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Posted By Opening the Heart

A number of years ago a woman in her early 30's, "Barbara" came to an Opening the Heart workshop for the first time. On Friday night, sitting in a chair facing the whole group, she told the following story in a flat, emotionless voice: She woke up one morning to find that her husband of 5 years had died in the night of a massive heart attack- 4 months before the birth of their first child. When the baby was 6 months old, he died of crib death, and Barbara entered a dark landscape of paralytic grief for almost 5 years before coming to the Heart workshop. I would like to tell you that the workshop was a deeply healing, emotionally cathartic experience but I don't know that that was true. But on Sunday, at the Closing Circle, Barbara cried one tear, the only emotion I had seen in working with her the whole weekend, and then she said she now knew what she had to do to move forward....

Two weeks ago, in Kennesumma, a small seaside town in northeastern Japan, a man, almost 70, wandered dazed through the wreckage of what had been his home. He'd been a barber. He lost his business, his wife and three children. When a reporter asked him how he was going to start over, he said "I think it's too late for me. I'm too old. I've lost too much... But I will try...."

In mid March 1959 as evening descended on Lhasa, Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, accompanied by a very few trusted protectors, disguised themselves as soldiers, slipped out of the royal palace, past the Chinese camp and onto a rough trading route headed toward India and freedom almost 100 miles away. It had been10 years of brutal repression, murder, torture and broken promises by the Chinese on the peaceful and beautiful country of Tibet. Within 24 hours of the Dalai Lama escaping, the Chinese bombed the palace, destroying the Dalai Lama's home, ancestral treasures, and killing thousands of innocent Tibetans. For 52 years His Holiness has watched from his government in exile in Dharmsala, India as the Chinese have destroyed monestaries .and tortured "imperialist reactionaries". He watches with a broken heart as his country and his culture have been "reintegrated into the Motherland". At the end of Martin Scorcese's movie "Kundun" about the Dalai Lama's life, the screen shows two written lines that read "The Dalai Lama has never been back to Tibet. He hopes to return one day". In all these years, this great man has never stopped embracing nonviolence and compassion as the only way to heal suffering in the world.

It moves me in a very deep place to witness people who seem to have been stripped of everything and yet they just don't let go of their faith and their love. Naomi Shihab Nye in her poem "Kindness" says that before you can know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.: Roger Housden wrote that when we know that sorrow "as a lived experience", then it is that very pain and suffering that connect us to what's deepest and best in every one of us.

With Love and Respect, Jon


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

One of my patients, I"ll call her "Cathie", a heroic woman in her 50's whom I'd been seeing for a while, told me the following story last week. Cathie's daughter had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer when the daughter was a year and a half old. She was almost two when she began chemotherapy. One day Cathie took her daughter for a picnic at the beach and Cathie noticed that the strong off-shore wind began blowing clumps of her daughter's hair right off her head. When her daughter saw the look in her mother's eyes, she became frightened and started to cry, but she didn't want to leave 'pinnick'. So Cathie watched almost all of her daughter's hair blow off, as well as her eyebrows. As a tear came down each cheek, Cathie said to me "I was glad I could hold her and kiss away her tears- but I had no one to hold me".

Cathie's family had gone away long ago. Cathie and her brothers and sisters had been sexually molested for years by an alcoholic and mentally ill father. And Cathie's husband left her shortly after the daughter's birth. Her story touched me deeply and, as my own eyes filled, I wondered what it was that so moved me. I think it's the same thing that so profoundly touches me with so many of my patients: the basic fragility of our existence, all of us.

In Naomi Shihab Nye's great poem "Kindness", she urges us to open our hearts "to the fact that everything we cherish will pass out of our lives". The author, Roger Housden, says that when we come to know this truth "as a lived experience, we shall also know a deep love and kindness", because everyone is on the same road. Someone else's pain and suffering are also our own. And when we experience that shared pain, it joins us to humanity.

So, I think the reason my own eyes filled when I heard Cathie's story was, really, that her pain was also mine- not that I had been through the same life circumstances, but that suffering is a noble truth familiar to all of us. Despite what Cathie had been through, both growing up and, then, as a young mother, she was able to be totally present for her daughter and for herself on the beach that day. And in my office, she had enough courage to allow herself to be "held" by her therapist. And me, I have the privelege to witness every day this inspiring will to live.

"Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

One must know sorrow as the other deepest thing..." Naomi Shihab Nye


With Love and Respect,