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92 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare gem, well worth the effort!, October 30, 2001
By 
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This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
This is one of those rare books that excites you as you read. May speaks of contemplative prayer and spirituality as both a long time practitioner and a psychiatrist. This is neither a book of inspiring piety not a book of the mechanics of prayer. Rather, it describes the dynamics of the human mind as it comes into contact with the transcendent in contemplative prayer. As I read through the book, I was frequently saying "Yes, that's it exactly!" The section on the defenses the self comes up with in "protecting itself" from unitive experience especially impressed me.

May has spent much of his professional career focusing on the area of spiritual direction. Rather than building his psychological model on experience obtained from treating pathology, May builds his model on "unitive experience" in the context of contemplative prayer. The model is especially helpful in understanding what goes on in us as we attempt to practice the methods of contemplative prayer. It gives a practical look at the obstacles to prayer, why they arise, and how to understand and work through them.

May's pivotal concept is the role of willingness and willfulness as life attitudes and the critical standards for our spiritual lives. He presents willingness as an openness to God's will in all circumstances. This attitude is critical, as it allows God to work through us. The real danger to our relationship with God and with one another is an attitude of willfulness. This attitude places our will as the standard. It is dangerous because there is no room for God in this attitude. It is especially dangerous when the person thinks that he or she is God's gift to humanity.

When I read anything other than novels, I underline important ideas. My copy of Will and Spirit is so filled with yellow from my highlighting marker that at times the pages almost seem to be printed on bright yellow paper.

This is an excellent book on the topic of contemplative prayer and the spiritual life. It is not an easy book. It requires serious reflection as you move through it. It provides practical advice that is available only from one who is experienced both in contemplative prayer and providing direction to those who are trying to follow the contemplative path.
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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound study of contemporary mystical practice, May 3, 2001
By 
Carl McColman (Clarkston, GA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
I first discovered contemplative spirituality when I read Evelyn Underhill's "Mysticism" -- a book that introduced me to many great historical spiritual writers, such as Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, and John of the Cross. I found the great mystics of old to be deeply nurturing to my spiritual practice -- but I had a wistful relationship with the mystical books I read, for it always seemed mysticism was something that happened "back then." Where were the profound mystical explorers of our time? Then a friend recommended I read "Will and Spirit," and so finally I discovered a powerful and beautiful expression of mystical spirituality as practiced today. For May writes squarely in the tradition of the great Christian mystics, with insight, humility, and devotion that characterizes the best spiritual writing. His premise is simple: most human beings live their lives from a posture of willFULness ("I'm in control here"), but the mystical journey is a radical call to enter into the spirituality of willINGness (not my will, but thine). From there, May considers the limitations of much popular spirituality, and celebrates the promise and possibility of a deep practice of meditation within the context of western religion and culture. I now count this as one of the two or three most important texts on spirituality I've ever read. I quote May in my own books, and I still turn to his words for inspiration and guidance.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a treasure you find in the field, October 4, 2001
By 
Francisco X. Stork (Boston MA, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
The beautiful thing about May's book is that it is so hard to define. It is part psychology, part theology, part poetry, part philosophy. The book is empirical and lyrical. It vibrates with the author's warm heart, his brilliant intelligence, his down to earth common sense. It is a book that describes the spiritual journey many of us yearn to undertake and in so doing clarifies it and makes it easier to proceed. The journey of spiritual transformation that May describes is the journey of surrender to Mystery. May describes this process of transformation as the proces whereby our ego acquires its proper and helpful place in the orbit of our being. No longer the willful king concerned with preserving its self importance at all costs, the ego is transformed into an ally in the service of True Life. But the process of transformation is fraught with obstacles ranging from inner fear to the many illusions that pass themselves as the ultimate good to external evil. May looks at each one of these obstacles, patiently, comprehensively. He does not leave any questions about the internal life unaddressed, even if his response is simply to delineate the unknown. It is a book that I will take notes on and read often. As you read it, you will feel as I did, that behind its ease and clarity there lies a monumental effort on the part of the author. Like the other reviewers here, I am profoundly grateful to the author for this effort as well as for his openness to the inspiration that informs his work.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A profound inner-journey, October 8, 1998
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This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
I have read this book several times in as many years. Each reading has shed a new light on my own development or, in some cases, an exploration into areas that require growth. The joy of this book is that the reader can take ownership of every word. It takes the complexities of the human psyche and vividly describes the interaction with our human reality. This includes our capacity for life-giving behavior and our frequent battles with human selfishness at a conscious and subconscious level.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Put this on your bookshelf, June 15, 2000
By 
seeker "tink-im" (cincinnati, ohio United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
I've read this book over and over. Now I quote it in my workshops. This book discusses how thought happens in a way I never thought about. :-) There is no way to tell you all the wisdom here, you just have to plow through like a 101 course on self. This book changed forever, for the good, how I look at relationships, human dynamics, what god just may want from me, and the sublime difference between willingness and willfullness. I'm forever grateful to this author. I hope he knows how he affected others with this work. Thanks :-)
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read the Review Then make Up Your Own Mind, December 11, 2006
By 
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This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
WILL & SPIRIT is a difficult book to review. Any review is likely to reflect more of my own bias than the quality of the book. Readers will probably either love or hate this book. Therefore the best service I can render is to list a few of the things that might draw or repulse potential readers and let them make up their own minds. I gave the book 5 stars because ideas in this book are sure to stay with readers long after the book is finished. Many may read it more than once.

THINGS THAT MIGHT REPULSE READERS:

Writing style. Many contemplatives are drawn to mystical or poetic works that non contemplatives barely comprehend. Some contemplatives are repulsed by technical or scientific writing styles. In this book May comes across as a psychiatrist who writes about contemplative spirituality. The style is difficult to read, professional, and deep. In some ways he reminds me of M. Scott Peck.

Ecumenicism. May writes from a Christian perspective, but that perspective includes insights gained from all humanity and all religious traditions. One gains the impression that he believes Christianity is A way to God, but not necessarily THE way. There is enough of this tone in his writing to bother some readers. This is a book of Contemplative Psychology, but not necessarily Christian Theology.

Be forewarned. If you purchase the book and have these complaints, it is your own fault.

THINGS THAT MIGHT DRAW READERS:

True Spirituality. May does an excellent job of contrasting willfulness and willingness to submit to God. As with many contemplatives, he declares selfishness to be sinful, whether it is acted out in socially unacceptable ways or more respectable self-righteousness within the religious community. Three cheers for piercing the façade of the self-righteous.

Silence and Meditation. May will comfort many people who believe that contemplation requires sitting cross-legged on a bed of hot coals for several hours each morning. He even goes so far as to suggest that hyperactive people might gain more from brief periods of silence than those who are able to go to extremes. This pierces the bubble of contemplative elitism.

Unitive Experience. I don't know if this will be viewed by readers as a positive or negative, but May's description of unitive experiences will cause readers to think. He labels these as the most common of all spiritual experiences, but declares that most people shut them out because they challenge our desires to have total control of our own spirituality, and in the process total control of our own God.

Attachment. While acknowledging that all humans have desires, May challenges the selfish ways in which our desires quickly become attachments that stand between us and God.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Read through this review and decide. Is this a book for you?
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely changed my understanding of spiritual practice, July 10, 2000
By 
This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
At a time, ten years ago, when I had hit a wall with my Zen practice, this book helped me to see that my approach to spiritual practice had been utterly "willful" and that "willingness," instead, is the key. This distinction has remained central to my understanding of both Buddhist and Christian spiritual practice, giving me some sense of why Zen is always saying that you can't _become_ a buddha because you already _are_ a buddha, and why Christianity is always saying that you can't _earn_ your salvation but need only _accept_ it. (Now if only my practice would catch up with this understanding . . . ) Thank you, Gerald May!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Soul food for the brain., October 26, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
This is good reading for the mystics of all faiths and the mental health professionals of all schools. This contemplative psychology compliments traditional religions as it gently leads the reader through the new age. Pointing to the Mystery and the way home, it makes the basic statement: "THY WILL BE DONE". My copy is dog-eared, highlighted and worn.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a cornerstone book, October 3, 2001
By 
christina baldwin (Whidbey Island, WA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
I read this book so many years ago I can't remember. It is heavily underlined, and parts of it still stay in my mind nearly word for word. This level of thought is a gift for a long time. Now I'm ordering another copy for a friend. It's worth sitting down and thinking with this man-- get ready to underline.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic, April 29, 2012
By 
This review is from: Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Paperback)
Will and Spirit is a spiritual classic. It served as my first substantial introduction to contemplative psychology back in the early `90s, a sort of diving board into the contemplative world. Now, upon returning some twenty-plus years later, May reminds me of the wonderful oceanic depth, the great Mystery in which we all swim. The key idea May explores is the notion that spirituality is the primal reality undergirding all that is. He doesn't just assert this, he explores many of its experiential nuances, especially as they relate to the interplay of psychology and spirituality. So in order for psychology to be properly grounded for healing, it should surrender itself to the primacy of such Mystery. Integration, as May states elsewhere in Care of Mind/Care of Spirit, that attempt to bring psychology and religion together as equals, only leads to further confusion. Psychology, in these efforts, often ends up holding the upper hand, trying to reduce spirituality to psychological terms. For May, this simply won't do. Instead, he hopes that we might grow in our ability to "see psychological experiences with spiritual eyes" (p.22). Spirituality grounds the psychological by the way it addresses and incorporates "psychology as well as every other aspect of human experience and endeavor" (p.21). May sees this struggle between psychology and spirituality as a manifestation of the struggle between the two primary attitudes of being willing and being willful. The willful approach is marked by the desire to "master the Mystery"; while the willing approach seeks to "surrender to the Mystery."

This book continues to open my eyes. I'm struck by how stuck I am--no, intrigued is a better word, by all the varied ways my willfulness parades about. And I can't think of a more helpful nomenclature for describing the egocentric struggle than this willful vs. willing dynamic. They're just labels, true enough, but with a felt sense about them. I can sense, for the most part, when I'm being too willful, when my "will to power" is distancing and alienating me from the life I intend. I can also sense the shift that occurs when a more willing voice or action is lived out. This book is amazing, just overflowing with insight and humility. May interweaves so many fascinating topics that are helpful to pastors, pastoral counselors and spiritual directors: his discussion of "middle-grounders" and "twice-borns"; his appreciation for the kataphatic and apaphatic paths; the varied nature of the dynamics of both fear and love; the tricks we play to prevent authentic surrender; his sobering assessment of Mystery as something worthy of risk, yet also to be discerned (the discussion of Good and Evil is refreshing, reminding us that we're playing with fire, so be careful). I especially enjoy how he crystallizes everything in his final chapter. As I seek to pursue and foster a more honest and whole path of humility, his summary of legitimate spiritual surrender is invaluable, as is the six-fold criteria (p.308), and the simple "three things to do when faced with heavy responsibility" (p.314).

All of May's books are wonderfully wise and written with a poet's eye. I don't know of a more insightful yet delightfully human interpreter of authentic surrender and the challenge it presents to us all.
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Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology
Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology by Gerald G. May MD (Paperback - June 3, 1987)
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