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Posted By Opening the Heart

Its interesting how events, ideas and circumstances frequently come together in acts of unexpected coincidence. I am currently enjoying two lovely experiences.


The first is as a participant in the UMass Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) created by Jon Kabat Zinn. Facilitating the  OTHWorkshop isn't stressful, but I certainly experience stress in other areas of my life. At OTH we actively promote self care, so participating in MBSR is just me "walking my talk".


The second treat I am relishing is reading Chris Cleave's novel Little Bee, the story of a young woman refugee from Nigeria trying to make it on her own in London.


On Saturday the MBSR program ran a day long retreat. It could not have come at a better time for me, having just completed a strenuous few weeks preparing technical needs for a major dance performance.  To spend the day in silence, meditating, doing gently exercise and yoga with over a hundred others was a deeply refreshing and healing experience. At the end of the day there was a half hour opportunity for people to share experiences and discoveries they had made. It did not surprise me that many reported an up-welling of emotions such as sadness and anger at various times during the meditation sessions. The curious thing was that the participants making these reports seemed to believe that these emotional up-surges were scary and somehow 'wrong'. It was as if the meditation sessions had trawled up material that needed to be left deep beneath the surface. Just like the Innuit fisherman in Jon's recent post people wanted to run away from what had come up. I was reminded how deeply our society has conditioned us into believing that some emotions are ugly, inconvenient and needing to be hidden away - even from ourselves.


On the same evening I read the following in Little Bee:
"We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived."
I immediately wanted to share this with the MBSR participants who had been 'shy' about feeling their emotions.


Every one of us carries emotional scars. They are as common as the physical scars we collected in childhood falling off bikes and swings and skateboards. But scars that are covered up and hidden do not heal. They simply continue to fester. Healing scars means finding a safe place to open them to the light of consciousness and compassion. For me one of those safe places has been The Opening the Heart Workshop.


Our next workshop is just two weeks away! March 19 - 21 at Kripalu Institute in Stockbridge MA.


I hope that we will see you there.


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

Witnessing the singing Haitians onTV news broadcasts prompts reflection on the nature of gratitude. In spite of everything - all the losses - these wonderful people celebrate being alive - even in appaling conditions - with songs of thanks.

 

Did you know that the cultivation of gratitude is possible? Not only that, it has also been proven that actively practicing gratitude contributes to a happier and healthier life. In a recently published book, 'The Compassionate Instinct - the Science of Human Goodness', Robert A. Emmons PhD describes research carried out at the University of Miami. The research model was remarkably simple. For 10 weeks participants in the program were asked to keep a daily journal. One group wrote about daily events and interactions for which they felt gratitude. A second group wrote about events and interactions which hassled and irritated them. A third group could write about anything. After 10 weeks the first group "felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the future than participants in either of the other groups..... Those in the gratitude condition reported fewer health complaints.......and significantly more time exercising than those in the hassles condition"

Dr Emmons' fascinating and informative article about this study is called 'Paying it Forward' and is available at the highly recommended Greater Good Magazine web site.

Reading it today and then watching the celebrating Haitians on the news are reminders for which I am grateful. In fact I'm going to begin a gratitude journal right now and report back in 10 weeks time. My entry for today will be:

Today I am grateful for

1) the city workers who shovelled snow from the sidewalk outside my door.

2) blueberries

3) the cheerful volunteers I worked with today

4) the technology that enables me to write this blog post

5) the mute button on my tv remote that silences the wall to wall campaign commercials here in Massachusetts

 

Please join me. Lets all try this. Just 5 thank yous every day.

 

Please come join us at The Opening the Heart Workshop March 19 - 21 at Kripalu Institute, Lenox MA

 


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

My friend, Rick, produced the “This I Believe” segment for our NPR radio station in Rhode Island, where I live. Each time I hear it, I ask myself “What is it that I believe?” And each time the answer comes back the same: “I believe in perspective.”

This summer I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s amazing book A Team of Rivals about Abraham Lincoln, a man of deep integrity, kindness and wisdom. He not only suffered the loss of a first love and the death of a son, but nearly lost his beloved country to a brutal civil war that went on for five years and split loving families apart. I heard a story that Lincoln, in the midst of his darkest time, asked a cabinet member to compose a thought that would, somehow, comfort all: “This, too, shall pass”. Four words that might provide perspective in good times and bad….

Forgive me, but having grown up outside of Boston and gone to Fenway Park many times with my brothers and dad, I’m what you could reasonably call a ‘home boy’, a die-hard and unrepentant, raging, avid Red Sox fan. I would grimly joke with our New York relatives about getting through the New England winters by first going to our local Providence clinic for an inoculation against resignation and hopelessness setting in before April’s Opening Day. Over 80 years of Red Sox frustration and failure to win a World Series- not since 1918, when my dad was a little boy.

Then came October 16th 2003, the night Aaron Boone of the dreaded Yankees hit a home run in the 11th inning to end any chance of the Red Sox going to the World Series. It was a new and painful low in my Red Sox fan career. I called my friend, Stan, to commiserate: “How ya doin’?” “Not too good, Jon. I’m actually thinking of ending it all.” “Stan, what if, after you die, you go to a place where they keep showing the ’86 Mets-Red Sox World series- over and over and over again?” Stan still credits me with saving his life that day.

 So why am I telling you this? Because without that Aaron Boone home run in ’03, the Red Sox four game sweep of the Yankees and eventual World Series championship in 2004 - the first in 86 years!- never would have felt so incredibly amazing! Perspective.

 For the 30 years that I have been coming back to the Opening the Heart Workshop, I realized that it was primarily because of the transformative miracle that I witness in the circle of brothers and sisters, from our first circle on Friday night to our last on Sunday. On Friday night it seems to me that many faces look anxious, self conscious, maybe hopeful. On Sunday there is a dramatically different feel to the energy in the room as I slowly scan the faces. I sometimes say that when we look into another’s eyes and see difference, we experience fear; when we look into another’s eyes and see no difference, what we experience is nothing but understanding and compassion…. Perspective.

 With Love and Respect,
 Jon


 
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 Amazon.com:

 

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

Coincidental with our approaching Opening the Heart to Grief Workshop, a dear friend and long time Opening the Heart Workshop colleague - Justin Freed - recently introduced me to Claudine Bing.

Claudine is a well known and respected Boston artist who has published a book documenting her mother’s death and the subsequent journey through grief to healing.

 

I am left here all alone


An accomplished colorist, Claudine skillfully and thoughtfully manipulates her color choices to express a range of feelings from the dark confusion of loss through the gradual process of regaining the world and its restorative hues and finding her mother’s spirit within herself. Throughout the book, pictures and text fit seamlessly together, beautifully complementing each other as they develop a narrative of the journey of grief.

 

Claudine Bing Image

 

Some more images and information about ordering the book can be seen at:

http://www.claudinebing.com/book.htm

 

I will bring a copy with me to the workshop.


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

Staying present in the moment is a challenge.


A bird flitted across my path this morning as I walked around Walden Pond near my home in Massachusetts.  It took maybe a second to startle, pass right in front of me and disappear into the woods. I was immediately totally present. As i walked on I tried to maintain that moment's wakefulness and awareness but in the very trying my mind had already seized on the event and begun to extract its meaning. I thought of how many moments like that make up a day and how many moments are missed as the mind churns its apparently endless stories.

.
Its hard enough to remain present in the moment, even in the peace and quiet of the early morning woods. Our minds are still there hitching a ride, chattering away and stealing our attention. But we make it even more difficultr for ourselves. A minute or two later I passed a guy taking his morning walk with his IPod buds firmly in his ears.  How much harder is it to be in the moment in the peaceful woods while listening to  a play list?

 

I love using my IPod but if I couple that activity with another one - even one as beautiful as walking in nature, I find it impossible to stay present to what I am listening to. For me, multitasking is not conducive to being in the moment.

Just then I passed the site of Thoreau's cabin where he wrote Walden Pond.

His mantra: "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify" seemed particularly fitting.

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