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Posted By Opening the Heart

When I think of the experience that derives from participation in an Opening the Heart workshop, I think of what people say in the final sharing circle at the end of the weekend. Many times, with tears in their eyes, they speak about feeling joy, coming alive, feeling unrestrained love for others. Often they will say the workshop was the most powerful experience they'd ever had. What has been even more poignant is when someone, years later, comes over to me, hugs me and says that the workshop "changed my life".

This, of course, does not happen to every participant, but it does happen consistently enough over 36 years that it leaves me wondering exactly what has happened in one short weekend that caused such profound change for so many. I think about the loving, safe environment that allows people to go deep and release years of pain and suffering, depression, deep loss, even fear of death. There is the heart-opening experience of sharing that lonely grief with others, and realizing that we all have carried these wounds. I think about the skilled, experienced leaders who know the landscape of emotional healing and the transformative journey from fear to love. I think about how music, itself, and singing or chanting are, I think, a part of what wakes us up.

I had written a while ago about the power of miracles, or what my mentor, Abraham Maslow, called peak experiences. He said these experiences are not just extremely life-affirming events that break open the heart, but they are, themselves, life-changing experiences. One cannot walk away from a miracle and expect to be the same again. So all the components I mention above are a part of what changes us, but also, what changes in us is perspective. We see with Beginner's Eyes.

In 2006 a man named Roland Griffiths published a study in "Psychpharmacology" titled "Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance". Because he had a track record as a serious and meticulous researcher, others became interested in re-opening the research on psychedelics that was shut down in 1970. In the past 20 years, well-designed double blind studies at NYU, Johns Hopkins, UCLA and the College of London have started to look at how these molecules could effect addictions like smoking and alcoholism; anxiety and depression; and cancer and end of life experience. The goal of many of these studies was to "make the direct experience of the sacred more available to more people". (I think this quote could have been used as the OTH logo).

In 2010 a 54 year old television news editor, Patrick Bettes, was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. He was going through heavy chemotherapy and was scared of losing  everything he loved, as well as facing his own death. He was accepted to an NYU clinical trial of psychedelics. Because he was a journalist, he wrote about his day-long trial. Initially, he wrote that he felt intense fear and anxiety. (I think about our first circle on Friday night at OTH). Soon he was crying and having a "rebirthing" experience. Midway through his trip he remembered saying "OK, we can all punch out now. I get it". He wrote that he realized that love was the only purpose of life. He said he was being told on his trip that his cancer was "no big deal". He wrote "Oh God, it all makes sense now, so simple and beautiful".

Patrick lived for anorther 17 months. His wife said that during those months, he was able to live in the present, to be joyful, enjoy a sandwich and to be more serene and at peace. She reported that he had told her he had seen "the face of God", and that he had been the happiest he had ever been in his life.

With Love and Respect, Jon


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