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by Lorna Derksen

GERALD MAY BEGINS Will and Spirit by revealing a childhood secret: he has always wanted to surrender himself completely to an Ultimate Someone or Something. But surrender is rarely fashionable, so instead, as a young man May directed his own course, earning degrees to became a professional psychiatrist. It could be seen as ironic that this self-directed path led May to a deep and illuminating understanding of surrender, an understanding which he shares in this book. However, May suggests that his secret desire, a desire sourced from beyond his own will, has been the guiding force all along. This is the premise of Will and Spirit. Introducing us to the Mystery beyond logic, May contends that "the origin of what we call human spiritual longing is not within the individual human at all, but in the very essence of that human being's existence in the universe." With this reminder of our divine roots, May guides us toward a relationship of willing submission with our Source and loving service to the world.

Submission isn't a common word in our vocabulary. Self-help programs may encourage adherents to submit to a diet's guidelines or an exercise program, but in these contexts submission becomes equated with willpower. Submission takes on a very different hue in Will and Spirit. As a psychiatrist, May explains the theories behind psychological methods to alter behaviours and moods but questions the limitations of such techniques. Transformation begins at a deeper place than our wills can reach, a depth reached through openness to our benevolent Source. If we could awaken to the meeting of our desire with this Source's call to union, what potential would exist. Through this hopeful perspective May examines the topics of fear, love, energy and evil.

May, a psychiatrist and contemplative, approaches these topics through both lenses of science and spirituality. In the chapter 'Energy', May differentiates between Western and Eastern understandings of cosmic and psychic energy; from the west the ideas of Freud, Jung and Reich are introduced; from the east the integration of body, spirit and mind. Although psychological ideas are incorporated, the discussion always moves to a place more mysterious than logical. May contends that logic is unable to provide an infallible way of knowing such abstract concepts as love or energy. Approaching these concepts through contemplation, which moves through willingness rather than full comprehension, acknowledges the mystery and is both fascinating and helpful.

May describes a root energy synonymous in Eastern thought with basic life-force. From this root all phenomena shoot forth including our emotions. By imagining energy as a transmutable entity it becomes easier to see how our emotions born from this energy are less immutable than we may think they are.

Most of us would admit that emotions can be difficult to deal with. Any event can spark that surge of energy and we are awash with anger or delight, desire or fear. Whether overwhelming or simmering, these emotions tend to spill well over into the container of our lives and, captive of our emotions, we struggle to stay afloat.

Although self-help techniques may encourage behavioural management as a way of dealing with our emotions, May believes that our lives are less a matter of management and more a matter of mystery. He outlines ten steps in the birth of an emotion and then explains that at any step awareness can result in the dissipation of the emotion. May encourages a meditative state of mind, a detached state from which our emotions can be viewed as events rather than as integral to our identity. With the distance that this new image provides, our emotions really do appear less foreboding.

However, it is not only a new image that May offers. These new images are fostered and more deeply understood through engagement in the contemplative path, a path of dying to self as shown by contemplatives such as Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila. They surrendered their self-identity to become identified with a purer energy, that closest to divine love, an awareness of which leads inevitably to loving others and true service to the rest of the world.

Will and Spirit's final chapter addresses our spiritual pilgrimage. Looking to Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist thought, May stresses the need for companionship, both in needing help and in helping others. May has already accompanied us with insightful words; his call to conscious spiritual surrender challenges us to stretch beyond known comforts. Yet we are reminded that our foremost task is openness to the mystery of God around and within us.

Like an artisan May weaves the heavy cords of theory with golden threads of an evocative and questing presence. The resulting tapestry is the gift of his quest. Awakening us to the secrets of our hearts, May warms our controlling willfulness in the flame of willing submission, assuring us that in our spiritual longing and journey we are not alone.

For a review of Gerald May's The Awakened Heart, click here.

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