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Posted By Opening the Heart

Bottling things up might be great for making preserves, but it sure doesn't work with emotions. Have you ever had the experience of leaving a meeting or a family gathering with "steam coming out of your ears," feeling as if you are about to explode? Look what happened in The Odyssey. Odysseus and his crew were having a hard time getting back to Ithaca when they came to the island of Aeolus, guardian of the winds. Aeolus  gave Odysseus a tightly sealed bag containing all the contrary winds. With only favorable winds Odysseus and his men rapidly sailed to within sight of home. Exhausted, Odysseus fell asleep at the tiller. His men, suspecting that the sealed bag contained treasure that Odysseus was witholding from them, decided to open it while he slept.

Aeolus Bag of Winds

 Out roared all the contrary winds that had been "bottled up" inside the bag and within seconds the resulting storm blew the ship way back out to sea, drowning many of the sailors.

After the wind's release

It was seven years before Odysseus finally made it home.

Isn't that the way with bottled up "contrary" emotions? Sooner or later they are triggered  and, before we know it we are thrown way off center and have succeeded only in alienating those nearest to us. It will take huge amounts of time and effort to bring ourselves back "home" to our center.

So - How not to bottle? First and foremost, when you are in an emotionally stressful situation, RECOGNIZE IT and BREATHE! Second - notice what is happening IN YOUR BODY - NOT YOUR MIND! Your mind will probably be going crazy with a mini-storm of justification or blame or judgement or "story" or indignant rebuttal: just let that be and focus on the physical feeling of being "stirred up." Try holding the physical feelings with compassion, knowing that they are natural, and that they are temporary. Recognizing and caring about the feelings in your body is the pressure release valve that will help prevent an emotional explosion. Third - as soon as you can, do what is necessary to remove yourself from the actively stimulating situation that has triggered the anger or fear. Take time out to continue being with your breath and with the ongoing physical feelings and sensations in your body. Your mind will probably keep trying to interrupt your focus with all kinds of negative thoughts about whoever else was involved and about yourself. Gently tell your mind that you need to focus on your breathing and body just now. Continue with that focus until you sense a return to emotional equilibrium.

If you have a history of "going off the deep end" this technique is going to take committment and practice, but I have found that it is an essential tool in the toolbox of emotional intelligence and mindfulness of emotions.




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

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

Two California Highway Patrol Officers were conducting speeding enforcement on I-15, just north of the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar. One of the officers was using a hand held radar device to check speeding vehicles approaching the crest of a hill.  
The officers were suddenly surprised when the radar gun began reading 300 miles per hour. The officer attempted to reset the radar gun, but it would not reset and then turned off.
Just then a deafening roar over the treetops revealed that the radar had in fact locked on to a USMC F/A-18 Hornet (Northrop Grumman aircraft) which was engaged in a low flying exercise near the location.

Back at the CHP Headquarters the Patrol Captain fired off a complaint to the USMC Base Commander.  The reply came back in true USMC style: 


Thank you for your letter.  We can now complete the file on this incident. You may be interested to know that the tactical computer in the Hornet had detected the presence of, and subsequently locked on to your hostile radar equipment and automatically sent a jamming signal back to it, which is why it shut down.

Furthermore, an Air-to-Ground missile aboard the fully armed aircraft had also automatically locked on to your equipment location.
Fortunately, the Marine Pilot flying the Hornet recognized the situation for what it was, quickly responded to the missile system alert status and was able to override the automated defense system before the missile was launched to destroy the hostile radar position.
The pilot also suggests you cover your mouths when cussing at them, since the video systems on these jets are very high tech.
Sergeant Johnson, the officer holding the radar gun, should get his dentist to check his left rear molar. It appears the filling is loose. Also, the snap is broken on his holster.
Thank you for your concern.
 Semper Fi



I have no idea if this is a true story - it doesn't matter because it perfectly illustrates another aspect of what Linda wrote about in her piece yesterday.

When our 'toes have been stepped on' ("That f***er just busted my radar gun") and we 'fire off' a knee jerk response ("I'll tell that USMC base commander just what I think of him and his plane!"), we more often than not have no clue about what is going on inside the other involved party. Perhaps a better strategy might be to take time - for a couple of deep breaths, for a pause, for being open to finding out more aboout the other involved party. Confronted by opposition Linda chose to see potential friends rather than enemies to be overcome. In the kind of situation illustrated by this 'speeding' story choosing a neutral inquiry always trumps a blasting off a hostile accusation.

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


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

Here is the first in an occasional series of self guided meditations. These meditations are good ways to calm the mind, empty mental clutter and ease stress and difficult emotions. In them we use the breath as a tool and our imagination as our guide. Each meditation involves imagining sending a complete in and out breath cycle to paticular narrowly focused parts of the body. This time we'll work with:





 head focus points

Begin by finding a comfortable seated position. Settle yourself into a place where your body can be relatively still.


Close your eyes and gradually bring your attention to your breathing. There is no need to change anything about how you are breathing.


1) Let your inner focus bring your attention to your nostrils- the place where breath enters and leaves the body. Take a breath into the space inside your nostrils and imagine a hollowness, a sense of spaciousness inside them. Notice any relaxation of tensions around the nostrils as you do this.


2) Now bring your attention to your sinus area at the bridge of your nose. Take a breath into the space inside your sinuses and imagine a hollowness, a sense of spaciousness inside them. Notice any relaxation of tensions around the sinus area as you do this.


3) Bring your attention to the part of your head immediately behind the center of your eyebrows. Send the next breath into this place and imagine a hollowness, a sense of spaciousness being created there. Notice any relaxation of tensions around this area as you do this.


4) Use your imagination to send your next breath right up into the top of your skull. Allow the breath to relax and dissipate any tensions there simply by imagining a hollow, spacious emptiness.


5) Using your imagination again, send your next breath to the extreme back of your skull. Image an empty space there, wide and tall and open.


6) There is frequently tension at the place where the skull joins the backbone. In your imagination send the next breath deeply into this area. As you breath in allow that place to be infused with airy spaciousness. As you breath out notice the letting go.


7) On to the top of the throat. Breathe a great open space there.


8) Put the tip of your tongue gently on your hard pallette just behind your front teeth. Breathe a deep breath there.


9) and 10) Take two deep, emptying breaths into your whole head, imagining a hollow, empty space.


You can take more than one breath at each of the above stages if you find that works for you. You may also repeat the sequence as often as you would like.

As you lean the sequence you might like to have one of the pictures nearby. Feel free to copy them (female head is above, male head is below.)


malehead, focal points