The Way of the Lover: Sufism, Shamanism, and the Spiritual Art of Love by Ross Heaven is a slim book that combines Middle-Eastern teachings with shamanism and other familiar neo-pagan beliefs in order to posit a more holistic approach to engaging with everything from daily tasks, raising children, overcoming trauma, and — like the title suggests — your love life.
But Ross Heaven writes something so much more than a guidebook or an exploration on the art of love. His prose comes off as authentic and enriching, rather than didactic and moralistic. Moreover, he manages to introduce teachings from the Middle East without engaging in tropes or negative stereotypes because he simply does not engage with them. He introduces writers like Hafiz and Rumi and the history around their work in an interesting way and by doing so, provides a solid foundation to the rest of his claims. I’ve been reading these poets for years, and even I learned a few new things about them! His prose is well-researched, but also well-executed as he always gears his writing back to what matters most of all: you, the reader, and coping with the modern world while still keeping ancient wisdom alive. The ideas are complex, but also quite simple. Quite frankly, it’s a book that I’ve been waiting to read for many years and I’m so happy to have found it.
There are seven parts in total to the book, each one devoted to another aspect of love. Though Heaven acknowledges that we mostly think of love in the context of personal romantic relationships, love is also a frame of mind that Heaven posits everyone should engage with. He regularly uses himself as an example in each chapter to illuminate his point, along with providing myths and fairy tales to follow (more on those later). More than just a positive mindset, love is a verb in the sense that when we go towards what we love, we are rewarded beyond what we first imagine. As Syed Hamraz Ahsan points out in the introduction, “Even one-sided unproductive love is not a misfortune. It has the potential to produce the most potent love in the world. Love, in whatever stage, in whatever shape, in whatever disguise, is still love. As Ross Heaven writes, love is energy — the most powerful energy. It has to go forward, upward, downward, and in all four directions. […] Love is the only theme, the only objective, the only point, the only centre, and the only core that all of Sufism revolves around.” When we use love to guide our lives, we aren’t as bogged down by the negativity of the daily grind. But it is important to note that by focusing on love, we’re not just shutting out all that is bad in the world. That would be counterproductive, and obviously, not in tune to this love energy that the book is devoted to harvesting.
This concept is particularly illuminated in the chapters about overcoming trauma. We have to be able to understand bad things, especially as they happen to us and those we love, but we can’t dwell in this feeling of trauma or completely ignore it, because both are anathema to healing. Heaven attributes our understanding of trauma to the myths we tell about our lives, especially those that are damaging. He defines mythology as “a pervading belief system which, still, may have little basis in ‘fact’” but when “constructing their social realities, all cultures take the facts that they have and ‘fill in the blanks’ to create something which is neither entirely factual nor completely made up, but something other in origin.” What this effectively means is that when confronted with attributes of our life that we don’t understand, we fill in the blanks and create a myth out of our lives. And if we’re not careful, we create limiting beliefs that have no basis in reality — but end up dictating our lives.
Much of what he writes in this section — especially the chapter “Seeking The Beloved” — are things that I learned when I had to deal with a lot of negativity surrounding my mother and our relationship. I couldn’t keep fighting with her, but I also couldn’t ignore the hurt she was causing. So instead of shutting her out or shutting my feelings out, I examined the story I was telling myself about our relationship, like Heaven suggests doing in the subsection about family scripts and dramas. What I found was that I was still framing the myth between us as mother and child, when I was actually an adult, which then led me to feel powerless even though I wasn’t. By changing the narrative, creating a new myth, I was able to deal with the situation. I was able to pick love, effectively. While she was hurtful, she was telling her own myth, and I had to acknowledge that even if it didn’t look that way on the surface, she was still trying to act with love, too.
Basically all of what Heaven said in this one section I found myself agreeing with enthusiastically, because it had been something I came to on my own after many hours of silent privation and thought. If I had read his book during that time period, it may have even made that transition easier. But now that I know this book exists, I will return to it again and again.
At the end of some of the sections, Heaven introduces a myth or fairy tale, such as “The Beetle and the Broomstick” or “The Priest Who Knew Too Much.” He does this because even if the reader doesn’t have a personal analogy like I did, they can still comprehend the information in a narrative and therefore make it easier to remember down the line. I enjoyed each one of these stories immensely because I love folklore — but I also love the psychology behind each tale as well. Overall, The Way of the Lover is a wonderful, heartfelt, and fantastic read. I cannot recommend it enough.
[Evelyn Deshane has appeared in Plenitude Magazine, Strange Horizons, The Rusty Toque, and Lackington’s. Their chapbook, Mythology, was released in 2015 with The Steel Chisel. Evelyn (pron. Eve-a-lyn) received an MA from Trent University and currently studying for PhD at Waterloo University. Visit them at: evedeshane.wordpress.com]