“Legacy of the Heart – the spiritual advantages of a painful childhood” by Wayne Muller

Recommended to me by: Emma McCreary

With warmth and care, Muller describes some of the outcomes of an abusive childhood, or “family of sorrow,” and some spiritual tools that can bring healing.

Near the beginning of the book, he proposes an exercise that resonated deeply with me. (Emphasis added.)

[F]or a single day: Resolve to go through an entire day assuming that you are trustworthy, that all your feelings are accurate, that all your perceptions and intuitions are reliable. As you approach each person or situation, ask yourself the questions, If I knew that I was absolutely trustworthy, how would I handle this moment? What would I do? What could I say that would be true? What would be the right action to settle this situation with safety and clarity?

I wish this exercise had been proposed to me by every healer I’ve seen. I wish everyone in confusion, doubt, and pain could be encouraged to try this, and begin to find their center again.

He takes spiritual insights from Christianity, Judaism, Sufism, Buddhism, and other faiths. As an ordained minister, he is clearly most familiar with Christianity, awkwardly referring to Jews as “Hebrews.”

Each chapter covers a different effect of a difficult childhood, including Pain and Foregiveness, Fear and Faith, Grandiosity and Humility, etc. Some chapters spoke to me more than others, despite his assumption that everyone would have all the issues he mentions.

He can also be prescriptive in some of his exercises, for example suggesting that one speak the words of forgiveness whether one feels them or not. While forgiveness can be powerfully healing, I believe that it cannot be rushed, and forcing the process only prolongs the pain.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with creating meaning from a painful childhood. As the quote above recommends, keep a careful eye on what resonates for you, and skip over what does not. Different chapters may speak to you at different times.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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