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Posted By Opening the Heart

      ...And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know

        the place for the first time.   T.S. Eliot

So I turn around and know that I will soon begin my seventh decade. Yes, they're all true- all the cliches- like "it seems just such a short while ago" I was swimming through my father's legs in the ocean at Nantasket Beach; or "It really has gone by so fast". And now I'm a grandfather of two of the most delightful dancing Beings of Light: Ivy, eighteen months and Marlowe, two and a half years. Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with stories about how cute or incredibly bright they are. When people my age that I haven't seen for a while learn I'm a grandfather, almost every time they say "Isn't it just the best!?" Well, just between you and me, no, it isn't the best. It's great, yes, but the best? No. What's the best, for me, is watching my son and daughter each parent their little girl.

I think that when any one of us is born, that life begins an arc, a journey, if you will.  That beginning marks the start of a circle. Any arc, mathematicians tell us, eventually comes back to itself, completing a circle. And my belief is that there is something hopeful, redemptive even, about a circle being completed. It's both quite simple and beautiful.

I watched my daughter, Abby, one evening giving Marlowe her dinner. Marlowe is smart, beautiful and loving. At this particular dinner time she was also exhausted. Some parents call it "breakdown time". She finished eating what she wanted and then decided she wanted something else that was not on the dinner menu, so she, understandably, began a tantrum. Watching Abby hold her ground in a loving and skillful way was amazing: "Lovey, throwing food is not okay! Just say 'All done' and we can go take a warm bath. Do you want to give Bunny or Baby a bath, too?" Abby never lost her cool, never yelled, kept to her reasonable limits and held the love between them.

On another day, I was reading outside and 20 feet away I was aware of my son, Ari, lying in the grass doing something quietly with Ivy for at least a half hour. I didn't want to interrupt, but I was intriqued, so I quietly went over and saw my son dropping different size pebbles into a bowl of water: "Listen to the sound of the bigger stones as they plop into the water, Ivy." Then he would imitate the sound for her by popping his finger from his mouth. Ivy smiled, reached into the bowl and picked out a stone and dropped it in the bowl again and again. He was teaching her a quiet, mindful meditation about sound and love.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not meaning to pat ourselves on the back for having taught Good Parenting. Neither of these examples is something I ever did when our kids were little. I'm also very aware that, as a parent, the arc of our children's lives always depends, to some extent, on luck and the grace of God. The great choices our kids made for life partners matters a lot, too. Jess, my son in law, Lily my daughter in law, are beautiful people and loving, skillful parents.

I guess I'm just, in a self reflective moment, in the arc of my own life, expressing tremendous gratitude for all the blessings I have been given, and, as I think about the next cycle of life circles, I feel happy about the kind of parents that Ivy and Marlowe may one day be.

With Love and Respect, Jon

Posted By Opening the Heart

A friend shared this story that resonated deeply with me. A man with a significant history of anger problems began seeing a therapist who recommended that the man attend an 8 week mindfulness course to more effectively deal with the anger. "Joe" was 6 weeks into the course when he found himself one day in a long checkout line at the grocery store. He knew he had only 10 minutes to get checked out, get in his car and make an appointment a few miles away. He began to feel the familiar tightening in his chest and in his fists. He noticed at the checkout counter an older woman chatting with the cashier and he began to get really annoyed and angry. Then he noticed that the older woman was holding a young baby and he saw the older woman hand the baby to the cashier. The line was not moving. Joe was getting more and more angry. To his credit, he tried remembering some of the tools he'd been learning in his mindfulness class and he began to breathe, slowly. He tried to watch his angry feelings and he began to calm himself just a bit. He was able, even a little, to begin to watch the parade rather than to march in it.

By this time the line was moving and, when he reached the cashier, he surprised himself and said "Cute baby!" The cashier smiled gratefully. "Isn't she beautiful?" She went on: "My husband died 6 months ago in Iraq and I had to go back to work and my mother brings the baby in every day so I can get to see her...."

Some years ago I was greeting people on a Friday night at an Opening the Heart workshop and "Paul" walked in. Because I had read the autobiographical data he sent us some weeks before, I knew that he'd served 3 tours of duty in Afghanistan and that his wife was was divorcing him. His life was falling apart. So I was not surprised or judgmental about his withdrawn, angry body language when he walked into the room. I greeted him warmly and thanked him for writing to us.

His "walls" stayed firmly in place until Saturday afternoon when the dam broke and he sobbed like a child for all he'd seen and lost. I just held him until his breathing slowed. He said he felt "broken". I pointed out that that was a feeling, and that I totally understood, and I also suggested that there is a difference between "feeling" broken and being broken. He'd had no other way to deal with all the pain and grief except to keep it locked up inside. I suggested that the tears were a good way to release the pain. The tears were not that pain itself. That, the pain, had gone in over a long period of time. His body and face softened and he cried again.

These two stories are a lesson to me that when we can pay attention and  are able to be back in the present, that we are able to better face the demons, fear and anxiety about the past. It occurs to me that one way of doing this is what I call "using an app". The way this works is that when we experience a judgement (and then, invariably, a trigger), we apply the app by making up a compassionate story about what we "think" we're seeing. It goes like this: "Judgement, App, Compassion". So we see not an angry, insensitive person, but someone who is suffering and deserves our understanding and loving attention. We actually make a concsious decision about what it is that we see in front of us. And that changes everything!

With Love and Respect, JonJon