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Posted By Opening the Heart

   I read about a survey where people were asked if they could choose a 'super power', what would it be. By far, the two most popular answers were 1) to be invisible and 2) to be able to fly. I didn't have to think twice about this one. For me, it would be flying. In terms of being invisible, just too much legal, bureaucratic red tape. For example, if you're invisible, do there have to be stipulations that the clothes you're wearing are included in the deal, because I just would not want to have gone through the airline checkpoints without detection and then find myself on a 12 hour fight to Hawaii sitting naked, with a priest to my left and an 81 year old grandmother going to a Tupperware convention on my right, just because I didn't know how long the invisibility lasted!

   Or what's the deal if I'm holding someone's hand? Do they get to be invisible too? Because I would not want to find out after the fact that my wife is slow dancing alone at a family wedding. You know what I'm saying? No, for me, flying is, hands down, so to speak, the way to go.

   Some of my all-time favorite moments are spent on my deck in Westport watching the ospreys soar over the river looking for a meal. Or, on that same deck, watching the hummingbird drink from the feeder 6 feet from my chair. It is nothing but magical, watching her dart and flit from feeder to cypress tree and back. And I know she's coming because I can hear the whir of her wings. Did you know that there is only one species of hummingbird east of the Mississippi? It's the ruby-throated hummingbird.

   When I go clamming in the river, I love to dig my toes into the mud to find cherrystones and little necks. I watch the wind patterns on the water and the sun reflecting off the river. But what is most enchanting is to watch the swans take off from the water, or to see the great blue herons and egrets soaring overhead. What an amazing feeling that must be to be able to fly!

   And as I'm digging clams and thinking about it, I wonder "Is it an amazing feeling for the great blue or egret or the magical hummingbird?" I conclude, a little sadly, that it's probably not an amazing feeling for them. It's just who they are and it's what they do. It would be ecstatic, I reason, if I could be that fabulous bird and have an awareness of flying- of being able to do something so new and different and wondrous!

   So, if it's bringing awareness and consciousness to something that makes it so special, seeing with beginner's eyes, then all I really have to do is bring my full attention to sitting here in my chair, in this moment, and breathe in the joy of my writing these words, watching the hummingbird and nuthatch and the kayaker on the river. I only have to bring my attention to digging my toes into the soft mud and feeling the warmth of the sun on my face and watching ospreys feed their chicks in their platform nests on the marsh in the river.

   Jon Kabbat Zinn, the psychologist, once defined healing as the process of bringing one' attention to what is going on in the present moment... Still, I would, one day, so dearly love to flap my arms and lift off and see the world below and glide on warm air currents and be absolutely at one with the universe.... Actually, I realize can already do that. Some traditions call it 'samadhi', some, the 'oceanic experience'. I call them peak experiences and they can, all by themselves, make my life soar.

   With Love and Respect, JonJon

Posted By Opening the Heart

   I have been seeing "Maria" in my therapy practice for about 4 years. She has been grieving her 40 year marriage to Luis for a long time. They raised 2 children and went through the ups and downs that most couples in long term relationships go through.  Though Maria has been grieving her marriage, I should make clear that they are still married. The thing that Maria told me that was so poignant about their marriage is that every night, before going to bed, they would kiss and tell each other "I love you". They did this every night, through the ups and downs- until they didn't.

   About 20 years ago, Luis' mood started to change. He became volatile and reactive. When Maria would remark to him that he "forgot" to kiss her and say "I love you" at night, Luis would get angry and defensive and would insist that he had not forgotten. Maria noticed that he tended to brood and would become depressed with no obvious reason. This "change of personality", as she called it, not only remained over time, it got worse. He frequently became suspicious of her normal nights out with friends. He started to become belligerant and one night he pushed her and blocked her from leaving the house.

   Luis did accept her plea to see his doctor and he agreed to antidepressant medication and therapy, but his mental status continued to deteriorate, as did their marriage. Maria's heart was broken. She had somehow lost the love of her life right before her eyes and he kept drifting further away despite her efforts to bring him in from the cold, back to the home they'd known together for so long.

   When she found out about his affair, she was angry and crushed and he vehemently denied it and got angrier and more threatening. When she first came to see me, it was to help her cope with the heartbreaking loss she could not change: Luis had left her for the dark world of mental illness. Maria worked bravely to learn how to breathe and remain calm when Luis became reactive. It is a hard and courageous thing to keep trying to be kind when hard winds blow. I always supported her to be clear about not accepting abusive or threatening behavior and she got into the habit of having an overnight bag packed and a dear friend available when the storms got too strong.

   Maria did learn how to remain calm, even to continue to practice lovingkindness at the times his mental and physical condition worsened. Maria did a lot of grief work to mourn her losses. For many reasons, she decided to stay in the marriage, not the least of which was that she felt she could not abandon him in his deeply compromised condition. Luis' condition did not improve but Maria noted that he did become softer, less belligerant. And then one night something happened that knocked her way off balance: he kissed her before bedtime and told her he loved her. She did not know what to say or do. She said to me "Jon, I have practiced letting go for so many years now. Though my heart is still broken and I still grieve, I have found some serenity. How do I respond when he says "I love you"?

   We talked for a long time. She knew there was no way to revive the marriage and she could never go back. Maria decided to do an amazing thing: she chose to continue to practice lovingkindness and, in response to his "I love you", she began to smile and say "I love you too". She continued to practice watching the parade instead of marching in it. She continued to keep letting go of what she couldn't control. The Buddhists say that we suffer when we hold on to something that has to leave us. This is why, I think, that inner serenity is only for those who are brave enough to keep letting go of all the things we are all bound to lose as human beings.

   With Love and Respect, Jon