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Posted By Opening the Heart

Photo: Mike Berenson

Whenever I go go Kriplalu to help lead an Opening the Heart workshop, I usually settle things in my room, check out the workshop space, get an iced drink in the cafeteria and then wander around the building a bit to take in the peaceful vibration of this retreat center that's so familiar to me. But I always find myself transfixed on the stairway landing looking at one inspiring saying framed on the wall. It's always the same for me: it's as if an invisible net emerges from the words and holds me still while the words penetrate the heart: "Be Kind- For everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

My mind fast forwards several hours to what I will likely share with the circle of participants at the end of the Friday night session: "The reason I come back to this workshop over and over again is to see the transformation in the circle from Friday night to Sunday." My belief is that when we look around that circle at the start of the workshop and we see difference as we look into another's eyes, what we experience is separation. And as the weekend unfolds, and the descent begins and the masks are bravely removed, increasingly, when we look into those same eyes, we see no difference and what we experience is only compassion.

Hafiz, the 14th century Sufi poet, describes this experience in his "Wonderful Game" and the game "goes like this: We hold hands and look into each other's eyes and scan each other's face. Then I say 'Now tell me a difference you see between us'. And you might respond "Hafiz, your nose is ten times bigger than mine.' And I would say 'Yes, my dear, almost ten times'. But let's keep playing. Let's go deeper, Go deeper.... For if we do... even God will not be able to tell us apart."

There's a story about a father who takes his two young sons to a very crowded waiting room of a busy pediatric group practice and the young boys are running around the waiting room, unresponsive to the father's efforts to control them. Some of the other patients become annoyed and, eventually, one woman said to the father "Can't you control your own sons!?" The father looked at her sadly and said "I'm so sorry. Their mother died yesterday and I have not known how to console them".

When we're able to go deeper and see beneath the surface forms that people show in order to make it through a day; if we are ever priveleged to know the great battle of people who are buying stamps in front of us at the post office or selling us a pair of pants at the department store- if we are ever able to really know how many times they have been brought to their knees and resurrected themselves- if we really had a lived experience of the journey of loss and pain of the brother or sister standing next to us on the bus, then all we would experience would be kindness and understanding. With Love and Respect, Jon


Posted By Opening the Heart

Linda writes:


One of the most powerful lessons I have learned about love was from my grandfather.  It is a story from my grandma and grandpa’s sixty-four year long marriage.

My grandpa and grandma had four happy children and no regrets about the life choices they had made. But when I asked my grandma one day what she would have done if she had not been raising children she said, “I would have been a ballerina”. And it was true – she loved to dance.

Although she had four children at home, she could have channeled her love of ballet into ballroom dancing which she also loved. The only problem was that my grandpa hated to dance and they rarely went.

When grandma was in her early forties she had an operation on her right leg for a minor problem. The operation went very wrong. Afterwards she began to get gangrene in her leg. 
At first they thought she might actually die. They thought they were going to have to amputate her leg in order to try and save her life. Then things improved and they thought they would have to amputate just her foot.  Still later they felt they would have to amputate only three toes.

During that time grandpa sat by grandma’s side in the hospital. The way I heard it is that in a moment of deep sorrow he promised my grandma, “Gwen, if you live I will take you dancing every week for the rest of your life.”

My grandmother lived. They did end up amputating three of her toes. Her foot and her leg always hurt after that. She always had the sensation you get when your leg has fallen asleep and the circulation is just returning. But that is a different story, a story about cheerfulness in the face of hardship and it deserves to be told another time.

But this story is about a profound promise. After grandma recovered my grandpa and she went downtown to The Terrace Ballroom and they danced. I believe he took her in his arms, looked into her eyes and they danced a dance of gratefulness, joy and love.

For nearly forty-five years they danced every week at the Terrace Ballroom until they became too old to dance anymore. They became a part of the Terrace Ballroom and the polkas and waltzes of the Terrace Ballroom became a part of them.

In part because of my grandfather I learned something crucial about love. Love is a feeling like no other that you have towards someone else. But sometimes, perhaps more importantly, love is a decision that you make again and again and again  – through thick and thin and especially when you don’t feel like it - to do that which is loving.

It is often helpful to go to things like the Opening the Heart Workshop or church or other places which can open us and remind us of the great power of love. But what happens when we go back to our daily lives?

This family story of the Terrace Ballroom has always moved me. I only hope that one day I can be so good at loving that those who come after can learn the same lessons from my life that I learned from my grandfather.

I think this poem by 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz is about my grandma and grandpa dancing for nearly half a century, she with her three toes gone but her joy for life unquenched and he who hated to dance but dancing gratefully anyway out of love:

“……You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to kiss the Beautiful One. 
You have actually waltzed with tremendous style
O my sweet,
O my sweet crushed angel.”


Posted By Opening the Heart

Looking for a fabulous and inexpensive gift for open-hearted friends this holiday season? The OTH staff give an unqualified thumbs up to Roger Housden's collection: "Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again and Again".

Coupled with Housden's perceptive and wise commentary, the ten poems hold up "a mirror to our own deepest joys, desires, and sorrows". Of these ten poems, Housden says, "each......has struck me a blow, a direct hit, into the heart of hearts."

Selected lines:

from Rilke - "Every happiness is the child of a separation it did not think it could survive."

from Hirshfield - "If the gods bring you - a strange and frighteneing creature, - accept the gift - as if it were one you had chosen."

from Hafiz - "Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, 'Love me.' - Of course you do not do this out loud; otherwise, someone would call the cops............"

This is a bedside book to cherish and return to again and again.

Posted By Opening the Heart

For as long as I can remember I have loved poetry and the power that words have to evoke deep feelings. Archibald Macleish said that a poem “should not mean, but be” and Kabir said the same thing 500 years earlier when he said that you should feel a poem in the “thump of the chest”. These poets, men and women for the past 2000 years, have written these words, this divine, or sacred poetry that pass all the evolved neuro-cerebral connections and go straight to the heart like an arrow to release the pain, sadness and ecstacy that bind us in our humanity. Through their words, they give us a glimpse of the Kingdom that they experienced.
Kabir, a 15th century Sufi poet said that when, for “fifteen seconds”, he heard the words of his master, Shams, it made him a disciple for life.
I believe that poetry, words, can open the heart instantly, heal us, open us to grief long-buried and change our very souls. Lao-Tzu, 2000 years ago tells us that “each separate being in the universe returns to the common source”. Jelaluddin Rumi wrote that “the clear bead at the center changes everything.” Kabir: “Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.”

The 17th century Zen poet Bunan wrote “Die while you’re still alive and be absolutely dead. Then do whatever you want: it’s all good.” And Kabir, again, tells us to “Wake up! Wake up! You have been sleeping for millions of years. Why not wake up this morning.”

All of these great beings on up through Walt Whitman, Rilke, Antonio Machado, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver have been lovingly tapping us on the shoulder to remind us that beyond every wound, every doubt, every fear, that we are loved beyond measure - that we are blessed. May we open our hearts to one another and come to the knowledge of our true self.

“A poet is someone
Who can pour Light into a spoon,

Then raise it
To nourish 
Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.”


With Love and Respect,