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Posted By Opening the Heart


beech tree

   It was a beautiful clear glass day on Monday February 20th- cool but if you found a sheltered corner, lifted your face to the sun and closed your eyes, you could feel Spring, smell it, sense it in the inner heart pulse that sent a soft steady beat to the lungs and  legs that said: "Let's go!"... So we went- my dear friend, Peter and I. He took me to a place in Wellesley- 36 acres of pristine woods, ponds, gardens and wildlife sanctuaries.

    We walked in the woods, bright sun cutting shadows through the pine, elms and maples. The path went right along the Charles River, separating Wellesley from Natick and Peter told about his new interest and research in trees, how ancient and soulful they were and what they had to teach us. And he invited us to just stop on the path and look up at the blue sky through the bare birch and oak trees. We were quiet and just breathed in beauty.

    A few steps further along, we came to the river's edge and watched mallards swimming. There was a stand of grey aspens moving from the wind in a slow dance reflected in the  river. If we listened carefully, we could hear the soft crunch of pine needles as we walked. We talked of big things and little things, laughed and were quiet, listening to the wind come through the branches and dead leaves still clinging to limbs. We came to an open space with a huge dead tree trunk stripped by time and weather of all its branches and limbs, as well as its bark. I wondered at first why it hadn't been cut down to preserve the beauty of this little place.

    Then I walked over to the tree, reverently, as if it were an Elder. I put my hand on the trunk, felt the smoothness and saw the map of the million little rivers gouged out by insects. As I gently walked around it, I saw the sign that read "Bird Habitat". I thought of Bob Franke's song lyric: "What can you do with each moment of your life, But love 'til you love it away"... And at the top of the trunk, I saw the holes and nests where birds stayed and raised their families in this dead trunk that, somehow, had still found, in death, a purpose for living things.

 Then Peter asked me "Do you hear that?" I did not, until he brought me closer to a stand of sugar maples and I heard the steady drip! drip! of the sap falling into the aluminum pail. Life flowing sure and internal and in perfect rhythm with the season.

 Peter asked if I wanted to see his favorite tree and I knew exactly which one it must be as we approached the only beech tree I recognized on our walk. It was majestic. Peter pointed out something you would never really see at first glance. "It's actually two trees that have grown into one". And, sure enough, you could see how they had cleaved to one another. As you looked closely at the trunk, you could read the diary of the good decades when the growth had been steady and even, and then the challenging years as they "figured out" their differences. Peter aligned my head so I could see the very fine line of separation  about two feet long at eye level of the trunk- maybe where they each had decided to do their own thing.

 On this late winter day, I thought of many things: the rhythm of life, the senses coming alive, the heart opening, friendship, gratitude. It was a beautiful day and a hopeful and special walk in the woods with my friend. With Love and Respect, Jon 


Posted By Opening the Heart

Are you up to date on Music Sharing? I have recently taken a subscription to Spotify - the music app that, unlike Pandora, allows you to pick specific songs to listen to. There is a very full featured free version available.

I have put some of my playlists out in the ether. You should be able to access them by clicking the button below.

If, like me, you love music that heals, made a point of finding the Opening the Heart Workshop Playlist and set the Spotify player to 'random'. Many of the tunes you will find there are played in our programs to create the unique ambience that participants have come to recognise as a hallmark of our workshops.


Follow me on Spotify





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Posted By Opening the Heart

I really want to encourage all our blog readers to make time to watch this short video. I can assure you that it is a lot more positive experience than watching network news or CNN.

Rick Hanson has written a wonderful book called "Buddha's Brain.The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom." It has become one of my all time favorites, and given me great guidance.

In the video he is speaking about the practice of "Taking in the Good." I wrote about how I have used this practice in my own life in an earlier post.  Rick is an entertaining speaker with a great sense of humor. I hope you will find time to enjoy these wise words.



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Posted By Opening the Heart

As a child growing up in England I heard the expression "What the dickens?" used frequently. For years I was under the mis-apprehension that it obviously had something to do with the famous novelist whose 200th birthday was celebrated this week. Not so! The works 'dickens' is, in fact, a euphemism for 'devil' and it can be found in this sense in the works of Shakespeare. The whole phrase 'what the dickens?' is an antiquated version of the 'WTF?' that is extensively used in social media communications these days.
The mis-apprehension of a connection with Charles Dickens is a perfect example of how our minds can leap to apply our own, often unshakeable blanket of meaning and interpretation over reality. Meandering through life we pick up erroneous ideas and definitions, and then proceed to apply them in generic and inappropriate situations.

In 'David Copperfield' - Chapter 2, titled 'I Observe,' Dickens writes:


"I believe the power of observation in very young children to be quite wonderful for its closeness and accuracy. Indeed I think that most grown men who are remarkable in this respect, may with greater propriety be said not to have lost the faculty, than to have acquired it; the rather, as I generally observe such men to retain a certain freshness, and gentleness, and capacity for being pleased, which are also an inheritance they have preserved from their childhood."




Seeing 'with the eyes of a child' is a familiar way of describing what Dickens is talking about here. The Zen tradition speaks of 'beginner's mind,' implying a mind that is uncluttered and unclouded with pre-conceptions, open to seeing things 'as they are.'  In the Christian Gospels Jesus asserts that it is essential to become "as a little child" to "enter the Kingdom." The wisdom traditions of the world  agree that preserving or finding a way back to the innocent clear-seeing nature of early childhood is a pre-requisite of real spiritual development. Growing up in the world inevitably overlays our innocence with layers and layers of socialization and, while some of the results of this are useful and necessary to survival, there is much indoctrination of belief systems and conventions that get in the way of clear perception.
As part of an ongoing search for ways to return to seeing 'with the eyes of a child'  I have begun working a practice stemming from Rick Hanson's wonderful book Buddha's Brain. The practice is called 'Taking in the Good' and my adapted version is described in detail in an earlier post to this blog. In brief, as a regular part of every day set aside time for a 'Taking in the Good' walk. As you walk, keep your eyes open for things that please you. Immediately you notice something, pause, breathe and be with the inner felt sense of the moment of pleasurable connection. Try to avoid labeling, comparison, criticism, skepticism. Stay with the pure connection for 10, 20, 30 seconds. Don't be in a rush. After, offer a silent acknowledgement of gratitude for the experience. Walk on until another thing that pleases you catches your attention. Repeat the sequence as often as you like.
For those who have become disconnected from 'beginner's mind', exercises like these are helpful. Modern research in neuroscience has demonstrated that neural networks can be repaired and restored by regular use of these kind of practices.  The "freshness, gentleness, and capacity for being pleased" Charles Dickens writes of are certainly qualities that I want to maximize in life. I'm working on it.



Posted By Opening the Heart

 "From a distance you look like my friend, Even though we are at war..."


Photo: Mike Berenson

On Friday night January 15th, I flew from my little airport in Warwick, Rhode Island to Orlando, Florida where I would catch a connecting flight into Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast in southwest Florida. The next day we would be presenting the Opening the Heart Workshop to Avow Hospice in Naples. Since we are invited to do this workshop by a compassionate soul at Avow named Louise Kinney once each year, I am familiar with the routine, the embarking, the runway takeoff, the landing, the airport waiting. But on this night, as we approached the Florida coast on the Atlantic side, I was thinking about all the participants who would be sitting in the opening circle of the workshop in just a few short hours. I was thinking about their journeys, the arc of their lives, the deep losses that they live with every day. And then something quite mysterious and wonderful happened.

As the plane banked southwest, I no longer saw the endless black of the Atlantic Ocean but a dramatic change of scene as the Florida coast spread out into view, flying right over Daytona Beach. The gold and silver lights below were really beautiful and I imagined the world turned upside down and instead of looking down, I was now looking up at the Daytona Constellation, the Deltona Nebula, the twinkling lights of Winter Springs, or the Dolphin Star, and, finally, the great expanse of thousands of stars in the Orlando Constellation...

The beauty of it took my breath away. As we began to descend, the stars transformed into street lights and the shooting stars into highway cars. When we hit the runway and taxied to a stop, the cabin lights came on and the cell phones rang and the voices of individual lives morphed from the magical, dark, silent space ship ride: "Dad, we just landed." "Yeah, Carl, the meeting went well. When can you be here?" "Mommy, I'm tired". As i marched out of the plane with my carry- on, I was aware of the process of marching in the parade as opposed to what I was doing just minutes before- watching the parade.

And I thought again of the hospice participants at the workshop in the morning: sitting in the Opening Circle, perhaps feeling scared or excited, looking into other eyes around the circle, and quite possibly experiencing Difference in those eyes, and, therefore, feeling separation. And then I thought about the end of the workshop when, so many times, I've seen open, fearless eyes looking around the circle and seeing No Difference, and feeling compassion and acceptance. From a distance, things do look different. The change in perspective, I think, is just part of the parade, except for the very few saints who live in that timeless place and always see with new, fearless eyes. But even living in that space for a few moments changes things. The poet Kabir said he lived in that space for twelve seconds and it made him a disciple for life.

With Love and Respect, Jon