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Posted By Opening the Heart

Krishana Das is a sadhu, a seeker, a practicer of khirtan, or devotional chanting. In his autobiography, he talks about the stories, or myths, that we carry, sometimes for our whole lifetime, about who we are. The myths are formed when our hearts are broken or we are forgotten or not heard or cut deeply by cruel life circumstances. When the cold winds blow, the stories are etched in ice carvings and when the gentle winds blow, there is a little melting and we are able to summon a bit more Deep Memory and self love. Some people call this grace. I call it Coming Home. It is a place where we have more perspective, where we are more able to watch the parade rather than march in it- and because of that perspective, we suffer a little less.

For as long as I can remember I have loved being outdoors, especially by water: oceans, streams, tidal rivers, estuaries, lakes, ponds. I guess it was only natural, then, that I would come to love fishing. The serenity of fly casting on the North Fork of the Flathead River in Montana or dropping worms in the Saco River in a canoe with my son, watching osprey and eagles being more successful than I was at catching dinner. The great blue herons and white egrets feeding along the shore, the wind on the water, the tides changing. Never really mattered if I caught anything- until it did.

You see, in all these years of fishing, I never caught anything- nada, nil, chada, zilch, nothing! And the more I didn’t, the more it mattered. When we bought our little summer cottage in Westport, Mass. on the Westport River 5 years ago, my neighbor, Rory, took it as a personal challenge to help me catch my first fish. He’s lived here his whole life and caught 8 million stripers and blues and thought it would be no challenge to take me to his best spots on the river and make a success of me.

I remember that first summer when he asked me to go out with him on Thursday night, but I said I couldn’t go but would go with him Friday night. Thursday night he came back with 3 stripers- 29, 32 and 33 pounds! When we went out Friday night it was a full moon with a beautiful breeze and a sky full of stars and we fished for 3 hours. Can you guess what I caught? Rory, by now, was determined, and continued to encourage me to bring my bad luck onto his boat with him. I continued to encourage him to leave me behind if he wanted to catch fish, but he insisted. One night I agreed to go with him but got him to agree to call me Fred while we were on the river (so the fish couldn’t recognize me, of course. The mind begins to create some weird stories.) Nothing changed the outcome- not that summer or for the past four summers. Last month, Rory, the eternal optimist, told me it was a perfect tide, perfect weather and that I was going to catch my first fish. I told him I was cursed, to leave me behind. He said he had a secret weapon this time- a nine hook ‘umbrella rig’ he had been working on for months and it was time for me to try it. I wanted to believe, to see beyond the myth I created. But these stories die hard.

Rory and I trolled for almost an hour, he continuing to cheerlead me until I snagged something hard and broke his lead line and sank his secret weapon in the Westport River. I knew he was trying not to scream “Loser! Lunkhead! Dolt! You’re right, Jon- cursed!” But he just smiled and said “Things happen.” And so I settled into my myth as a cursed fisherman. Until:

Very recently, my son, Ari, wrapped a present for me and asked me to open it. He had found a picture of me at age 19 which he framed. It was a much younger, smiling me holding a lake salmon that I had caught in northern Maine. Ari inserted one word in the bottom corner of the frame: …PROOF…

With Love and Respect, Jon    


Posted By Opening the Heart

Music features prominently in our workshop and we are very aware of its power to evoke many different emotional states. Nevertheless I am always glad to be reminded of this power when something new comes to my attention. Here is the latest 'something'.


Posted By Opening the Heart

Spring Hill Entrance Sign



Here sits the original sign that invited and welcomed the participants to enter in the sacred space of the Opening the Heart Workshop™ at Spring Hill in Ashby.  I was lucky enough to win this in the farewell raffle when Spring Hill was closing it's doors.  Now I place this in my Buddha garden at home and every day it is a reminder to me of the sacred space of my physical home and within the home of my heart. 
The workshop gave me the space to explore and rejoin with my true self; albeit a bit scratchy, dusty and frayed at times.  I was drawn to Spring Hill as I knew the directors at the time (Laury Rappaport and Neil Friedman), and yet couldn't have anticipated the doors that were to open in my heart, my community and my world. 

 I am blessed to have this sign to greet me everyday.  If one looks up the word "entrance", not only does it mean to welcome, to give admission, but as well to "carry away with delight, wonder or rapture..."  I can truly say that I was carried in delight and wonder in the workshop, and now I always know that the instruments of peace, song and love are never far if my heart is open.



Note from Peter:

Thank you Peggy for this wonderful remembrance.

Although Spring Hill closed eleven years ago, The Opening the Heart Workshop™ contiues to flourish and grow, It is hosted at Omega and Kripalu



Posted By Opening the Heart

Emotional Intelligence is very much a core concept of The Opening the Heart Workshop. I'd like to point our readers to an excellent and very clear exposition of recent developments in the field by Dr Philippe Goldin of Stanford University. Enjoy!

Posted By Opening the Heart

Midsummer eve the air was rich and thick with life. The sultry smell of honeysuckle infused our yard while fireflies danced like blinking polkadots on the dark blue fabric of night.  Night birds sang in the trees and  bullfrogs answered  from the pond in a subtle but discernible underlying rhythm.

midsummer night creatures
Midsummer night took me back to another time in my life when I attended college in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The air there was also heavy and sweet but the smells and sounds were those of a tropical island.Honeysuckle was replaced by the smell of ripe bananas on the tree and the constant sounds of small frogs called coqui interpenetrated rainforest nights.

In spite of transportation, the island was then culturally quite different from the Puerto Rican subcultures found in U.S. cites. Puerto Rico itself at that time was still in the process of moving away from it’s agrarian past into a more industrialized future.  However it had not lost touch with its roots. The extended family reigned supreme and despite the island’s inevitable and unique problems, the culture was full of heart.

I saw heart on the city buses when I rode across from someone with a birth defect or handicap.  No one seemed to pay it any mind unless the person needed help and then it was given. I saw heart in the delight taken in children, in the respect towards elders and the in the aged cared for at home. I saw heart when bank tellers or other professionals looked into my eyes and connected with me – not rare or special events but simply as a matter of course.

I remember “The General”. He was a fixture in Old San Juan when I was in school.  He would stand in the traffic-tangled main plaza at rush hour every day in full military regalia directing traffic. Although he likely had mental health challenges he was not arrested or put away somewhere. He was a beloved part of the community. It seems no one would think to interfere with him. He belonged, had found his niche and was giving to others in his own way.

Contrast this with my own trip to Costa Rica earlier this year as a medical advocate for a friend seeking treatment out of the country.  While in Costa Rica her handicap was met everywhere with extreme kindness and compassion. Once we got on the airplane bound for Boston the story changed.  She could not walk up the aisle on the airplane very fast because of her disability, I was slow because of the amount of medical equipment I was carrying.  Instead of kindness we were looked at with impatience, anger and even hostility. Not one person asked if we needed any help.

My midsummer night’s dream is for the courage to be kind. Courage means to take heart, and the source of the courage to be kind comes from the heart.  My midsummer night’s dream is that all who are vulnerable because of infirmity, age, perceived difference, bad circumstance or other condition are met with kindness every day and that because of misfortune no one feels isolated or ostracized or left out of the circle.

I look at the homeless on our streets and at the many people who are put in institutions because perhaps no one knows quite what to do with them and I see ample opportunities for my own kindness to grow.

My midsummer night’s dream is, (to paraphrase Kate Wolfe’s song)  "love will make a circle that holds us all inside where strangers are as family and loneliness can’t hide.”

We do this quite well in the Opening the Heart workshop.  My midsummer night’s dream is that we are able to do this every day.

Posted By Opening the Heart

"The kingdom of heaven is within" - Jesus of Nazareth

"The coin lost in the river is found in the river" - Zen Koan

"The real journey must take place within the wastes of one's homeland - the soul" - traditional Sufi saying.

"Know thyself" - Socrates

" A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that's unolcked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push" - Wittgenstein

Five different  traditions: one message! What the modern (and, apparently the ancient) world is seeking is not 'out there'. It's not in capital or in capitals. Not in Wall Street or Main Street. Not in consumerism.  Not in Diet Coke or Supersize burgers. Not in booze. Not in drugs - legal or otherwise. Not in my job or my 'vocation'. Not in my family or social life. Not in movies or tv or Wii. Not in books or blogs - even this one!

So - where is 'it'?

To find what I am seeking I have to turn round and look 'inside'. I actually have to do something other than thinking and planning and reacting and 'habit-ing'. I have to make the effort to take the inward jouney to find out who I am! Who I am is not the 'who' I have been told to be, taught to be, trained to be. Who I am is not the person I have practiced being for my whole life. Not the 'personality' that biography and 'culture' has moulded.

Most of the time, like most of us caught up in our lives, I forget this simple truth.  I spend so much of my time being busy or being exhausted and wanting to 'shut down'. I'm so swept up in the whirl of day-to-day acivity, where can I possibly find the time and energy for 'looking inside'? It takes a decision, a personal commitment and support from others! In my case I have committed to meditate every day and I am blessed in the support of my fellow OTH Workshop buddies.

This doesn't mean that I have stopped looking 'out there' for answers. It seems like it could take a lifetime to completely break the habits of a lifetime. But I find that if I maintain my commitment to 'returning home' and spend time with the moment to moment experience of presence, my awareness of the unsatisfactory nature of seeking 'out there' is greatly enhanced.

So "Just Do It'! Find the way that's right for you to take the inner journey. Try to find a way that doesn't rely on the GPS of a set belief system. When Gautama sat down under th Bodhi Tree he wasn't 'a Buddhist'. When Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness he wasn't 'a Christian'. They found their way on their own. "A belief system becomes a barrier for your eyes so you cannot see the truth. Only the search for truth and the experience of truth - not a belief - is capable of healing your wounds and making you a whole being." (Osho)

No map exists for your journey so all you can do is step into the unknown with your eyes wide open willing to accept whatever you find. Just Do It!


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Posted By Opening the Heart

One of the reasons I love the 'blogosphere' (in spite of its ugly name) is the way it can, with magical synchronicity, sound different but compatable variations on the same theme. In my last post here I was opining on how easy it is for me to view myself through a single, distorted, narrow focus lens. How interesting, then, to read this sentence from Barry Brigg's 'Ox Herding' blog: "there may be no other way of revealing ourselves to ourselves than through the apocalype of opposites."

Meanwhile, on Nigeness my attention was drawn to  'To Night', a sonnet by Blanco White (1775 - 1841.)  In its lines, the poet, noting that the bright sunlight of day obscures the majesty of the sky that is revealed at night, reminds us how easily we can be deceived by and trapped in appearances:

"Who could have thought such darkness lay concealed

Within thy beams, O Sun! or who could find..........

That to such countless orbs thou mad'st us blind!"

Yet, even though the distorting lens of habit and culture typically prevents us from seeing into our depths, we all sense the unexplored territory that lies beneath our surface. This sense is beautifully expressed in a poem by Kay Ryan (also posted this week on Nigeness.)


Carrying a Ladder

We are always
really carrying
a ladder, but it’s
invisible. We
only know
the matter:
something precious
crashes; easy doors
prove impassable.
Or, in the body,
there’s too much
swing or off-
center gravity.
And, in the mind,
a drunken capacity,
access to out-of-range
apples. As though
one had a way to climb
out of the damage
and apology.


That sense of clumsily blundering through life as if carrying an unwealdy ladder is the wake up signal that alerts me to the fact that I need to spend some time and energy exploring exactly what the ladder is 'this time'.

Thank you fellow bloggers for a wealth of wisdom!

Posted By Opening the Heart

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side
At once began to bawl
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"


The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

 John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)


This ancient Indian story becomes particularly meaningful when applied to the process of self examination. Just how partial is our understanding of ourselves? How moulded by prevailing culture, science and pop-psychology are the stories our minds weave about the 'self' and our lives?

Looking back to my childhood in England I can laugh in embarrassment at the various notions I imbibed from my family, friends, schools and popular culture. Exposure to alternative world views has taught me how impossibly racist, sexist, jingoist, chauvinist, homophobic, fear-based and just plain wrong those notions were. With hindsite it is easy to see that just about all my perceptions of who I was in the world were way off base.

Hitch-hiking around Europe in the 60s, living in an ashram in India for three years in the 70s, becoming an immigrant to the US in the 80s were all salutary experiences that opened my eyes and busted many of the myths I was carrying about myself and my relationship to the world. But there's no doubt that new myths crept in along the way.
A quarter century later  the 'elephant' story prompts me to wonder what misunderstandings, distortions and failures to see the big picture I am currently indulging.

I remember spending a meditation intensive in India in 1977 sitting opposite a partner and responding to the suggestion: "Tell me who you are!" It took me a long time to get beyond the 'bio', the family, the career, the closely held beliefs. In essence these were just parts of the elephant - and even patching them all together produced only a piecemeal collage. What was being sought was something much deeper and more complete - something amorphous but much closer to truth.

The challenge then and now is to recognize and move beyond the narrow lens crafted by (unreliable) personal experience and 'culture'. It requires continually reminding ourselves that we are usually only experiencing a fraction of our whole being. Try this experiment: set your timer to beep every hour today - when you hear it ask yourself 'who am I right now? and spend just one minute meditating the answer.