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Posted By Opening the Heart

   When I decided to create a serenity garden outside the south-facing window of my office a few years ago, I simply thought I would be creating some beauty outside while my patients did the hard work of facing their own demons inside the office. I had no idea that I might be going for a hike along the Wisdom Trail as well.

   I am a gardener by passion. I love to see beautiful things flower and grow. And I am a weeder by nature. Clearing out overgrown places slowly and intentionally is a spiritual refuge for me. So I carried beach rocks and black river rocks to cover the small second floor roof outside my window. I hung geraniums from the fire escape, put out a sky-blue bird bath and planted climbing morning glories. Golden yellow trumpet flowers and purple veronica in clay pots all made it a very peaceful, serene place. Patients from the waiting room went outside just to look or sit. I also hung bird feeders from the fire escape right in front of my office window... Then the squirrels came. They dug up the roots of my flowers and sat on the ledge of my window looking in at me, laughing. My serenity turned quickly to rage. The mind, always ready for a ride, fantasized about buying a paint gun and hiding on the edge of the garden until I could land a big yellow splotch on the squirrel's haunch and I imagined him, shamefully, having to explain it to his family.

   I also began to notice that over a six month period, the only birds that came to the feeders were sparrows- not that there's anything wrong with sparrows, but I remember thinking, with more than a little irritation, "Would it upset some grand universal theme of Nature to have an oriole, blue jay, purple finch, cardinal or wren show up once in a while!?"...

   Bruce is a physician I have been seeing in my office for over two years. He is a kind and gentle man, turning 60 with a wife and three adult daughters. He had become increasingly overwhelmed and depressed in trying to keep up with "the bean counters" (as he called them) at the insurance companies, and to learn and keep up with electronic medical records imposed on him by the health clinic where he worked. His symptoms of depression and anxiety increased as he felt more and more overwhelmed.

   As part of his treatment, I taught him mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques focused on breathing, elicitation of the relaxation response and on practicing gratitude daily. Teaching him how to mindfully choose to focus on his beautiful daughters who gave him such happiness, or on opera which he loved, instead of on the things over which he had no control, seemed to help him self soothe and reduce his symptoms.

   He came in one day and sat in the chair that gave him the best view of the birds flocking to the feeders. I said "Bruce, all I ever get at these feeders are sparrows! What am I to do!?" Not expecting an answer, he gave one. He smiled and said "Enjoy the sparrows, Grasshopper". (The "Grasshopper" reference is to an old television show with David Carradine called Kung Fu, where his wise mentors taught him wisdom while trying to also perfect his martial arts techniques).

   I was duly put in my place of practicing what I professed to teach: don't yearn for what is out of your control. Take delight in what is here now, in front of you, every moment. The best dividends come from opening the heart to the beautiful, dignified and graceful sparrow at my feeder right now. Thank you, Bruce, my mentor, for bringing me back to some serenity.

With Love and Respect, Jon


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