Monk in the World Guest Post: Lerita Coleman Brown

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for an excerpt from Lerita Coleman Brown’s book When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom on listening to the “little Voice.”

I straddled the edge of the examination table in the doctor’s office. The news was terrifying and devastating. I would need a heart transplant in 18 months or less. As a single, African American female professor living in Boulder, Colorado; USA in 1994, I could not fathom where this uninvited journey would lead me. I prayed ceaselessly for miraculous healing or some detour. With help from friends, I located a therapist trained to assist people with chronic health conditions. As I shared the unraveling of my life and my apprehensions about a transplant, Dr. Carlos Martinez suggested that I talk with my heart.

At first I imagined Active Imagination to be some futile psychotherapeutic technique. After I wrote my first conversation using this Jungian process, I realized these dialogues with my heart might sustain me through the transplant and offer me wisdom that I could incorporate into a post-transplant life. In When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom, both hearts, “Heavy Harvey” and “Grace” urge me to listen to the “little Voice.” Fairly intuitive, I understood the need for deeper and more frequent inner listening for my survival. In the following excerpt, Heavy Harvey attempts to describe the little Voice and why it is so important.

HH: Discipline is key. You cannot do anything without discipline. And, OK, maybe I forgot to mention listening to the little Voice.
LERITA: The little Voice? Didn’t you bring that up before?
HH: Yes, see if you were having this talk with your stomach or intestines, you might have talked about following your gut. The little Voice is the same as following your gut or listening to the deepest part of the heart.
LERITA: Is it like intuition?
HH: Yes. Yes.
LERITA: OK, so what does the little Voice do?
HH: The little Voice guides you. It usually manifests as a feeling. You feel compelled or moved to call someone or do something. Coupled with faith, you can start to set healthy boundaries and express your disapproval about a man’s behavior from a place of peace and strength. However, if I, your heart, is all clogged up with anger, resentment, anxiety, disappointment, and depression, it is very difficult to hear anything, let alone a quiet Voice.
LERITA: I understand the anger and resentment getting in the way, but how does carrying disappointment and depression in the heart block the little Voice?
HH: Being lighthearted, Lerita means just that. Think about it. Depression and disappointment are very heavy, thick feelings. They can pull you down so much that you are hardly aware of anything else. It’s like being trapped in a dark cave. You cannot see the light outside nor hear the people on the surface trying to rescue you. The Voice is your rescue team calling to you, but the chatter in your mind is so full of doom and gloom that you cannot hear the help.

Throughout the pre-transplant period, my heart provided awe-inspiring enlightenment on a wide array of topics. My practice became a deep inner listening coupled with clearing away the noisy and heavy emotions as they arose so I could hear the Voice with greater clarity.

Grace, my new heart offered another perspective by asking me to engage with the “little Voice” by intentionally quieting my mind.

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-anti-anxiety medications. You might need to join a support group. I am certain that 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.

Grace suggests that the “little Voice” is a vehicle for the Spirit to speak to me and it sits within a grotto of stillness. It is this Inner Guidance that directed me as I maneuvered the unknown and occasionally terrorizing world of additional medical challenges including a month long hospitalization for organ rejection, a year of dialysis, kidney transplant, heart valve replacement and pacemaker. I also received counsel about mundane issues like food choices, rest, and visitors. In order to experience the Peace and Joy that resides in my heart my daily practice remains connected to listening to the “little Voice.” Five minutes before the hour, I stop, check in, and ask Spirit, “Am I following your Guidance in this moment? What am I feeling right now? Is there anything blocking my Peace and Joy?” Spirit’s Guidance is never wrong even though I may receive a request I don’t wish to fulfill (e.g., to have an uncomfortable medical procedure or difficult conversation). Carrying a sense of the Divine within me everywhere I go triggers both tranquility and jubilance. Wholeness and delight frame my days when I pause to listen for the Inner Wisdom that I know lies in every heart.

Lerita Coleman Brown, professor of psychology emerita, spiritual director, retreat leader, and speaker promotes contemplative spirituality and the renown mystic and theologian, Howard Thurman on her website, PeaceforHearts.com. She is the author of several articles, chapters, essays and the book, When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom

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