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Posted By Opening the Heart

Goodbyes are hard for you.
I see it in the soft truth of your eyes.
Strong body, full of grace
I offer this:

I will love you down to the bone
Through the dizziness of comings,
the heartbreak of going,
the midnight thief of sleep
whose name is "what if."

I will spread my finest coat
over broken shards of disappointment
to soften the crossing on your capable feet
through the land of losing, if you will let me.
Would give you my bread in the camps
had that been our fate in this lifetime.
I would.

I laugh at myself
amusing my ancestors
how my body remembers
jaw, teeth and claw, "it's not nice"
this tearing of flesh and I think,
"God help the person who dares to mess
with you, and with yours."
Peace lover?  Yes. Push over?  No.

Such is the nature of my loving
I would lay down my life for you.
Unmoving against the tides of time,
ebbing and flowing all over the place
sweeping us, and all that matters,
out to sea.

This random raking with hungry hands
our holy gatherings
leaves us gutted and flattened.
Kabir says, "the cup must be emptied
before it can be filled," and I say,
“empty, I stand before you.”

We are skin, bone and pulse
Dancing bravely with Mortality,
our death dates etched on smooth,
unsuspecting foreheads
teaching leaping aliveness,
recklessly spending

the currency of love.

You know those rivers running wild
under absolutely everything?
Gorgeous red blood coursing through our veins?
What separation possibly survives
This Spring, greening, Divine jungle?
When you are cut, I bleed.

You should know
though I may never speak of it,
My definition of "friend."
Tuck it, if you want
in your pocket or

wrap it in your heart cloth.
May it keep you good company.

Donna Macomber

March 27, 2010

Posted By Opening the Heart

Two days from now participants will be gathering at Kripalu in the Massachusetts Berkshire Hills for the Opening the Heart Workshop.  They will be coming home to their hearts,  reconnecting with themselves,  taking time out from  the challenges and stresses of workaday lives. We wish them all a safe journey to Kripalu. The migration brought to mind this poem by Mary Oliver:


Wild Geese


You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.


There is still time to register and there are still some places available,so - if you have been wavering, let  this be a gentle nudge to join us. I know that you won't be disappointed.



Posted By Opening the Heart

Jon's post yesterday, coupled with the imminent occurance of The OTH Workshop brought to mind this lovely poem from Rumi. It speaks to the value of community, of joining with others in hard times. Many of the people who come to OTH face life challenges that are  difficult or even impossible to face alone. All are amazed at the positive effect of immersion in a completely supportive community for just two days. Rumi completely understood the value of community.


Being Woven (an extract)


"The way is full of genuine sacrifice.
The thickets blocking your path are anything
that keeps you from that, any fear that you may be broken
into bits like a glass bottle.

This road demands courage and stamina, yet it's full of
Who are these companions?
They are rungs in your ladder. Use them!
With company you quicken your ascent.
You may be happy enough going along, but with others
you'll get farther, and faster.

Someone who goes cheerfully by himself to the customs
house to pay his traveler's tax will go even more
lightheartedly when friends are with him.

Every prophet sought out companions.
A wall standing alone is useless, but put three or four walls
together, and they'll support a roof and keep grain dry
and safe.

When ink joins with a pen, then the blank paper can say
Rushes and reeds must be woven to be useful as a mat. If
they weren't interlaced; the wind would blow them away.

Like that, God paired up creatures, and gave them


From Rumi – Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)

Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne


Posted By Opening the Heart

For as long as I can remember I have loved poetry and the power that words have to evoke deep feelings. Archibald Macleish said that a poem “should not mean, but be” and Kabir said the same thing 500 years earlier when he said that you should feel a poem in the “thump of the chest”. These poets, men and women for the past 2000 years, have written these words, this divine, or sacred poetry that pass all the evolved neuro-cerebral connections and go straight to the heart like an arrow to release the pain, sadness and ecstacy that bind us in our humanity. Through their words, they give us a glimpse of the Kingdom that they experienced.
Kabir, a 15th century Sufi poet said that when, for “fifteen seconds”, he heard the words of his master, Shams, it made him a disciple for life.
I believe that poetry, words, can open the heart instantly, heal us, open us to grief long-buried and change our very souls. Lao-Tzu, 2000 years ago tells us that “each separate being in the universe returns to the common source”. Jelaluddin Rumi wrote that “the clear bead at the center changes everything.” Kabir: “Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.”

The 17th century Zen poet Bunan wrote “Die while you’re still alive and be absolutely dead. Then do whatever you want: it’s all good.” And Kabir, again, tells us to “Wake up! Wake up! You have been sleeping for millions of years. Why not wake up this morning.”

All of these great beings on up through Walt Whitman, Rilke, Antonio Machado, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver have been lovingly tapping us on the shoulder to remind us that beyond every wound, every doubt, every fear, that we are loved beyond measure - that we are blessed. May we open our hearts to one another and come to the knowledge of our true self.

“A poet is someone
Who can pour Light into a spoon,

Then raise it
To nourish 
Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.”


With Love and Respect,



Posted By Opening the Heart

I love that I am an animal. I know my instincts for survival and thriving are no greater or less than those of another species, excepting paramecium or amoeba with whom I am not well acquainted. When I go to a concert, I am less focused on being in a fancy music hall, with polished wooden floors, marble statues and high decor. My true self is stalking the "sweet-spot" of my own species, thinking "look how undefended we can be together, standing in wild proximity to one another and blending our voices on purpose, to send an arrow of auditory energy straight to the places that ache to be touched." I am thinking that music does that - goes in without permission. Enters us without knocking, or knowing the password, or paying the price of admission at the door.
I adore being a primate. Love using my hands and feet to get into and out of trouble.  How we pout and groom each other like it is normal, because it is.  Pushing the hair off someone's forehead, smoothing a brow that looses a worry line. And when we bother with clothes, tucking in a stray tag or picking off lint.
My first week in Japan I was scrubbing my body in the women's collective bathing area, when a Japanese "Obaachan," (a grandmotherly type) pulled her stool behind me, and after bowing, and disarming me with her gold-toothed smile, began scrubbing my back with long, determined swipes from my neck to my tail, which would have been wagging if it hadn't been stolen by evolution. I felt my spine melt like butter on an August picnic table, felt homesick for the beloveds who saw me off at Logan Airport, and also woven beneath words into my new cultural home. After the scrubbing came basin after basin of hot water, to rinse off the jet lag, the preconceived notions of what my life was about to become, and my unnecessary modesty. I slept like a baby that night on my futon for one, wrapped like a burrito, the smell of grass woven tatami inviting me deeper into dreaming.
Black bear mate in New England in the middle of June. They rub their scent on trees, bite the bark of red oak and black birch. They play sensual hide and seek in hopes of tumbling into intimacy. Moose will strip the bark off a flexible low branch to satisfy an itch on their velvety ears, near to where the antlers attach. What about us?
We are complicated and simple. We hold on with long, capable arms to those we love. Gather in wet, gorgeous clumps when we lose someone. Make sounds for pleasure and sounds for pain. Make angels in the snow and wrap twinkle lights around balsam trees. Roll down hills in the autumn and wear bits of straw and seeds on our hoodie sweatshirts and in our hair. Make love and wage war.  We wilt or thrive depending on the nature and quality of the touch offered or withheld.
We are simple animals living in complicated times. Our world spinning, climate changing, temperature rising. Tidal waves and earthquakes and fear of too few resources. We orbit around, referenced by our own raw material, our unique essential matter. We mean something, all by ourselves and to each other. We feel so deeply, that a poem is born in the time it takes for the light to turn green at a common intersection.
Donna Macomber
I leave you with evidence of our capacity to love, and with this poem by Pablo Neruda: When I die, I want your hands on my eyes: I want the light and wheat of your beloved hands to pass their freshness over me once more: I want to feel the softness that changed my destiny. I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep.


Join Donna and the OTH Team at the OTH Workshop March 19 - 21 at Kripalu Institute for Yoga and Health

Posted By Opening the Heart

Its interesting how events, ideas and circumstances frequently come together in acts of unexpected coincidence. I am currently enjoying two lovely experiences.

The first is as a participant in the UMass Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) created by Jon Kabat Zinn. Facilitating the  OTHWorkshop isn't stressful, but I certainly experience stress in other areas of my life. At OTH we actively promote self care, so participating in MBSR is just me "walking my talk".

The second treat I am relishing is reading Chris Cleave's novel Little Bee, the story of a young woman refugee from Nigeria trying to make it on her own in London.

On Saturday the MBSR program ran a day long retreat. It could not have come at a better time for me, having just completed a strenuous few weeks preparing technical needs for a major dance performance.  To spend the day in silence, meditating, doing gently exercise and yoga with over a hundred others was a deeply refreshing and healing experience. At the end of the day there was a half hour opportunity for people to share experiences and discoveries they had made. It did not surprise me that many reported an up-welling of emotions such as sadness and anger at various times during the meditation sessions. The curious thing was that the participants making these reports seemed to believe that these emotional up-surges were scary and somehow 'wrong'. It was as if the meditation sessions had trawled up material that needed to be left deep beneath the surface. Just like the Innuit fisherman in Jon's recent post people wanted to run away from what had come up. I was reminded how deeply our society has conditioned us into believing that some emotions are ugly, inconvenient and needing to be hidden away - even from ourselves.

On the same evening I read the following in Little Bee:
"We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived."
I immediately wanted to share this with the MBSR participants who had been 'shy' about feeling their emotions.

Every one of us carries emotional scars. They are as common as the physical scars we collected in childhood falling off bikes and swings and skateboards. But scars that are covered up and hidden do not heal. They simply continue to fester. Healing scars means finding a safe place to open them to the light of consciousness and compassion. For me one of those safe places has been The Opening the Heart Workshop.

Our next workshop is just two weeks away! March 19 - 21 at Kripalu Institute in Stockbridge MA.

I hope that we will see you there.

Posted By Opening the Heart

From the first time I heard the phrase “making the descent” (Clarissa Pinkola Estes Women Who Run With The Wolves), I loved it and knew what it meant. It’s not easy to keep your heart open when facing our own wound, our own imperfections, our own humanity. I realized when I heard those words, that “making the descent” is what many people have been doing for over 30 years when they come to the Opening the Heart workshop. Making the descent is not something that we do in our ordinary lives. It takes an extraordinary act of faith and courage to go down into something or, as Clarissa says, to begin to understand something and to “untangle the knot”. But I do know something: when we do this extraordinary thing of making the descent, of facing our own shadows or demons, we become a knowing soul, and, as Clarissa explains, a knowing soul is someone who has the patience to learn deep love over time.

There’s an Innuit story that I tell at the beginning of the workshop. It’s from Clarissa’s book and I tell it because it’s about making the descent: One morning a lone fisherman goes into uncharted waters and casts his line, hoping that maybe this time he will catch “the big one”, the one that will change his life. Instead, he snags Skeleton Woman, an ugly tangle of bones, and he pulls her up from the depths where she has been waiting for him. When he sees what he has caught, he’s horrified and repulsed. He tries to throw her back but she’s gotten tangled in his line, so he panics and tries to paddle back to his hut, but Skeleton Woman seems to chase him as she dangles from his line. When he reaches home, he carries Skeleton Woman and his tangled gear inside and places her by the fire while he sits, trembling and shaken.  But he does not run. And as he sits staring at this unbeautiful pile of bones, something begins to happen. There is a shift inside him - a stirring, a kind of longing. And his heart begins to break. It doesn’t break down- it breaks open- and he cries one tear. Clarissa explains that to anyone of heart, a tear is a cry to come closer. So he cries the tear and closer she comes. Without the tear, she would have remained a pile of bones and, without the tear, he never would have wakened to love.
He decides to untangle the knot, to make the descent. When he decides to see the ugliness, not as something to run from, but as hidden treasure, he starts to become the knowing soul, the “quintessential lover”. And as he begins to untangle and to face his own wound, he chants these beautiful words: “What must I give more death to today, in order to generate more life? What do I know should die in me in order for me to love? Of what use is the power of the not beautiful to me today? What life am I afraid to give birth to? And if not now- when?”
Clarissa tells us that in love everything becomes picked apart. But to love means to stay with, even when every cell says “run”. Even though he was expecting the “big one”, the fisherman does not run when faced with his own gruesome tangle of ugly bones. He stays, makes the descent, faces his own fear and comes to see hidden treasure, and in doing that he awakens to love.
Naomi Shihab Nye, in her poem “Kindness” tells us that before we can know kindness as the deepest thing inside, “we must know sorrow as the other deepest thing”. For over 30 years, I have watched in awe as courageous men and women came to Opening the Heart to make an extraordinary descent. They do the deep soul work of clearing the vessel, of letting die what needs to die so that they can awaken to a new kind of compassion for self and others. To be a witness to this transformation is why I will continue to come back.


With Love and Respect, Jon