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Posted By Opening the Heart

Jack Kornfield is a clinical psychologist, a Buddhist monk and a high school friend. In his book A Lamp in the Darkness, he tells a poignant story that awakened something deep  in me. He tells us about Dr. Richard Seltzer, a Yale surgeon, who had decided to attend grand rounds one day because of a special visit by a visiting foreign physician. The doctor was Yeshi Dhonden, the Dalai Lama's personal physician, who would be meeting with a patient chosen by the hospital staff in order to make a diagnosis and to discuss the case with the other attending whitecoats.

Dr. Seltzer learned that before grand rounds, Yeshi Dhonden had bathed, fasted and prayed and then showed up exactly on time at 6am in the patient's room. His head was shaved and he wore a golden saffron robe. He approached her slowly and reverently, a woman in her early 50's, and he looked at her for a long time. He also, to Dr. Seltzer, seemed to be looking above her body. Finally, he came to her side and gently raised her wrist with both his hands. As he felt for her pulse, he bent over her, "like a golden eagle", holding her wrist in his hands without moving, for a full half hour. The patient raised her head off her pillow several times to look at him, then rested her head back. Dr. Seltzer noted, to himself, that on seeing this scene unfold, he had an awareness of having palpated a thousand pulses, but not really had an awareness of even one. Dr. Seltzer reflected that he felt jealous: not of Yeshi Dhonden, and his powerful presence, but of the patient- to be so deeply listened to and received. When Yeshi Dhonden was done, he gently rested her wrist back on her stomach and backed away toward the door, never turning his back on her. As he was about to leave, the patient raised her head, touched the wrist he had held, and said "Thank you Doctor". Yeshi Dhonden smiled and left, never having spoken one word.

In the conference room, through his interpreter, this skilled healer spoke in poetic terms about a great wind and rushing waters that had had their effect on the patient long before she was born. The head of grand rounds asked what was the diagnosis. Yeshi said "congenital heart failure". The patient had little time left to live. A reverant quiet filled the room.

The reason the story touched me so deeply was that I know this kind of deep listening when the Quiet comes. It is exactly this kind of listening that we aim to bring to any of our brothers or sisters, whether they are patients in a therapy office, or people selling us bread or stamps. I thought, though, specifically about the love and safety set up at an Opening the Heart workshop. Especially, it called to mind each person lieing on a mat surrounded by 6 caring brothers and sisters who are laying gentle hands on this soul in the middle and then, there is a staff person, a faciltator, who sits by the person's head, and first silently prays for healing to enter the circle. It is always a transformative experience to help create this cocoon of safety for deep listening to happen. There is an awareness that the healing that happens occurs not because of a change in life circumstances for that person, but because they have been brave enough to offer their tender heart to be seen and received by others. The healing happens because they have been truly heard.

I believe that there are two things that allow this kind of transformational change for a person: 1) their willingness to have their heart break, not break down but break open and 2) the intention and skillful dedicated practice of listening to pulses, to the deeper experience of a soul than just the mask or external presentation they give us. The other name for this listening to what is beneath the body armor is Love.

With Love and Respect, Jon