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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,
Donna

 


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

I'd like to tell you about my men's book club. First, it's all men, but you could probably tell that already. The fact that it's all men is, actually, more interesting to me than the fact that it's a book club. We meet every six weeks or so (depending on the number of pages- I'm probably the slowest reader) at someone's house. We share some trail mix and store bought cookies and diet coke. We talk about the book, and we go home. There are a lot of us, about 16 men, so there are usually 10-12 of us who come for any one week. I've been a part of this group for at least 15 years.

To give you a better flavor of who we are, I'll tell you a true story about our meeting 6 months ago. After the meeting ended, I walked out with my friend, Paul, and I gestured to the two guys walking out ahead of us and I whispered "Paul, do you know the names of those two guys?" He said "I don't have a clue". I said "Paul, they've been coming to book club for at least two years!" He said "Pathetic, isn't it." And we each got in our own car and drove home.

My wife belongs to a women's book club. One Sunday it was held at our house and I was out doing an errand with my daughter, Abby. As we approached our house, I said to her "I want you to notice something when we get home." She didn't notice anything unusual so I helped educate her about the difference between a men's book club and a women's book club. First, there were three cars in front of our house. In other words, Women Carpool! If we have 12 men at a meeting, you will see 12 cars parked out front. Second difference: women dine, men eat trail mix! Each woman brings food - not store-bought - homecooked! Third difference: women may or may not talk about the book! They connect and catch up on each others' lives and their children, and, if time allows, they'll talk about the book.

So, why am I telling you about my men's book club? Maybe, because I just returned this past weekend from leading an Opening the Heart workshop at Omega in Rhinebeck, N.Y. where the men were outnumbered by the women 4 to 1. Sometimes it's 2:1, sometimes 3:1- 4:1 is not unusual. And I give these men so much credit for showing up and doing this work. I think it's fairly easy in our culture for a man to be a warrior- but not so easy to be a loving warrior. And I think about all the men who would never, ever, come to a Heart Workshop- and who might always prefer trail mix to a connection over a home-cooked meal,- and who will always drive home alone.

With Love and Respect, Jon


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

Someone recently asked why they should even consider experiencing an Opening the Heart Workshop™. Here's the list I gave them to consider:

 

You're living life with a 'safety first' approach.

You want to be more 'whole hearted' in your relationships.

You tend to substitute a fantasy life for the real thing.

You wish you were able to be more spontaneous.

You spend a lot of time being anxious.

You'd love to live life more gracefully.

You live a constricted existence.

You'd like to be more genuine in your interactions with others.

There's a compulsive or desperate quality to your actions.

You'd love your responses to others and to situations to be more appropriate.

Real fulfillment is absent from your life.

You long for clarity of expression.

You'd love to be more gratedul and less grouchy.

You'd like to feel that you had more choices.

You live in the past or future rather than the present.

Your responses don't match the situation.

You are hesitant or tentative in your interactions with others.

You are inhibited in living up to your potential.

You'd love to be more 'present'.

 

We're very confident that the workshop can help any of the above conditions. If you haven't done so already you might like to investigate further at The Opening the Heart Workshop™

 


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

Two days from now participants will be gathering at Kripalu in the Massachusetts Berkshire Hills for the Opening the Heart Workshop.  They will be coming home to their hearts,  reconnecting with themselves,  taking time out from  the challenges and stresses of workaday lives. We wish them all a safe journey to Kripalu. The migration brought to mind this poem by Mary Oliver:

 

Wild Geese

 

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves.


Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.


Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,


the world offers itself to your imagination,


calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--


over and over announcing your place


in the family of things.

 

There is still time to register and there are still some places available,so - if you have been wavering, let  this be a gentle nudge to join us. I know that you won't be disappointed.

 

Peter


 
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

The March issue of Shambala Sun magazine is devoted to "Mindful Living". In an article on The Science of Mindfulness, Daniel J. Siegel, M.D (referencing Jon Kabat Zinn's Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program) speaks of:

'the cultivation of an “approach state,” in which we move toward, rather than away from, a challenging external situation or internal mental function such as a thought, feeling, or memory. Naturally, such an approach state can be seen as the neural basis for resilience.'

I am grateful to Dan Siegel for the term "approach state" because it aptly describes one of the skills we teach at the Opening the Heart Workshop™.

Think for a moment how often in life we  deliberately or unconsciously ignore unpleasant or challenging feelings and physical sensations - how often we try to put painful memories 'behind us'. The problem with this avoidance - this refusal to approach - is that our emotional range quickly becomes restricted, unable to flex in all the ways it was designed to be capable of. In shutting down to difficult feelings we automatically diminish our capability of fully experiencing pleasant ones. Our emotional life atrophies to such an extent that when new emotional challenges arise we are unprepared and ill equipped to deal with them.

As I watch the Winter Olympics and fantasize what it would be like to ski downhill at 70 mph, I remember how foolish it would be to attempt such a thing without training my body, mind and spirit to the necessary level of strength, flexibility and resilience. It is precisely the qualities of heart-strength, heart-flexibility, heart-resilience that lie at the core of the Opening the Heart work. Difficult and challenging situations will inevitably continue to arise in all our lives. Our ability to accept and deal with the associated emotions in a skillful way is completely dependent on learning and practicing the "approach state".

So, just as those Olympic Athletes work with coaches and trainers to develop their skills,  wouldn't it be great to work with some of the world's most experienced 'coaches of the heart'?

The next heart-training opportunity is at The Opening the Heart Workshop™, March 19 - 21 at Kripalu Center, Stockbridge, MA


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

Truth "must be warm, moist, incarnated, -- have been breathed on at least. A man has not seen a thing who has not felt it.”

 

How is the truth of my heart today? Warm and generous? Flowing like water? Am I "in my body", in-carnated, connected? Am I feeling all the truth that life has to offer?

 

Just checking.............. How about you?

 

Come into allighment with the truth of your heart at The Opening the Heart Workshop™ Kripalu Institute, Stockbridge MA March 19 - 21 2010


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

If you are not already familiar with the music of Deva Premal you are in for a wonderful relaxing treat. We play her recordings a lot in The Opening the Heart Workshop because her chants create a healing ambience that supports the work of participants.

Donna, Linda, Jon and I are delighted to be attending her live concert at the Somerville Theatre when she visits New England this April. In the meantime here is a taster. I suggest taking a break from whatever you're doing, taking a few cleansing breaths, closing your eyes and sinking into the sounds. (The slide show of beautiful spring flowers looks good too at this time of year in the wintery north-east - even if the transitions are a little too fast) Relax and enjoy!

 

Yemaya Assessu - Deva Premal

 

Perhaps you'll be moved to participate in the upcoming Opening the Heart Workshop, this March 19 - 21 at Kripalu Insitute, Stockbridge, MA


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

I’ve been thinking for the last several months about an experience I had many years ago when I was in a singing group called On Wings of Song.

On Wings of Song at that time was part large choir and part band.  We performed primarily in the northeastern United States.  We sang songs of peace and unity  with a catchy rock beat.  I think it is safe to say that most of the members of “the band” as it was called, were somewhat involved in alternative culture. I at least was surprised when our first tour on the East Coast landed us in the courtyard of the Pentagon giving a midday concert.  Soup kitchens, prisons and body/mind/spirit conferences – yes.  But the Pentagon?  That was something new.

Towards the end of our concert at the Pentagon, Rodney, one of our singers,  was leading a heartfelt rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.  As we sang I noticed a 5-star general listening.  Suddenly a tear escaped the corner of his eye and trickled down his cheek. 

     I was very moved by this.  After our concert I looked around at the displays in the courtyard.  There was one very big one that I noticed.  In huge letters across the top it read:  “WE BELIEVE IN PEACE and in smaller letters below it continued: “through strength. 

Something changed inside me at that moment and it has never gone back completely to where it was before.  It is something that has been reinforced over and over again these last thirty years through working at the Opening the Heart Workshop.  In Jon Berenson’s blog article he calls it “perspective.” That day my perspective changed.  That day the general and I were playing on the same team.  Yes, some of his methods of creating peace I didn’t like at all.  Perhaps he would not have liked some of my methods of trying to accomplish the same.

     But when one drops into the heart as he did, others are prompted to do the same, and that is where we find our common ground.  In the place of common ground it is easier to work together to move ahead.

     When at my best, I am in the place of common ground, moving through the world living the motto of the OTH workshop.  That motto is: “Changing the world with love one heart at a time”.  Imagine.

 

Come meet and work with Linda at The Opening the Heart Workshop™ Stockbridge MA March 19 - 21 2010



 
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