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Posted By Opening the Heart

OTH is happy to support the global initiative of Playing for Change. And, of course, the music they produce is consitently uplifting and inspirational.

And while I'm posting - a biug thank you to Jon for keeping things alive and kicking here at the OTH Blog.



Posted By Opening the Heart

Donna Pic


The Opening the Heart Workshop has always defied description.  Yet I long to put words to my experience there, these 22 years.  I realize there are no literary shortcuts.  Here is a snapshot.

It involves remembering.  It pulls me into a powerful vortex of possibility, being in that sacred, human arena.  My brain begins firing like a sparkler, burning hot and radiant, right down to the "quick" of the stick, where we hold on.

The content of Opening the Heart is  A*L*I*V*E, sometimes a rushing river that picks up stuck energy and moves it along, depositing a person on the grassy bank, panting and released, wet, glistening, and new.  Sometimes, the experience is more like being pierced by the rays of a determined sun, illuminating places inside that have never been met with kindness, or tender companionship.  There are times when the choreography of the weekend causes old pain to burn like a forest fire, moving with speed, friction and flame to demolish the "under story," or, as I've come to think of it, the "cover story."  Who among us couldn't use the chance to peel off the habit of pretense, lift the veil, remove the mask?  You might say that Opening the Heart is like being exposed to the elements, and for that reason, change is inevitable. We surrender to the current of life, allow ourselves to be taken for a ride, giving our intelligent hearts their way with us, and in so doing, we are "moved."

Participants have often told us that they do in a single weekend, what would take years in talk therapy to accomplish.  While each person "paddling the waters" of Opening the Heart has a unique experience, we facilitators admit that we aim deep, trusting the work to take each of us to the core, to the root of what wants transformation.  We are respectfully unapologetic for our exquisite aim, and deeply trusting of what arises from wisdom of the body.  Your body!

We facilitators "hold" this process with years of experience, with a skill set that weaves together the best practices of all our combined years.  We "walk the walk" in our own lives, grateful for the effectiveness of the techniques we've inherited and honed over time.  We work from a place of genuine humility, believing in the dignity and resilient nature of  humankind.  Time and time again, we witness extraordinary courage, and the capacity we embody as a species to face the task at hand.  We are all innately brilliant at showing up for life. We can meet both triumph and tragedy at the door, with a kind curiosity, allowing life to open us from the inside out.

We aspire to be loving agents of change in our facilitation, often surprising a culture accustomed to distance and self sufficiency, with disarming warmth, and the truer hues of interconnectedness.  Leading the Opening the Heart Workshop is a privilege.  It is one of our purest joys, our most beloved, human "offering."

Ron Ortner, a magnificent contemporary artist says this:
"It is already a given that life is a failure, by which I mean that we come with an expiration date.  You should seek as though your hair is on fire, and you need water."

Why wait?  We invite you to dive in, with the spirit of the loving warrior you already are.

With heart,


Posted By Opening the Heart

I hope that you will all take 3  minutes to listen to a heart-warming story that begins:


 So I get off the train and I'm walking towards the stairs and this young teenager pulls out a knife. He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him here you go.He starts to leave and as he's walking away I'm like, hey, wait a minute, you forgot something.If you're gonna be robbing people for the rest of the night you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.

Listen to the end of the story here:



Posted By Opening the Heart

(Donna's meditation on what lies under love appears here in two parts)


Lately I've been pondering the question,  "What is under love? "      

I read a poem tackling this question and wasn't satisfied with the answer.
 Under love, like underbrush, or the under story of a forest.  A thousand small kindnesses, which, if you are doing your job, should go unnoticed. Earthworms, or ash.  The probable company of our final resting places.  "Each other" is under love.  You under me, and me under you.  The weight we bear and can't surrender.

 Forgiveness is under love.  Sweet, absolute forgiveness for what we did, or what we couldn't do.  The one who recognizes intent, conscious and unconscious and shines a kind light on motive.  "Ahh, you were mastering the complex art of balance.  You were hell bent on surviving."  Stretched wide.  Leg moving slowly up the muscle and tension of a neighboring thigh trying to find "tree pose."  It's all about striving for balance against the pull of solar plexus and the demands of gravity.  Trying not to fall, hard.
We try not to fall.

Ahh, but back to love at the root.  Breast and milk and the word "yes."  A mother reflexively sweeping her long hair from front to back.  This gesture she has done since childhood, but now she offers her engorged nipple to the yearning rosebud of her daughter's mouth.  This baby will suck goodness from the body of her mother and swallow satisfaction.  Time and time again, swallowing whatever goodness life pours out.  Innocent and needful.  Trusting love to stay.

Under love there are no limits.  No prisons or cages, tricks or tracks.  No preconceived notions.  We make virgin footprints of pain and of pleasure.  In time, the wind blows, the sands shift, the snow drifts high.  We let go of the binding concepts of "good and bad", and "yours and mine."  And the lonely language of right and wrong. We let go of that, too. The distance between you and me.  Maybe we unbuckle our seat belts for good.  Turn off the bossy, GPS lady.  Roll the top down on the convertible, or crank the manual windows all the way down, fully open.  We notice every single detail of the ride.  Avoid the soft brown and white body of the rabbit flirting with death.  We see her wide-eyed terror and disorientation in the glow of low beams.  We feel her, the pavement beneath her panic, her feet scrambling this way and that in search of lush green cover.  The chaos and pounding of her small heart on high alert.  All this we feel in the instant which governs life, or death, or life.  And we steer accordingly.

Posted By Opening the Heart

Under love there is voice.  And eyes which cannot hide, which never lie.  Sometimes our best efforts at loving are murky, but during pain, or change, or toe curling joy, there is this voice that advocates for "a love round on the house," that wants each one of us to step in this river, to taste that mouth, a perfectly seasoned fork full of food, a lemony, minty iced drink that slides down smoothly.  To be held through the dark night into the light of day. To know the heart of the universe is a loving one, wanting that all our angst be met with an open, soft palm on the exact place that hurts. Our desires met, and then some.  Our questions not answered, exactly, but respectfully regarded and understood for the cacaphony of emotions they reveal.  We are left to sort on our lonely own.

Which brings me to this.

Under love, there is lonliness.  The separation of skin.  That I am contained over here in mine, and you, over there, in yours.  How it feels to sign off, or say "goodbye" outloud, and mindful that it could be the last time.  To pull reluctantly away from a body you want to hold onto, perhaps forever.  To feel the undeniable "I want you..." and let go at the same time. To have without holding.  To love, without having.

Under love is lonliness, and the times we wonder in the privacy of our own landscapes, where we are likely to end.  A coffin.  A grave.  An ocean.  A decorative, or simple urn. In my case, flung over a sturdy branch, belly down.  Food for the winged ones.  Out of sight from children because I would never want to frighten them.  Fire, my back up plan,

because it is the element in which I am most at home.  I prefer a branch with a view, and the comfort of anticipating sun on my skin.  Fresh air.  Peepers, and star light.  Letting it all, you, and the myth of separation.

Truth is, I have always been with you.  I will always be with you.  I am with you right now, in this moment.  Here.  My hand rests here.  My heart rests here. Sharing your tea, your joy, your temporary sorrow.  You will forget sometimes.  I will, too.  That's alright.  We came here not to feign courage like stoic gods and goddesses. We came to take the human ride.  So give me your soft palm.  Let me hold it awhile.  We will practise remembering.

Posted By Opening the Heart

Goodbyes are hard for you.
I see it in the soft truth of your eyes.
Strong body, full of grace
I offer this:

I will love you down to the bone
Through the dizziness of comings,
the heartbreak of going,
the midnight thief of sleep
whose name is "what if."

I will spread my finest coat
over broken shards of disappointment
to soften the crossing on your capable feet
through the land of losing, if you will let me.
Would give you my bread in the camps
had that been our fate in this lifetime.
I would.

I laugh at myself
amusing my ancestors
how my body remembers
jaw, teeth and claw, "it's not nice"
this tearing of flesh and I think,
"God help the person who dares to mess
with you, and with yours."
Peace lover?  Yes. Push over?  No.

Such is the nature of my loving
I would lay down my life for you.
Unmoving against the tides of time,
ebbing and flowing all over the place
sweeping us, and all that matters,
out to sea.

This random raking with hungry hands
our holy gatherings
leaves us gutted and flattened.
Kabir says, "the cup must be emptied
before it can be filled," and I say,
“empty, I stand before you.”

We are skin, bone and pulse
Dancing bravely with Mortality,
our death dates etched on smooth,
unsuspecting foreheads
teaching leaping aliveness,
recklessly spending

the currency of love.

You know those rivers running wild
under absolutely everything?
Gorgeous red blood coursing through our veins?
What separation possibly survives
This Spring, greening, Divine jungle?
When you are cut, I bleed.

You should know
though I may never speak of it,
My definition of "friend."
Tuck it, if you want
in your pocket or

wrap it in your heart cloth.
May it keep you good company.

Donna Macomber

March 27, 2010

Posted By Opening the Heart

Earlier this year I accompanied a friend out of the country for a medical treatment that had not previously been done for someone with her illness.
The flight alone was a big logistical challenge. One particular airplane had to be tracked at the corporate level so that my friend could use it.  We had to carry her oxygen tank and other medical equipment on board. Our day was fraught with the possibility that I would have to have the pilot  halt the airplane on the tarmac or have the airplane diverted for an early landing if a medical emergency developed.

These logistical challenges turned out to be minor compared to the public relations challenges awaiting us on arrival in the country delivering my friend’s treatment.

Essentially, the staff at the medical clinic was afraid to treat my friend. The cutting edge medical work done there relies on a delicate relationship with the country’s government.  They had never treated her illness before and if anything were to go wrong they feared a lawsuit that might shut their program down.

As my friend was unable, the relationships with the clinic fell to my care.  This included renegotiating her custom-designed medical protocol on a daily basis along with a price tag numbering in tens of thousands of dollars.  And it had to be done while navigating cultural differences in another language.

One of the lessons I have had the opportunity to practice at the Opening the Heart Workshop is to (as Clarissa Pinkola-Estes puts it) “learn deep love over time.”  That is to say, I have tried to learn how to anchor myself in an intention of love and to not be swayed by other people’s fear. Perhaps because of this practicing I was able to find that place of love inside my heart and anchor myself there in this situation.

In any event, many things came my way while interfacing with the  clinic’s receptionist, office manager, physicians, lab technicians, hospital staff and even the anesthesiologist.

Despite the many difficult behaviors - essentially expressions of fear - I kept saying over and over again inside my head, “Friend.”  While I had to be an assertive medical advocate, I also tried to treat each person with genuine respect, friendliness and love.

In the end, love won the day.  My friend got her custom protocol at a fair price, and we left the country with the medical staff considering us to be their newly-found friends.

The Opening the Heart work is one tool that can help us to learn deep love over time.   When we are able to embody that love we can bring its power to bear in our everyday lives.

Posted By Opening the Heart

I'd like to recommend a book for those of you who have taken or are considering taking The Opening the Heart Workshop™.


The Transformative Power Of Crisis by Robert M. and Jane Alter.


Along with Robert Gass and Judith Ansara Gass, Robert M. Alter was one of the original leaders of The Opening the Heart Workshop during its residence at Spring Hill in Ashby, Massachusetts.


 The Transformative Power of Crisis details the philosophical, psychological and spiritual themes underlying our work at Opening the Heart in a beautiful and accessible format. It was originally published in 2000 under the title How Long Till My Soul Gets It Right?


Here are some customer recommendations culled from


After reading Robert and Jane Alter's book, cover-to-cover, I discovered a calmness, a peaceful feeling that no other book has ever given to me. In reading, I discovered that I am not alone in the many situations that life has visited upon me, and that there is a window that, when ready, anyone can climb through and find him or herself in a more tranquill place. Thank you, Robert and Jane, for a loving, spiritual, affirming and educational look at reality.


This is one of the most positive, nurturing and enriching books I have read on the subject of fulfilling goals, healing, strengthening relationships and boosting self-confidence. As a counsellor, I am continually searching for quality reading material to recommend, and this book will definitely be on the list.


While the book's title mentions 'crisis', I found that the stories and commentary applied to almost every facet of my life. I was taken aback by Alter's deep and wide understanding of the human condition in general, and I believe this book deserves to reach a broad audience. I don't often find books like this to be inspiring--usually you have to wade through chapters and chapters of muck--but almost every page of this book shone with wisdom.


And a recommendation from Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. author of Minding the Body, Mending the Mind


"The Transformative Power of Crisis embodies an earthy wisdom of the mind and soul that speaks to the heart of therapy. Many times in life I have longed for teachers like Robert and Jane Alter who could gently and truly lead me to face myself, while also seeing the divine light that shines through the human predicament. Their humor, wisdom, and vision enlighten every page of this honest guide to the journey of life. " 

Posted By Opening the Heart

For several months I have been following and supporting the wide ranging activities of The Elders.


The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, whose mission is to offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.


It is a priviledge for the Opening the Heart Workshop™ team to support the mission of this wise, multi-cultural and open-hearted organization.


The Elders website is at:


And here is a video about their vision:



Posted By Opening the Heart

Robert and Judith who originated the first versions of the Opening the Heart Workshop™ in the late 1970s continue to share their wisdom and love in a workshop for couples called Sharing the Path. My OTH co-leader Donna and I have had the priviledge of assisting them in many of these workshops. In this short video they talk about their work with couples.


More information about Robert and Judith's Sharing the Path Workshops can be found here: