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Posted By Opening the Heart

Music and Song have always been important parts of the Opening the Heart Workshop. Some songs have become 'theme songs' - dearly loved and frequently reprised but we are always on the look out for new or 'newly restored' music that may deepen the experience of the workshop for our participants. The search is a wonderful excuse for many happy hours reviewing YouTube videos - particularly ones recommended by trusted sources. In this way I am exposed to an enormously wide variety of music. At first it might seem a stretch to imagine some of the tunes finding a place in the workshop, but I try to withold judgement and put them on my IPod anyway - just in case.

If, like me you are a fan of close harmony, a fan of voices clustered round a single microphone, a fan of funky, folky, country, then you will almost certainly warm to 'How 'Bout You' from the Dave Rawlings Machine  - this weeks Opening the Heart Music Recommendation.

Be warned - its very catchy!


Come meet and work with Donna, Linda, Jon and Peter at The Opening the Heart Workshop™ at Kripalu Institute, Stockbridge MA March 19 - 21 2010


Posted By Opening the Heart

     "There is little that can move a man to tears. He can talk about a failed marriage, disturbing children, career disappointments, ruinous business decisions and physical suffering with dry eyes. When a grown man cries in therapy, it is almost always about his father."  Raising Cain


Some years ago, I was leading a "Fathering" workshop at a parenting conference in Rhode Island. About 40 men came to the session. We sat in a circle and I asked the men to introduce themselves- "as their father would have introduced them". As it turned out, that was the workshop. One man had trouble looking into any other eyes, but managed to say he didn't really know his father who left the family when the man was 2 years old. His voice faltered but he was able to choke back any emotion.


 Another man, a policeman, said his father had beaten him, many times, and he said he felt that he had "turned out alright". He admitted that he hit his two sons and he didn't feel there was anything wrong with that. One man said his father would have introduced him as "The Failure" because the son had given up a chance to go to law school in order to follow a path of becoming an artist and sculptor. Another man said his father would have said that he was proud of his son, then a long pause as the man admitted that he never was able to tell his father that he loved him before he died that past year. The stories went on. Stories mostly of sadness, bitterness, anger and shame. It occurred to me how many good men I'd seen in my practice, as a therapist, who had been hobbled by the emotional distance they'd grown up with that kept them from being better fathers, better partners.
    In her beautifully written book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes said that what women most wanted from a man is "to cry the tear of his own wound". She said that once a man faces his own pain, his wound, the tear comes naturally and he becomes his own healer. He no longer looks to a partner to be his analgesic. He sees how he has lived his life protectively and what he has missed because of it. Only self compassion for his own wound heals him, not the love from another. I think that it takes tremendous courage for men to do this kind of work- the kind of courage I saw in them that day of the workshop.
Near the end of the session that day, the policeman, who'd said he didn't see anything wrong with hitting his two sons "when they needed it", looked around the group, looking into the other men's eyes as his own eyes filled up, and said "After listening to you all today, I think, maybe, I see a different way to be a father".

    Men don't come to the Opening the Heart Workshop nearly as often as women. It's not unusual for the ratio to be 2 or 3 to 1. When I welcome men at the workshop and I see their amazing courage, I have more hope that the world can be a place of more kindness, more love, less fear. I am proud to call these men my brothers.


   With Love and Respect,  Jon


Come meet and work with Jon at The Opening the Heart Workshop™ at Kripalu Institute, Stockbridge MA March 19 - 21 2010


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
I spent this past Monday with the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a beloved southern Vermont community nestled in the lap of the Green Mountains.  60 well intentioned folks dragged themselves out of early bed and scraped crusty snow off  frosty windshields to contemplate what our town would be like if all its residents felt equally valued and empowered.
We sat earnestly together, young and old, black and white, privileged and working class and pondered this possibility.  We talked about power, who has it and who can't get it.  We tried not to get stuck in the predictable pitfalls which offered themselves up like  deep grooves in dirt roads, familiar to all Vermonters during mud season.  We didn't grasp at simplistic answers or quick fixes. We didn't blame our government or our neighbors at the table.  We sat with ourselves.  It was painful in places.  Mostly, it was an honest practice of working to understand the day to day reality of individuals who have been left out in the cold.  We grappled with racism, poverty and greed.  We looked each other in the eye, point blank and tried to breathe ourselves through challenging conversations without looking at our feet.  At the end of the day we were all still there.  We sang a simple song in three languages and four part harmony.  We ate spaghetti and salad and garlic bread and went back out to the sparkle of stars and brightly lit steeples.
It was at an Opening the Heart Workshop many years ago that I learned how to stay present.  I learned to look at the people in the circle, and to take them in.  I learned how to offer myself as a loving witness to another so that the innate wisdom in the person seated across from me on a cushion could find its way to the surface.  I learned to soften my face, my breath and my judgements, making room instead for what I have come to regard as the truest expression of respect.  And I learned to stay with myself emotionally during times of confusion, regret and emptiness.  I grew to understand my own inner longing to be a loving agent for change.  I understood what aspects of healing are an "inside job", and what I might share with another trusted being for support and companionship.

I cannot say that life has become simpler as a result of my experience at Opening the Heart.  What I can say is that I have grown into my own skin  That learning the basic practice of self-responsibility has made me both humble and brave.  There is very little that frightens me anymore.  When I open my eyes at the beginning of a new day I scan the immeasurable number of opportunities there are to bring love to the world.  And I am grateful to be out of my own way enough to see clearly.  I can choose how to spend the currency of love at any given time, trusting that no recession, no earthquake, no unfortunate election or unethical Supreme Court decision can impact the balance in my love account.  This I experience as a form of pure liberation.


Donna Macomber

Posted By Opening the Heart

Witnessing the singing Haitians onTV news broadcasts prompts reflection on the nature of gratitude. In spite of everything - all the losses - these wonderful people celebrate being alive - even in appaling conditions - with songs of thanks.


Did you know that the cultivation of gratitude is possible? Not only that, it has also been proven that actively practicing gratitude contributes to a happier and healthier life. In a recently published book, 'The Compassionate Instinct - the Science of Human Goodness', Robert A. Emmons PhD describes research carried out at the University of Miami. The research model was remarkably simple. For 10 weeks participants in the program were asked to keep a daily journal. One group wrote about daily events and interactions for which they felt gratitude. A second group wrote about events and interactions which hassled and irritated them. A third group could write about anything. After 10 weeks the first group "felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the future than participants in either of the other groups..... Those in the gratitude condition reported fewer health complaints.......and significantly more time exercising than those in the hassles condition"

Dr Emmons' fascinating and informative article about this study is called 'Paying it Forward' and is available at the highly recommended Greater Good Magazine web site.

Reading it today and then watching the celebrating Haitians on the news are reminders for which I am grateful. In fact I'm going to begin a gratitude journal right now and report back in 10 weeks time. My entry for today will be:

Today I am grateful for

1) the city workers who shovelled snow from the sidewalk outside my door.

2) blueberries

3) the cheerful volunteers I worked with today

4) the technology that enables me to write this blog post

5) the mute button on my tv remote that silences the wall to wall campaign commercials here in Massachusetts


Please join me. Lets all try this. Just 5 thank yous every day.


Please come join us at The Opening the Heart Workshop March 19 - 21 at Kripalu Institute, Lenox MA


Posted By Opening the Heart

I live in Massachusetts, and this weekend find myself surrounded by a political hurricane as Martha Coakley tries to fend off the challenge of Scott Brown for the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy. The Tea-Party-ers and Rudi Guliani have been in town. Barack will be here this afternoon. Its a brawl of a storm, but, unlike a natural hurricane, this one doesn't have any kind of a calm center. The TV news, the newspapers, FaceBook, the blogs, the ads and the tweets are gusting and debris is flying everywhere. Its really nasty weather!

How easy it is to get caught up in this kind of a tumult. Without notice it entrains our unexamined fears and aggressions. Our politicos and media pundits are experts in recruiting these barely buried traits. Like unsecured porch furniture in a gale our fears and angers are swept up to become dangerous weapons hurtling  out of control in all directions.

What to do?

I got to thinking about those animals that, when confronted with challenging situations, adopt behaviors of fight or flight.  I wondered: should we be getting out there and joining the fracas or should we put our collective heads under the covers and hide until its all over? And then I wondered if there might be another, alternative response - something between fight and flight, something not fueled by aggression or fear.

Its a kind of koan: 'What is the space between fight and flight?'

You have to provide your own answer. The only guidance I can give is that you examine your own fears and aggressive urges - your own aversions. What scares you? What threatens you? Who is the 'you' that is scared? Who is the 'you' that is threatened? I'm not pretending that this kind of self examination is easy. But not finding answers to questions like this is ultimately what ails our world.

Are you ready to take responsibility for securing your 'porch furniture'?

Posted By Opening the Heart

At The Opening the Heart Workshop we are all profoundly saddened by the disaster in Haiti. We send heartfelt condolences to all who havebeen affected by this trajedy.

We would like to encourage all our friends to clear a little time to close your eyes, take some deep, cleansing breaths, let go of personal preoccupations and focus on sending loving kindness and compassion to all beings affected by the calamity.

We expect that many of you will have already contributed in some way to the relief effort. Some may still be overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. In either case spend some moments reflecting how you might be able to further help  and then move to action.

Here are links to some trusted relief donation sites:

American Red Cross

Doctors Without Borders

Oxfam America



Thank you


Posted By Opening the Heart

A disciple of Bankei asked him:

I become overwhelmed by anger.

I want to be rid of it but I cannot be.

What shall I do?


Bankei did not say a word,

just stared deep into the disciple's eyes,

who began to sweat in those few heavy minutes of silence.

He wanted to break the silence but couldn't gather the courage.

Then Bankei laughed and said; It's strange!

I searched and searched but could find no anger within you.

Still, show me a little of it, here and now.


The disciple said: It is not always here.

It comes all of a sudden, how can I produce it now?


Bankei laughed and said:

Then it is not your true nature.

That remains with you always

- and if your anger had been part of it you could have shown it to me.

When you were born it was not with you

- when you die it will not be with you.

No, this anger is not you.

There is a mistake somewhere.

Go away and think again, search again, meditate again.


Osho 'A Cup of Tea'


Posted By Opening the Heart

Opening the Heart is a weekend-intensive workshop that provides a safe and supportive environment for accessing feelings, working through blocked emotions, disentangling from the past, reconnecting with core truths, and learning to live more fully from the heart. It was originally conceived by Robert Gass EdD and Judith Ansara MSW in 1976.


Our philosophy recognizes that true health is based on a holistic model that includes mind, body and spirit. Opening the Heart draws on a variety of western psychological methods including gestalt, bioenergetics, focusing, and psychodrama. Recognizing what modern neuroscience continues to prove - that past trauma and abuse are stored in the body at a cellular level - the Opening the Heart Work engages the body's natural energies in holistic exercises designed to uncover and heal old wounds. Movement and the gentle power of music play major roles in the workshop, creating a uniquely effective healing experience.
Inner transformation lies at the core of all spiritual and wisdom traditions. We use exercises in witnessing, and mindfulness practices drawn from a wide range of those traditions. Though not affiliated to any specific creed or doctrine the workshop embodies a deep respect for the spiritual aspects of our lives. The innate resilience of the human spirit is supported and enhanced by the blend of modern positive psychology and ancient healing wisdom underlying the unique Opening the Heart approach.


Creating a safe container for the exploration of buried feelings is a primary goal of the workshop leaders. The senior staff each have more than 20 years' experience In facilitating Heart Work. We walk our talk, and each of us has been a participant in the workshop -  multiple times. We have also had training and many years experience in group dynamics; healing from trauma and grief; and the transformational change process.
Confidentiality is a pre-requisite for all participants. The workshop is highly structured and offers a variety of small group and individual exercises that invite participants to try new activities and explore new methods of self-discovery and self-expression. Of course, participants always reserve the right to choose not to take part in a particular exercise and are completely supported in making choices that are right for them. We assist people with special needs in adapting exercises to suit their needs.


 Our staff clinician reviews whatever input and background data participants choose to provide in advance of each workshop to help insure each individual's needs are met. Submission of this advance information is completely voluntary. A high staff to participant ratio - approximately one staff member per six or seven participants - allows for a great deal of individual attention and is designed to provide emotional support and safety. We believe that caring and simple human kindness are essential in promoting healing. Deep listening and the power of loving attention are vital keys in helping people remove inner barriers.



Posted By Opening the Heart

Setting out on a new decade we would like to share with you some of the inspiring poetry and music that we love. Songs and poems like this one by the Palestinian poet Naomi Shihab Nye are woven into the fabric of the Opening the Heart Workshop™, helping to create a safe container for deep inner work.





Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night
with plans and the simple breath
that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.


                   Naomi Shihab Nye