University of Redlands Professor Fran Grace’s new book The Power of Love: A Transformed Heart Changes the World chronicles spiritual teachings from around the world, intertwined with the tale of her own personal journey to self-acceptance and compassion toward others. Mika Elizabeth Ono and Katie Olson of the Bulldog Blog spoke with Grace about the origins of the book, what she learned, and how she hopes the work will inspire readers.
Bulldog Blog: Tell us about your new book, The Power of Love.
Fran Grace: The book is a compendium of spiritual teachings from around the world on the practices of loving kindness and compassion. It's a book on how to transform the heart, with advice from teachers, activists, artists, and scientists who are unified in their belief that only when the heart is transformed is there going to be change in the world. Only through the heart do we really see each other, acknowledge our connection with each other, and begin to care about each other and the earth.
How did you conceive of the project?
It was conceived out of the crux of my own heartbreak and opening. At 39, I was in an existential vacuum of despair about my own life, and I landed on the doorstep of a spiritual teacher, [Dr. David R. Hawkins], who was also a renowned psychiatrist and clinical scientist. He had an uncommon capacity for unconditional love, and I experienced great healing of my own life. We sowed the seeds for this book together; I wanted to learn more about love, and he verified specific people who lived a life of love whom I could learn from. His passing was devastating, but it launched my journey to meet these people. At first, I had no idea how I was going to meet them. It took five or six years and synchronicities every step of the way.
Was there a core teaching you were expecting?
The core teaching they had was not the one I expected. Every one of the people I interviewed ended up confirming the commonsense understanding that when people are treated with kindness, there's hope for the world. If we raise our fists and fight against something, then that something comes back to fight against us; it creates a polarity, a gridlock, which we're seeing in our culture. When you're kind, it opens doors. That's at the end of the 700-page book, after years of research, traveling the planet, and asking great teachers about love. In the end, it’s about the power of basic human kindness: Can you treat the people around you with loving kindness? Can you give them the benefit of the doubt? Can you have a forgiving way of walking through your daily life?
What were you expecting?
I was expecting to have to reach some high bar of total unconditional love and universal peace and sainthood. One funny story comes from when I went to see Sadguru Vasudev, one of the most well-known humanitarians and yoga teachers in India, who founded the largest meditation hall in North America in the middle of Tennessee. I had no assurance I would get time with him, but I went anyway. Thirty minutes before a gathering of several hundred people, his assistant comes to me and says, “He'll talk to you, but in front of everybody.” In my airy-fairy big idea of love, one of my questions was “Can you tell me about universal love?” He looked at me and said, “You don't have to love the whole universe. Can you just not judge the guy sitting next to you?” In fact, I had been seriously judging the guy next to me at the lunch table. Vasudev continued, “If you're trying to love the universe, then you're not really loving anyone. It's only a theory. You can't stand the guy next to you—just change that and your whole life will change.”
Did writing the book change you?
Absolutely. The starting point was my interest in love because of the experience of being unconditionally loved by my teacher. Previously, I’d had personal relationships of romantic love. When people see “the power of love,” they think Valentine's Day, chocolates, flowers, having sex, and Hollywood movies. It’s true that romantic love is an aspect of the love spectrum. Falling in love is sometimes the first time we've gone outside of ourselves. We then can become loving toward those we fall in love with. But love doesn't require a partner. Love is a state of being, no matter if we're alone in the woods or in a crowd of people.
It strikes me as hard to talk about love because it has been so trivialized with Hallmark cards and so on. Did you find that as well?
Very much so. In contrast, one of my teachers in the ancient Sufi path, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, compared love with a fire. We are the wood; we surrender our judgments of ourselves and our judgments of others to the fire. And we become just love itself, a fire that warms others and that's strong and powerful. Love does not tolerate hatred. It transforms it.
You bring up an interesting point. People have a spectrum of emotions, including negative emotions. What’s the role of these negative emotions?
They are certainly part of the human experience. We can’t help our emotions of sadness, grief, shame, anger, jealousy; they just arise. We need to accept this is a part of us, like an arm. You wouldn’t cut off your arm; you can’t cut off part of your experience. I get angry. I'm a passionate person. But I've learned that anger has a 90-second course through my physical system. If I welcome the anger, that makes it quicker to rise and fall. Then I can get back to my intentional kindness and forgive myself because I'm not perfect.
So much of this book is about your personal journey. Do you feel the book helped complete the journey, or do you feel like you have a long way to go?
I’m still on a journey, but the book took me from point A to point B. Point A was when my teacher died. I thought I'd lost love, even though he had told me, “You, yourself, are what you're looking for.” That’s a classic teaching from so many traditions; Jesus Christ himself said, “The kingdom of heaven is within.” The book begins with me searching for something outside of myself. In the epilogue, the journey comes to a completion when I finally understand the truth of what he told me: There's nowhere I have to go to find love. There's no one I have to meet to give me love. I can just be here alone with myself and radiate love and receive the love of life. That's a profound serenity. There is nothing I need, so I can be more of service.
The flip side of the last question is “What do you hope the book will do for other people?”
I want to give hope to people who read it. I have made a lot of mistakes. We have all fallen for things we thought would give us happiness at the time. We just didn't know what happiness was. Readers of my story can see a person can make a lot of mistakes, but the next day return to the path of love. It is always a choice in the next day or next moment. As Rumi says, “The wound is where the light enters in.” The book took so long to publish because I had to get to a place of peace with my own life. Now I'm really happy I included my personal quest because it's a thread that someone can follow in the book—the narration of someone else's quest, their mistakes, their ups and downs, and their continual return to the path of love.
That takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there.
It required self-acceptance. I had to own every shadow side of myself. Buddhist teachers told me, “All of us have done everything. We've all been the rapist and murderer; we've all been different races and genders; we've done everything up and down to each other.” The Native American Grandmother Mona Polacca taught me, "All of the universe is inside of us."
What's the relationship of the book to the University of Redlands?
The University has been vital and a place where my new self could unfold. Before meeting my teacher in 2004, I was going to leave academe. It seemed meaningless. But he opened my heart and showed me how to approach life from the inside-out. In 2007, some colleagues and I opened the Meditation Room, where the inner self of students was welcomed, and introduced a whole new chapter of teaching for me that incorporated a compassion class and a meditation class. The University has been a place where the theories of this book could be worked on within an academic environment. For example, I was interested in the science on human transformation, which I was able to study with my U of R colleagues Lisa Olson and Celine Ko in the context of students’ physiological and mental health changes during a class on compassion. The encouragement from all of my colleagues, department chairs, deans, and the provost all the way to the president's office and the University Communications Department was truly remarkable. To believe in a faculty member and to give her support is a form of love.
Talk more about your students.
They've given me so much. In a class last night, a student presented on the practice of the Tibetan Buddhist mandala, a symbol of healing, and I learned a lot. The students are fellow travelers on a quest of love. Many of their stories are in the book. Last weekend, I spoke with an alum from the Johnston program. This is a student who, during his four years here, struggled with, “Is my existence worth anything?” He told me, “If I hadn't had your class, I would have answered that question differently.” I can’t take credit for these stories of transformation. Like with me and my teacher, I think a space can be created where the deepest part of ourselves is welcome, and within that part of ourselves is something that can heal us.
How is your course for the new mental health counseling certificate related to the book?
Some of the early readers of the book asked me, “Are you going to offer a course?” And I thought, “That's a nice idea.” When the new certificate was launched, it seemed like the perfect avenue to offer a course. Since it's online, anyone can access it, including people from Europe and elsewhere who have expressed interest. In the book, each chapter offers a unique paradigm of healing and wholeness. So that's the title of the course: Paradigms of Healing and Wholeness. What is wholeness and what does healing look like? What are all the problems that human beings have? The course will be exciting because it's live and people will be able to participate, ask their own questions, and share their experiences.
In your research and teaching, you talk a lot about mysticism. How does that connect with your book?
My understanding of mysticism is that it describes the experience of a direct realization of the source of life. Many of us have moments of experiencing the timeless beauty and wonder of existence. In most spiritual traditions, it's the goal of a human life to realize we're all one. A mystic is a person with a sustained realization of that oneness. That's the state they live in, and we all want to be with them because of the love and serenity they radiate. To become a loving person means that you're in harmony with life.
What are you learning about producing and distributing a book?
I published the book through a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization I created so that all the profits could be returned to the loving channels of the organizations and people who contributed their wisdom to the book; through their works of love, they reduce the suffering in the world. I encourage people to order the book, which retails at $34.95 and will have a lower group rate, from our website—www.innerpathway.com—because more of the proceeds go back to these sources than a purchase from Amazon. The funds are a gift of gratitude back to those who guided me.
Read more about The Power of Love; Grace’s academic activities; and the U of R Religious Studies Department. Grace will also be speaking on her book with Principal Librarian Jennifer Downey in a public event at the Redlands Smiley Library on Monday, March 25 at 6 p.m.