An Excerpt from Heart: A Personal Journey Through Its Myths and Meanings by Gail Godwin

Gail Godwin's Heart is an enthralling work in which she serves as an inspiring and imaginative tour guide through the myths and meanings of this human faculty and emotion. Here's an example of her writing on the spiritual practice of kindness:

"The prime virtue in the Confucian system is jen. Jen is the combination of 'human being' and 'two.' It is best translated as 'human-heartedness.' In the sociable Confucian ethic, one cannot become a person by oneself. Jen simultaneously embraces humanity toward others and respect for yourself. If you are a person of jen, you have the capacity to measure the feelings of others by your own. In public and private life, this means you have a largeness of heart that seeks to affirm others as you yourself would wish to be affirmed.

"The Confucian ideal is chun tzu, translated as 'humanity at its best,' or 'the superior person.' If you have attained chun tzu, you are like an ideal host. Your attitude is not 'What can I get from these people?' but 'How can I accommodate them?' Because you have your own standards, you can take a gracious initiative rather than cling to convention. You are the best of convention because you have assimilated li, the social grammar of right behavior. The Confucian li covers every aspect of human conduct that fosters a sense of community. It's all there, in the best of the Chinese classics, winnowed and enlivened by Confucius and taught by him to his students: everything from greetings, table manners, gestures of deference, filial behavior, leadership, worship, and leave-taking. Because you have practiced li and made it your own, you have a rightness of heart."