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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

So, I've been thinking a lot about wounds and all the many applications, or 'apps' as they say now, that that word has to the body and the spirit. This is just something I do - to take a word and play with it, invite it in, live with it. I do it alphabetically and, when, after months or years, I get to 'Z', I start over. It's just my offbeat mind's lifelong affair with words. Many months ago it was the word 'ice': ice that forms around the edges of a human heart when one is forgotten; ice that envelops and crushes Shakleton's ship, the Endurance, in Antarctica in 1915 and then the ice that literally carried the 28 surviving crewmen on a life and death journey of 16 months; ice in my glass that reflects a warm November sun as I sit at the little outdoor cafe downstairs from my office.

And then as I look up from my ice I see him walking, slowly, past me, again- a small man with a beard, walking with a cane in his right hand, moving his right leg forward, then dragging his left leg behind. He always carries a shopping bag hung from his right arm. His left arm looks crooked and lifeless. And he has a big pronounced wound on the side of his head running from his hairline down to his cheek. I've seen him many times walking in the square where my office is. I've actually tried to position myself to cross his path so that I could smile or say hi - but he never looks up. His head is bent down and his eyes are set 6 feet ahead of him on the ground, as if every bit of energy is focused on finishing the journey without any more distraction or challenge than he's already facing.

I make up stories about him. Stroke? Maybe the wound is from a car accident leaving him paralyzed on the left side. Why doesn't he use a motorized wheelchair? Maybe he's proud or maybe he doesn't want to lose the little mobility that remains to him. Why doesn't someone help him with his errand? Does he have a family? What a courageous man - or maybe stubborn or bitter. A wound that dramatically altered the landscape of his life - that suddenly changed the arc of his unfolding...

I have a friend, Carolyn, my age, whose son, David, died three years ago at age 25 from congenital heart defects he'd had from birth. He had graduated Princeton and had decided two years before his death that maybe the fault lines underneath him might just be stable enough to risk getting into a serious relationship with a girl. But the fault lines gave way. It was a warm sunny Ocober day at the gravesite. A lot of beautiful words, a lot of tears. Usually, some people take a shovelful of dirt and place it on the lowered coffin, and then leave. But this day, because so many people were there, everyone shoveled, until the grave was filled- and then I saw something that will stay in my memory always. Carolyn stood on the fresh gravesite, got down on her hands and knees and smoothed the ground for David's final resting place.

When I see Carolyn since then, I don't see the visible wound, but I see it's effect. There are more gray hairs, more lines in her face, a sadness that is soul deep. Her wound also effects the way she walks. Her walk is more hunched, less brave, less confident.

So as I think about wounds on this warm, sunny day, I think that there are visible wounds and there are wounds that are seen by close friends and then there are wounds that often are unseen by anyone. I think that we may never really know how another has suffered and, perhaps, all we can do is offer a little more patience and kindness to whoever may cross our path.

With Love and Respect, Jon




Posted By Opening the Heart

Spring Hill Entrance Sign



Here sits the original sign that invited and welcomed the participants to enter in the sacred space of the Opening the Heart Workshop™ at Spring Hill in Ashby.  I was lucky enough to win this in the farewell raffle when Spring Hill was closing it's doors.  Now I place this in my Buddha garden at home and every day it is a reminder to me of the sacred space of my physical home and within the home of my heart. 
The workshop gave me the space to explore and rejoin with my true self; albeit a bit scratchy, dusty and frayed at times.  I was drawn to Spring Hill as I knew the directors at the time (Laury Rappaport and Neil Friedman), and yet couldn't have anticipated the doors that were to open in my heart, my community and my world. 

 I am blessed to have this sign to greet me everyday.  If one looks up the word "entrance", not only does it mean to welcome, to give admission, but as well to "carry away with delight, wonder or rapture..."  I can truly say that I was carried in delight and wonder in the workshop, and now I always know that the instruments of peace, song and love are never far if my heart is open.



Note from Peter:

Thank you Peggy for this wonderful remembrance.

Although Spring Hill closed eleven years ago, The Opening the Heart Workshop™ contiues to flourish and grow, It is hosted at Omega and Kripalu



Posted By Opening the Heart

This April I helped to chaperone my son Andre's Boy Scout Troop on a four day visit to Washiongton DC.
I had visited Washington several times before but had not been to any of the war memorials. The World War II Memorial.has a huge rectangular pool of water with fountains at its very center.  Beyond one end of the pool there is an area which pays homage to the Pacific theater of the war.  Beyond the other end is a like area which pays homage to the Atlantic theater.
Several years ago I had the privilege of attending my Uncle Keith’s military funeral where he was honored for his service in WWII in North Africa where he fought against Rommel.  He came to mind. I also thought about his younger brother, my Uncle Don who is still living, who went off to serve in WWII as well.  Both of my grandfathers served in the military, and my mother and father met and married while in the U.S. Airforce.   
As I sat at the memorial I began to be filled with a reverent feeling. It soon blossomed into a feeling of awe as I recognized the gift of their service to me – their granddaughter, niece and child.  It was  a gift born of great love that humbles in its power. I draw inspiration from many sources but at this time a verse came to me from my childhood.  It is from the Bible and says, “Greater love hath no one than to lay down their life for their friend.”
There is no doubt about it.  I have been very deeply loved.
Even so, I reflected, most parents and family members would lay down their lives if necessary to save the life of their child. But what about the others?  The others who did not know me?
My mind flashes back to a send-off at our district’s National Guard armory late last fall. Our local National Guard unit had been called into active duty overseas.  My son Andre’s Boy Scout troop and our family stood honoring the soldiers at their deployment ceremony in order to give them a warm and loving good-bye. Some of those soldiers would not return. Some of the others would return but they would be wounded or scarred in different ways.
 It is only now – in this very moment in my life as I sit in the WWII Memorial – that I am even just barely able to perceive the size of the gift that has been given to me.
Politics are swept aside as I rest in this awareness.  Some other mother, some other family has given to me, a stranger, their deepest treasure – their son or daughter’s life. Some person I have never met is willing to die for my family and I so that we can continue to live in the way in which we believe.
What is one to do in the face of such an unfathomable gift?  My mind is not able to grasp the vastness of this depth of sacrifice and so it becomes quiet.
Out of the silence comes understanding. This kind of love must give rise to more love. When one has been loved deeply and well the only way to honor that gift is to love others in that same way.
To all of the soldiers past and present who have served their country: an inadequate but heartfelt thank you.  May we all choose to live and love others in a way which begins to honor the unthinkable sacrifices you have made.

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:


I will bring a copy with me to the workshop.

Posted By Opening the Heart

It is ironic that the launching entry of this new blog should be about loss.

Neil Friedman, one of the mvp contributors to the ongoing life of The Opening the Heart Workshop, died of heart disease just over a month ago. Also ironic is that that someone who's whole working life had been dedicated to helping others  open their hearts should have struggled so long and bravely with this particular illness.

    Neil grew up in Philadelphia and New York and studied at Brandeis and Harvard. During the turbulent sixties he was in the South working with the Freedom Riders registering black voters. He came to Spring Hill, the original hime of The Opening the Heart Workshop in 1982. In the introduction to his book 'A Rememberance', Neil writes:

Neil Friedman

(Photo by Joan Klagsbrun)

'Spring Hill and Opening The Heart are the finest experiences of my life. I came into them in 1982 at an ebb tide in the ocean of my existence, became a staff member and then co-director and stayed connected until Spring Hill was sold seventeen years later. I learned how to love at Spring Hill.'


Neil was a true 'man of heart'. In addition to being a brilliant psychotherapist and workshop leader he was a prolific author, a leader of the Focusing community, a devoted father, a loyal friend and a fiercely committed sports fan. He amazed his doctors by the determination with which he faced his long illness but those of us who were his friends would have expected no less from one with such a love of life. Dear Neil :

May the long time sun shine upon you

All love surround you

And the true light within you

Guide you way home.