Welcome to the Way of the Heart!
I’d like to begin this blog with a spiritual practice that can be used to directly engage the mystical Way of the Heart. The Heart of Love is a method of meditation and prayer that works with the most profound and powerful teachings of Jesus:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like it, that you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
As you have done to the least of these my brethren, you have done to me.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
It takes very little reflection to know this method involves everything taught in the quote above: Love for God and our fellow souls is at once the motive force, the immediate sentiment, and the practical aim of this work. It makes use of our human intelligence in the most graceful and subtle of ways – an internal cultivation of love that stimulates a more living and visible operation of hope and faith in our relationships with others. It puts the Way of the Heart into immediate practice.
This method is developed through four phases. It is recommended that the first phase be practiced alone for at least a week, and then each phase can be successively added over a period of several weeks until you are finally practicing all four phases in each sitting. Once a working familiarity has been developed with each phase, then the practitioner may place more or less emphasis on various phases, and even rearrange them, as desired. Some people might find this method suitable as the mainstay of their regular devotionals and inner work, while others might prefer to use it less routinely. This method is an excellent practice for anyone who wishes to serve in spiritual healing, for it helps in keeping one’s soul open to the flow of higher energies and tends to infuse one’s healing prayers with the special sweetness of selfless love.
Phase One: The Heart of Love Received from the Exemplar
It is always advisable to begin and end such work with a mindful ritual such as lighting a candle and perhaps some incense, and crossing oneself. After settling into a centered and peaceful state of meditation, offer a prayer of submission to the Divine Will, expressing your desire to know and serve it through love.
Next, call to mind the image of someone you consider to be a great historical embodiment and exemplar of love. For many Christians, Jesus will be the only suitable figure, though others may be attracted to another, such as Mother Mary, St. Francis of Assisi, or Mother Theresa. Imagine this person standing in front of you with a loving smile. See within his or her chest a flaming heart, radiating love out through the whole body in rich hues of pink, ruby and golden light, like a splendid sunrise.
Feel the warmth on your face and chest. Let yourself respond emotionally to this great soul’s love, smiling in return. Imagine your exemplar reaching out to cup your heart in his or her hands, and the flames of love flowing into and igniting your own heart. If you feel moved to weep with gratitude, or smile or laugh with joy, allow that to happen as you continue to meditate upon this person as an embodiment of Divine Love, a living vessel through which God loves the world, including you. To accept this love is itself an act of love for God, for the exemplar, and for yourself. You may speak with your exemplar if you wish.
In your meditation, consider that to ancient people the heart was not merely symbolic of emotions, but was also the seat of intuition, inspiration, beauty, peace and harmony. There is much to discover here about the nature of love, which includes far more than our feelings of affection and sympathy.
When you are ready to end the meditation, simply let the image fade. Offer a final prayer of thanks and return your consciousness to the external world, though now infused with an elevated awareness of love.
While most people report this exercise to be positive and uplifting, some people may also find themselves challenged by various kinds of discomfort with the work. For example, feelings of unworthiness, guilt or shame may arise. It is important to simply be aware of all our feelings, both pleasing and uncomfortable, accepting them as indicators of deeper processes occurring within our hearts and minds. In effect, they present us with opportunities to learn more of what we really believe about ourselves and our relationships with the Divine. In response to such observations, it is important to remember that accepting the infinite grace of Divine Love is not about using the head to strategize a path toward righteous worthiness, but is rather about simply opening the heart to the immediate fact of God’s freely given mercy and affection. With this understanding, where we find self-condemning thoughts and feelings of self-loathing, we have the opportunity to practice acceptance, forgiveness and healing of our own humanity, as well as truly nurturing ourselves toward more virtuous living.
Phase Two: The Heart of Love Shared with Those We Cherish
Proceed through the previous phase and just past the point where your heart is ignited by the exemplar. Allow the image of the exemplar to fade, and in its place imagine someone among your friends and family with whom you share a deep bond of love. Perhaps this is someone you know to be in extra need of receiving love at this time. See him or her smiling in the warmth of the pink, ruby and golden light radiating out through your body. Imagine yourself reaching forward to hold that person’s heart in your hands. See and feel the flames of your heart flowing through your arms to ignite his or her heart with love. Speak with this person if you wish. Meditate upon the love you have shared, how it has been expressed between you, and how it might grow.
When you are ready, allow that person’s image to fade. If you feel moved to do so, allow the image of another cherished friend or family member to arise, and then repeat the entire process. You can continue through as many loved ones as you wish, eventually ending the meditation as before.
As with the previous phase, this can be a very touching and joyful exercise, and yet it can also prove challenging. In focusing on your love for another, you might discover areas of uncertainty or sense something lacking. For example, you might realize that in some way you have not been as expressive of your love and affection as you might be. This could be due to various fears or inhibitions for either or both of you. You might also discover you have resentments, frustrations or other negative feelings about the individual that seem to prevent you from more fully and freely loving him or her. As you practice the exercise with different people in mind, you may become more aware of how your love differs from one person to another. With some people your sentiments might be more affectionate, with others more appreciative or admiring, while for others more compassionate or sympathetic. In any case, this phase of the Heart of Love can help you learn about how you feel, think and behave in your relationships with loved ones, and thus provide you with many opportunities to refine your ability to love each person in your life in a way as unique and meaningful as he or she is.
Phase Three: The Heart of Love Shared with Those Who Challenge Us
Work through the first two phases, and now begin extending your love toward someone you feel has mistreated or offended you in some way, or someone you have difficulty trusting. Give just as freely and energetically to this soul as you did in the second phase. Meditate upon the many pearls of wisdom in loving those we may not find easy to love. Reflect on what it means to love someone you do not necessarily like. Ponder how you might manifest love for this person more outwardly. As before, repeat the process until you are ready to end the meditation.
Phase Four: The Heart of Love in All
After working through all the previous phases, meditate upon the universe as existing within the Flaming Heart of God, the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Recall that your heart is aflame with that same Divine Fire, and that it is actually a spark of that Divine Fire, as are all the hearts of God’s children. Allow all the implications of meaning, virtue and action to flow freely through your heart and mind, with neither resistance nor attachment, but with awareness, acceptance and love.