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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

Photo: Mike Berenson

Whenever I go go Kriplalu to help lead an Opening the Heart workshop, I usually settle things in my room, check out the workshop space, get an iced drink in the cafeteria and then wander around the building a bit to take in the peaceful vibration of this retreat center that's so familiar to me. But I always find myself transfixed on the stairway landing looking at one inspiring saying framed on the wall. It's always the same for me: it's as if an invisible net emerges from the words and holds me still while the words penetrate the heart: "Be Kind- For everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

My mind fast forwards several hours to what I will likely share with the circle of participants at the end of the Friday night session: "The reason I come back to this workshop over and over again is to see the transformation in the circle from Friday night to Sunday." My belief is that when we look around that circle at the start of the workshop and we see difference as we look into another's eyes, what we experience is separation. And as the weekend unfolds, and the descent begins and the masks are bravely removed, increasingly, when we look into those same eyes, we see no difference and what we experience is only compassion.

Hafiz, the 14th century Sufi poet, describes this experience in his "Wonderful Game" and the game "goes like this: We hold hands and look into each other's eyes and scan each other's face. Then I say 'Now tell me a difference you see between us'. And you might respond "Hafiz, your nose is ten times bigger than mine.' And I would say 'Yes, my dear, almost ten times'. But let's keep playing. Let's go deeper, Go deeper.... For if we do... even God will not be able to tell us apart."

There's a story about a father who takes his two young sons to a very crowded waiting room of a busy pediatric group practice and the young boys are running around the waiting room, unresponsive to the father's efforts to control them. Some of the other patients become annoyed and, eventually, one woman said to the father "Can't you control your own sons!?" The father looked at her sadly and said "I'm so sorry. Their mother died yesterday and I have not known how to console them".

When we're able to go deeper and see beneath the surface forms that people show in order to make it through a day; if we are ever priveleged to know the great battle of people who are buying stamps in front of us at the post office or selling us a pair of pants at the department store- if we are ever able to really know how many times they have been brought to their knees and resurrected themselves- if we really had a lived experience of the journey of loss and pain of the brother or sister standing next to us on the bus, then all we would experience would be kindness and understanding. With Love and Respect, Jon


Posted By Opening the Heart

"There is a prayer~poem  in the hollow reed of my throat. 
It resides there in my inside stem, the hearty, thriving one
under thin, translucent layers of Norwegian skin.

Reed and root connect here, a moist highway between pulsing
heart and fertile, whole grain dirt.

This poem,  made of flesh, promise, and luminescence,
rewrites itself as I live.  At the core, bone forms around keen observation.  I tell you, we are resilient!  Like yeasty loaves, apply the heat ~ we rise and we rise and we rise.

I have taken you in through my willing senses, the porous
portals of mouth, eyes, the dew-jeweled
entrance I sit on and hatch dreams.
I swallow the wind as she blows, giving me breath to hold
this note for a long, necessary time, or fuel a risky leap
off a cliff, into the moody map of mystery.  

I stretch out, ecstatic to land in this boat,
the hard, unyielding plastic holding me up,
setting my spine straight.  I give Gratitude her way with me,
let her wash over  bow,  body, and stern.  Watch
the leafy green sway of branches above, 
the flawless powder puff sky in water below.

Here's what I know. We cannot fall from grace.
Not really, except into one another. We wake in a new
paradigm, place or poem,  where we, in time,
learn marvelous navigation skills."
Donna Macomber
(excerpt from summer journal, 2011)

Posted By Opening the Heart

A most amazing, beloved friend of mine sent me this poem the other day.

I realized in the silver unfolding of that day, how words reach in and rearrange priorities, how we can be urged, guided and loved into more compassionate living, simply by our willingness to receive beauty.

In this spirit, I offer this poem, for the heart of all seekers.

May it lift a tender place into gentle flight.


 Morning Song

by Marcia F. Brown


Here, I place
a blue glazed cup
where the wood
is slightly whitened.
Here, I lay down
two bright spoons,
our breakfast saucers, napkins
white and smooth as milk.


I am stirring at the sink,
I am stirring
the amount of dew
you can gather in two hands,
folding it into the fragile
quiet of the house.
Before the eggs,
before the coffee
heaving like a warm cat,
I step out to the feeder-
one foot, then the other,
alive on wet blades.

Air lifts my gown – I might fly –

This thistle seed I pour
is for the tiny birds.
This ritual,
for all things frail
and imperiled.
Wings surround me, frothing
the air. I am struck
by what becomes holy.


A woman
who lost her teenage child
to an illness without mercy,
said that at the end, her daughter
sat up in her hospital bed
and asked:
What should I do?
What should I do?

Into a white enamel bath
I lower four brown eggs.

You fill the door frame,
warm and rumpled, kiss
the crown of my head.
I know how the topmost leaves
of dusty trees
feel at the advent
of the monsoon rains.

I carry the woman with the lost child
in my pocket, where she murmurs
her love song without end:

Just this, each day:
Bear yourself up on small wings 
to receive what is given.
Feed one another
with such tenderness,
it could almost be an answer.

Posted By Opening the Heart

One of the reasons I love the 'blogosphere' (in spite of its ugly name) is the way it can, with magical synchronicity, sound different but compatable variations on the same theme. In my last post here I was opining on how easy it is for me to view myself through a single, distorted, narrow focus lens. How interesting, then, to read this sentence from Barry Brigg's 'Ox Herding' blog: "there may be no other way of revealing ourselves to ourselves than through the apocalype of opposites."

Meanwhile, on Nigeness my attention was drawn to  'To Night', a sonnet by Blanco White (1775 - 1841.)  In its lines, the poet, noting that the bright sunlight of day obscures the majesty of the sky that is revealed at night, reminds us how easily we can be deceived by and trapped in appearances:

"Who could have thought such darkness lay concealed

Within thy beams, O Sun! or who could find..........

That to such countless orbs thou mad'st us blind!"

Yet, even though the distorting lens of habit and culture typically prevents us from seeing into our depths, we all sense the unexplored territory that lies beneath our surface. This sense is beautifully expressed in a poem by Kay Ryan (also posted this week on Nigeness.)


Carrying a Ladder

We are always
really carrying
a ladder, but it’s
invisible. We
only know
the matter:
something precious
crashes; easy doors
prove impassable.
Or, in the body,
there’s too much
swing or off-
center gravity.
And, in the mind,
a drunken capacity,
access to out-of-range
apples. As though
one had a way to climb
out of the damage
and apology.


That sense of clumsily blundering through life as if carrying an unwealdy ladder is the wake up signal that alerts me to the fact that I need to spend some time and energy exploring exactly what the ladder is 'this time'.

Thank you fellow bloggers for a wealth of wisdom!

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.



Posted By Opening the Heart

Jon's post yesterday, coupled with the imminent occurance of The OTH Workshop brought to mind this lovely poem from Rumi. It speaks to the value of community, of joining with others in hard times. Many of the people who come to OTH face life challenges that are  difficult or even impossible to face alone. All are amazed at the positive effect of immersion in a completely supportive community for just two days. Rumi completely understood the value of community.


Being Woven (an extract)


"The way is full of genuine sacrifice.
The thickets blocking your path are anything
that keeps you from that, any fear that you may be broken
into bits like a glass bottle.

This road demands courage and stamina, yet it's full of
Who are these companions?
They are rungs in your ladder. Use them!
With company you quicken your ascent.
You may be happy enough going along, but with others
you'll get farther, and faster.

Someone who goes cheerfully by himself to the customs
house to pay his traveler's tax will go even more
lightheartedly when friends are with him.

Every prophet sought out companions.
A wall standing alone is useless, but put three or four walls
together, and they'll support a roof and keep grain dry
and safe.

When ink joins with a pen, then the blank paper can say
Rushes and reeds must be woven to be useful as a mat. If
they weren't interlaced; the wind would blow them away.

Like that, God paired up creatures, and gave them


From Rumi – Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)

Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne


Posted By Opening the Heart

For as long as I can remember I have loved poetry and the power that words have to evoke deep feelings. Archibald Macleish said that a poem “should not mean, but be” and Kabir said the same thing 500 years earlier when he said that you should feel a poem in the “thump of the chest”. These poets, men and women for the past 2000 years, have written these words, this divine, or sacred poetry that pass all the evolved neuro-cerebral connections and go straight to the heart like an arrow to release the pain, sadness and ecstacy that bind us in our humanity. Through their words, they give us a glimpse of the Kingdom that they experienced.
Kabir, a 15th century Sufi poet said that when, for “fifteen seconds”, he heard the words of his master, Shams, it made him a disciple for life.
I believe that poetry, words, can open the heart instantly, heal us, open us to grief long-buried and change our very souls. Lao-Tzu, 2000 years ago tells us that “each separate being in the universe returns to the common source”. Jelaluddin Rumi wrote that “the clear bead at the center changes everything.” Kabir: “Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.”

The 17th century Zen poet Bunan wrote “Die while you’re still alive and be absolutely dead. Then do whatever you want: it’s all good.” And Kabir, again, tells us to “Wake up! Wake up! You have been sleeping for millions of years. Why not wake up this morning.”

All of these great beings on up through Walt Whitman, Rilke, Antonio Machado, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver have been lovingly tapping us on the shoulder to remind us that beyond every wound, every doubt, every fear, that we are loved beyond measure - that we are blessed. May we open our hearts to one another and come to the knowledge of our true self.

“A poet is someone
Who can pour Light into a spoon,

Then raise it
To nourish 
Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.”


With Love and Respect,