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Posted By Opening the Heart

"There are 50 ways to leave your lover"...    Paul Simon


   There's a wonderful Lebanese wi-fi cafe right under my office and, sometimes, when I get a cancellation from one of my patients, I go downstairs and order an iced drink and sit outside and read. A few weeks ago, when I went downstairs I saw something that caught my eye. It was a young mom and, I assumed, her two sons, maybe 8 and 6 years old. I hardly noticed it at first because the scene looked pretty normal. What I noticed was that the mom was plugged into her iphone and each of the boys also had a "machine" that they were playing with. Instead of taking my drink outside, I decided to sit inside the cafe where this family was, and I counted. What I counted was the minutes that none of the three of them said a word to each other. It was 11 minutes. And I realized I had no idea how long this had been going on before I came in. And because the arc of my life happened to intersect with theirs in this one place in time, maybe this kind of disconnection had never happened before. But my guess was that it had happened a lot of minutes before.

   Now, I know what you may be thinking: "So what?!" or "Jon, you've got way too much time on your hands", but here's the thing. Just that morning I had been with a couple in my office whose hearts had hardened towards each other for many years and I said to them, as homework, that I wanted them to work on building some resilience and goodwill in their marriage. And I asked them to practice mindful connection with each other by gently touching whenever they passed each other at home; by giving loving appreciation; and by smiling and looking into each other's eyes, every single day.  I told them that each of these acts of kindness would take about 6 seconds....

   So, you see where I'm going with this? I imagined what this young family could do, not with 6 seconds, but with 11 minutes: "Jimmie, how do you feel about going to overnight camp for the first time?"; "Frankie, I'm really sorry for being grumpy this morning, it had nothing to do with you."; "I love how you both were totally there for your little league teams this spring"....

   Don't worry, I am not going to rant about the evils of technology. I really have made peace with this. But I am talking about "Balance". I know machines can be addictive, but they also allow me to hear poets I love reading on Youtube. And I know that technology allows me to share my thoughts with you on this blog.

   I'm going to be a grandfather for the first time in September and I was talking to my daughter and son-in-law, at this very cafe, and they asked me what lessons I wished they would consider in raising this new Being of Light. I thought about it for a long time and I said: 1) Be tougher; and 2) I hope that you teach your new Little One some balance between Machines and People.

               With Love and Respect, Jon        





Posted By Opening the Heart

I'm back from Big Sur, and days so chock full of adventure
that I still sport bruises up the bony spine of calf, still
gleam with fresh dreaming.  I chronicle a life unfolding in the
tension between effort and surrender.  Tree bodies standing
as tall as any living thing dares, in wind, in gray rain pounding
on a slant, like light, like shadow.  Fire blazed through this
forest, left You, Grandmother Redwood, charred and dignified,
burning this hollow in your womb, which my lover and I instantly
recognize as "cathedral." 

We weave energies with you, press
sweaty palm prints against the patterned charcoal of bark.
Intimacy necessitates the exchange of DNA, and swop we
do, generously.  We honor you with vibrant spring ferns
climbing your dark, smokey body, offerings of pine cone and

We hike ourselves silly, through temperatures and textures,
wear holes in our new sneakers, sprout blisters, lug the comforting
rattle of Advil, the retro familiar of faded, favorite bandanas.  The
Pacific follows us, all froth and intensity, her blue a constant reminder
that we cannot fall from grace, just sky in the water to cushion a
landing.  This round earthly orb spins ever so gently, easing us to our
edges, and to her own.

33 miles in three days.  I grow lean, brown and happy, harkening
back to a dozen summers spent going absolutely nowhere in
particular, but living from dawn to dusk, motored by the muscle of
childhood, bathed by the sea.

Tell me something.

Is it not child's play we are after?
A little dirt rubbed off on the fluffy, white, hotel towel,
eating peanut butter sandwiches on stolen raisin bread,
4 days in a row.
Licking the stamp on a postcard,
using too little sunscreen and just enough common sense.
Tipping well, until all that remains is the change,
rattling around in our pockets,
and the way our legs twitch in anticipation
at the edge of sleep.



Donna Pic

Posted By Opening the Heart

Bottling things up might be great for making preserves, but it sure doesn't work with emotions. Have you ever had the experience of leaving a meeting or a family gathering with "steam coming out of your ears," feeling as if you are about to explode? Look what happened in The Odyssey. Odysseus and his crew were having a hard time getting back to Ithaca when they came to the island of Aeolus, guardian of the winds. Aeolus  gave Odysseus a tightly sealed bag containing all the contrary winds. With only favorable winds Odysseus and his men rapidly sailed to within sight of home. Exhausted, Odysseus fell asleep at the tiller. His men, suspecting that the sealed bag contained treasure that Odysseus was witholding from them, decided to open it while he slept.

Aeolus Bag of Winds

 Out roared all the contrary winds that had been "bottled up" inside the bag and within seconds the resulting storm blew the ship way back out to sea, drowning many of the sailors.

After the wind's release

It was seven years before Odysseus finally made it home.

Isn't that the way with bottled up "contrary" emotions? Sooner or later they are triggered  and, before we know it we are thrown way off center and have succeeded only in alienating those nearest to us. It will take huge amounts of time and effort to bring ourselves back "home" to our center.

So - How not to bottle? First and foremost, when you are in an emotionally stressful situation, RECOGNIZE IT and BREATHE! Second - notice what is happening IN YOUR BODY - NOT YOUR MIND! Your mind will probably be going crazy with a mini-storm of justification or blame or judgement or "story" or indignant rebuttal: just let that be and focus on the physical feeling of being "stirred up." Try holding the physical feelings with compassion, knowing that they are natural, and that they are temporary. Recognizing and caring about the feelings in your body is the pressure release valve that will help prevent an emotional explosion. Third - as soon as you can, do what is necessary to remove yourself from the actively stimulating situation that has triggered the anger or fear. Take time out to continue being with your breath and with the ongoing physical feelings and sensations in your body. Your mind will probably keep trying to interrupt your focus with all kinds of negative thoughts about whoever else was involved and about yourself. Gently tell your mind that you need to focus on your breathing and body just now. Continue with that focus until you sense a return to emotional equilibrium.

If you have a history of "going off the deep end" this technique is going to take committment and practice, but I have found that it is an essential tool in the toolbox of emotional intelligence and mindfulness of emotions.