of our longing.

You can find evidence of the longing in great art, music, literature, and religions; a common universal passion for love runs through them all. Psychology offers evidence as well; the passion for love can be found at the core of human motivation. There is even evidence in neurology. The researcher Paul MacLean says the highly developed human cerebral cortex "makes possible the insight required to plan for the needs of others" and gives us "a concern for all living things."

But for real proof you must look at your own longings andaspirations; you must listen to the deep themes of your own life story. In most of us the desire for love has often been distorted or buried, but if you look at your own life with honest and gende eyes, you can discern it in yourself as a deep seeking of connectedness, healing, creation, and joy. This is your true identity; it is who you really are and what you exist for. You have your own unique experience of desiring love, but there is something universal about it as well; it connects you with all other human beings and with all of creation.

You probably already know your longing very well. You have felt it as hope for relationship, meaning, fulfillment, perhaps even a sense of destiny. Think for a moment about what has prompted you to do what you have done in life. When you have tried to be successful in your studies or work, what have you been seeking? When you have wanted to be pleasing, attractive, or helpful to others, what have you really been hoping for? Remember some moments in your life when you felt most complete and fulfilled; what did you taste there? Recall also feeling very bad, alone, worthless; what were you missing?

If you pause and look quietly inside, you may be able to sense something of your desire for love right now in this moment. Sometimes it is wonderful to touch this deep longing; it can seem expansive and joyful. At other times it can be painful, lonely, and even a little frightening. Whether it feels good or bad, its power and depth are awesome. When the desire is too much to bear, we often bury it beneath frenzied thoughts and activities or escape it by dulling our immediate consciousness of living. It is possible to run away from the desire for years, even decades, at a time, but we cannot eradicate it entirely. It keeps touching us in little glimpses and hints in our dreams, our hopes, our unguarded moments. We may go to sleep, but our desire for love does not. It is who we are.

Sometimes, in moments of quiet wonder, it is possible just to be with our desire. We can sense its power and beauty even when it aches for fulfillment. In truth it is an utterly simple thing. I can remember experiencing it in childhood, standing in a field and looking at the sky and just being in love. It wasn't love for any particular thing or person. It was more like being immersed in an atmosphere of love, feeling very alive, very present in the moment, intimately connected with everything around me.

Now and then we experience the same simplicity as adults. But for most of us it does not last very long. We have difficulty just being; we think we must get on with more important things. We have to be efficient. In becoming adults, we have been conditioned to believe that efficiency is more important than love.

Efficiency and Love

Efficiency is the "how" of life: how we meet and handle the demands of daily living, how we survive, grow, and create, how we deal with stress, how effective we are in our functional roles and activities.

In contrast, love is the "why" of life: why we are functioning at all, what we want to be efficient for. I cannot specifically define love, but I am convinced it is the fundamental energy of the human spirit, the fuel on which we run, the wellspring of our vitality. And grace, which is the flowing, creative activity of love itself, is what makes all goodness possible.

Love should come first; it should be the beginning of and the reason for everything. Efficiency should be "how" love expresses its "why." But it gets mixed up so easily. When I was a young parent, I wanted to take good care of my children (efficiency) because I cared so much for them (love). This was the way it should be. But soon I became preoccupied with efficiency. What were my kids eating? Were they getting enough sleep? Would we be on time for the car pool? My concerns about efficiency began to eclipse the love they were meant to serve . . .

The Awakened Heart. Copyright © by Gerald G. May. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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