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Posted By Opening the Heart

This is a sad story. It's about the undoing of a man- a clinical psychologist in private practice for many years who was also a former Chief of Mental Health Services for a prominent large medical group services provider. And he also has served as a senior leader of the Opening the Heart workshop for 36 years.... Yes, it is my story.

For years in my private practice I tried to help people find their way home by teaching mindfulness meditation practice and how to acquire skillful means to tolerate and work beyond suffering, stress and trauma. I was devoted to my own practice of using mindfulness in order to attempt to "walk the walk" before presuming to help someone else find their way home.... Until the woodchucks came.

We lived in a rural area in a very old central chimney cape with a beehive oven, wide floor boards and 10 beautiful acres of woods and organically farmed gardens. Since we love the outdoors, and since this was our first home, we had great dreams and expectations. We bought a 24 cubic foot freezer, ten chickens and a rooster, bought "Ten Acres and Independence" and began to till and plant a huge garden: everything from asparagus, blueberries, brussel sprouts, corn, tomatoes, peppers- everything. We came to realize there were many things we did not know- like that the authors of "Ten Acres and Independence" did not have full time jobs; like you never, ever name the chickens that you will one day sit down to dine on. Also we did not know that woodchucks were omnipresent and omniverous.

When we first saw them eating our garden, yes, it was unsettling, but I practiced slow deep breathing, calmly walked to the garden to shoo them away, embracing a practice of wishing love to all sentient beings. Within several weeks the ugly transformation began to take place. I bought a Have-A-Heart trap and got very excited the first morning to see from my bedroom window that the trap had been tripped and something was inside the trap. My next door neighbor, during the night, had put his son's teddy bear inside the trap and I almost had a good-hearted laugh with him when I returned the stuffed bear. From traps, I went to gas bombs and then to a rifle, with no success.

I began to have fantasies of catching a woodchuck and placing a boom box next to the cage, playing non-stop Barry Manilow songs until the whole family agreed to leave. Yes, the undoing was happening. I planted marigolds next to remaining crops because my research said woodchucks hated marigolds. They don't! The marigolds were eaten too. I really did try to watch the rage and not go marching in the parade.

Then one early evening we were sitting in the solarium which looked out on the garden when the whole family of woodchucks walked by outside. The father stopped, looked in directly at me and started making funny faces at me. My wife says this never happened, but I know it did. It became harder and harder to maintain a balanced perspective. I breathed, I medtated, I prayed and I raged....

I am writing this now from the back ward of the State Hospital. They say I am getting better. I have earned passes to go home on weekends, but only during winter months when woodchucks are in hibernation. Friends come to visit and they have an accepting, compassionate way of holding hope for my recovery. I do feel less angry but, since my treatment is about truth telling, I do admit that sometimes, when the attendant comes with his medication tray, I swear I see whiskers under his nose, and the back of his pants really do look like they have a tail packed inside.

With Love and Respect, JonJon