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Posted By Opening the Heart

"There is a prayer~poem  in the hollow reed of my throat. 
It resides there in my inside stem, the hearty, thriving one
under thin, translucent layers of Norwegian skin.

Reed and root connect here, a moist highway between pulsing
heart and fertile, whole grain dirt.

This poem,  made of flesh, promise, and luminescence,
rewrites itself as I live.  At the core, bone forms around keen observation.  I tell you, we are resilient!  Like yeasty loaves, apply the heat ~ we rise and we rise and we rise.

I have taken you in through my willing senses, the porous
portals of mouth, eyes, the dew-jeweled
entrance I sit on and hatch dreams.
I swallow the wind as she blows, giving me breath to hold
this note for a long, necessary time, or fuel a risky leap
off a cliff, into the moody map of mystery.  

I stretch out, ecstatic to land in this boat,
the hard, unyielding plastic holding me up,
setting my spine straight.  I give Gratitude her way with me,
let her wash over  bow,  body, and stern.  Watch
the leafy green sway of branches above, 
the flawless powder puff sky in water below.

Here's what I know. We cannot fall from grace.
Not really, except into one another. We wake in a new
paradigm, place or poem,  where we, in time,
learn marvelous navigation skills."
Donna Macomber
(excerpt from summer journal, 2011)

Posted By Opening the Heart

Linda writes:


One of the most powerful lessons I have learned about love was from my grandfather.  It is a story from my grandma and grandpa’s sixty-four year long marriage.

My grandpa and grandma had four happy children and no regrets about the life choices they had made. But when I asked my grandma one day what she would have done if she had not been raising children she said, “I would have been a ballerina”. And it was true – she loved to dance.

Although she had four children at home, she could have channeled her love of ballet into ballroom dancing which she also loved. The only problem was that my grandpa hated to dance and they rarely went.

When grandma was in her early forties she had an operation on her right leg for a minor problem. The operation went very wrong. Afterwards she began to get gangrene in her leg. 
At first they thought she might actually die. They thought they were going to have to amputate her leg in order to try and save her life. Then things improved and they thought they would have to amputate just her foot.  Still later they felt they would have to amputate only three toes.

During that time grandpa sat by grandma’s side in the hospital. The way I heard it is that in a moment of deep sorrow he promised my grandma, “Gwen, if you live I will take you dancing every week for the rest of your life.”

My grandmother lived. They did end up amputating three of her toes. Her foot and her leg always hurt after that. She always had the sensation you get when your leg has fallen asleep and the circulation is just returning. But that is a different story, a story about cheerfulness in the face of hardship and it deserves to be told another time.

But this story is about a profound promise. After grandma recovered my grandpa and she went downtown to The Terrace Ballroom and they danced. I believe he took her in his arms, looked into her eyes and they danced a dance of gratefulness, joy and love.

For nearly forty-five years they danced every week at the Terrace Ballroom until they became too old to dance anymore. They became a part of the Terrace Ballroom and the polkas and waltzes of the Terrace Ballroom became a part of them.

In part because of my grandfather I learned something crucial about love. Love is a feeling like no other that you have towards someone else. But sometimes, perhaps more importantly, love is a decision that you make again and again and again  – through thick and thin and especially when you don’t feel like it - to do that which is loving.

It is often helpful to go to things like the Opening the Heart Workshop or church or other places which can open us and remind us of the great power of love. But what happens when we go back to our daily lives?

This family story of the Terrace Ballroom has always moved me. I only hope that one day I can be so good at loving that those who come after can learn the same lessons from my life that I learned from my grandfather.

I think this poem by 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz is about my grandma and grandpa dancing for nearly half a century, she with her three toes gone but her joy for life unquenched and he who hated to dance but dancing gratefully anyway out of love:

“……You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to kiss the Beautiful One. 
You have actually waltzed with tremendous style
O my sweet,
O my sweet crushed angel.”


Posted By Opening the Heart

Herb Benson is a Harvard-trained cardiologist who is presently the director of the Mind Body Institute at Mass General in Boston. He tells an anecdote about a very beloved obstetrician in a small New England town who had been practicing so long that he was now delivering babies for mothers that he had also delivered. He was a highly respected legend. At one time in his practice he was surprised at the high number of pregnant women who presented with gastrointestinal distress. He decided to try an experiment. (This was before the days of ethics committees who oversaw such "experiments"). This obstetrician decided to give these women some medicine and he told them that this would help them feel better. In less than two weeks, a high percentage of his patients reported that, in fact, they were feeling better.... If you guessed that he gave them a placebo (a sugar pill), this would be a good guess. But he didn't. He gave them Ipecac, a medicine designed to induce vomitting!

How would one explain this extaordinary result: that a high percentage of his patients not only did not experience vomitting, but felt significantly better? Dr. Benson explains the result by proposing that the women's belief system overrode an induced physiological response to the medicine. The women so loved and trusted him that they believed what he told them, that they would "get better".

Both CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and the neuroscience underlying complementary and alternative medicine speak to us about the critical importance of our thoughts, or beliefs and how these beliefs determine our perceptions, and, therefore how we feel about our lives. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., at the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical Center in Worcester, and Dr. Benson have shown us how negative thoughts, and, therefore, negative emotions cause stress on a cellular level. And stress will exacerbate both acute and chronic illness by producing increased inflammation in the body- whether the illness is cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or autoimmune process.

"To be in relationship to what you are going through, to hold it, and, in some sense, to befriend it-that is where the healing or transformative power of the practice of mindfulness lies.... Coming to terms with things as they are is my definition of healing". (J Kabat-Zinn).

Daniel Siegel, M.D. is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. He talks about some amazing research being done by Drs. Richie Davidson and Kabat-Zinn showing that after only one 8 week MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course, a "left shift" is enhanced in the brain's left frontal cortex. Such a shift reflects the cultivation of an "approach" state in which we move toward, rather than away from a challenging (read scary or stressful) external situation. In other words, this "approach state" can be seen as the "neural basis for resilience"!

Mindfulness is defined by Kabat-Zinn as "seeing things as they are and then being in wise relationship to them, even if they are painful or difficult". Using the neuroscience of integrative medicine, we are beginning to learn about the brain mapping of things like love, resilience and wisdom.

Wouldn't it be transformational to really be able to learn, for example, how to experience the pain that is inevitable in life, without actually suffering so much - to learn how to watch the parade without marching in it. I believe it's when we march in the parade that we experience the suffering and the drama of our life. Mindfulness practice has profound implications for healing even without curing.

With Love and Respect, Jon

Posted By Opening the Heart
Two days after the 10th anniversary of 9/11, my patient, "Kathy", came to see me. She is an Episcopal priest and she told me the following story that deeply moved me. With some changes to protect confidentiality, she gave me permission to share it with you. She told me with her beautiful and proud smile that she had made a new friend and she reminded me that making friends was a goal she had set for herself for her personal life this year.

She gave me some background history of the new friendship. She said that about a year ago her church had had an evening of festive and "noisy" celebration and, so, the next day Kathy brought gifts, peace offerings, to her neighbors. One neighbor, "Robbie", was grateful for the gifts and said she was just so happy that there was "life" happening in the church and she invited my patient to stay for tea. They immediately developed a fondness for each other and they talked easily and openly. Robbie, dressed in traditional Muslim clothes is married with no children. Her husband is from Tunisia. On Christmas day, Robbie brought a homemade praline cheesecake to Kathy's church. They shared a warm friendship and Kathy was pleased that she didn't have to worry about complications to the friendship because Robbie was an observant Muslim.

This past Sunday, 9/11, Kathy gave a sermon to her congregation that she felt touched the right notes of inclusion, compassion and perspective. After the service, she said to her 8 year old daughter, Kira, "Why don't we go visit Robbie." Kira had come to grow just as fond of Robbie as her mother and said "Yeah!Let's go!" When they walked over to Robbie's house, Kathy immediately saw that Robbie was troubled, preoccupied. Kathy asked what was wrong. "I'm sorry to speak so plainly in front of you, Kira, but I am sad and afraid. I have to pick up a prescription at CVS and I'm afraid to go out of the house on this day." Without missing a beat, Kathy said "Why don't we all go?" "Yeah", said Kira. "You would do this for me?" asked Robbie. "Of course", said Kathy and took her by the arm. After the CVS run, Kathy asked Robbie to go with them to Bed Bath and Beyond to do an errand and Robbie gladly agreed. Afterward, Kathy told Robbie that she wanted to go to church for a late afternoon service. She wanted to hear a colleague give his sermon. "It'll be some music and a nice time, nothing heavy". Robbie agreed. Kathy told me that thye sermon led them into "diversity land", but she added that he was not inclusive and, in fact, ignored anyone in the congregation who might be Muslim, or love someone who was. At the end of the service "My Country Tis of Thee" was played and Kathy was aware that Robbie was weeping. Robbie said that for 10 years she had not felt that this was her country. "I am an American, but I am afraid, and I am treated differently since 9/11" Kathy just held Robbie while she sobbed.

Kathy is one of those rare people who can be totally authentic and present in the moment while, at the same time, hold a wider perpective. Call it a spiritual or mindful awareness, like bringing gifts the next day to neighbors, or like holding an awareness of giving a challenging sermon while at the same time thinking of a Muslim neighbor who might need the loving reaching out of a friend.... I'm so glad that Kathy can give those in her churcfh the "life" Robbie heard that Friday night a year ago. I'm so glad that the community has a leader who is capable of walking the walk.

With Love and Respect, Jon

Posted By Opening the Heart

If you are a regular visitor hear you may have noticed a cetain lack of activity over the summer months. All of us have been involved with individual pursuits, challenges, vacations and family, but we are still here and ready for the fall season.

Donna found this lovely poem - perfect for any kind of fresh beginning.



May this be a morning

Of innocent beginning,
When the gift within you slips clear
Of the sticky web of the personal
With its hurt and its hauntings,
And fixed fortress corners,
A morning when you become a pure vessel
For what wants to ascend from silence,
May your imagination know
The grace of perfect danger,
To reach beyond imitation,
And the wheel of repetition,
Deep into the call of all
The unfinished and unsolved
Until the veil of the unknown yields
And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart.
John O'Donohue
(from To Bless the Space Between Us)
Posted By Opening the Heart
In over 30 years of helping to lead the Opening the Heart Workshop, I have seen people's hearts opened by the music, words, deep sharing, body movement and stories- and this opening happens in an amazingly short period of time. For me, poetry, sacred poetry especially, has the same capacity to bypass cerebral pathways and go straight to the heart. These poets have directly experienced that high opened state where all dichotomies are dissolved and one is in an altered state. Different traditions have different names for this state: satori, oceanic experience, enlightenment. The 15th century Sufi poet, Kabir, said that he experienced this state for 15 seconds and it made him "a disciple for life". The American poet, Archibald MacLeish, said that a poem should not mean but "be". Kabir said the same thing 500 years earlier when he said that a poem should be felt in the "thump of the chest". Sacred poetry sends shivers down our back, rattles our bones, causes tears to come.... I wanted to share a few delicacies as appetizers.
The small ruby everyone wants has fallen out on the road. Some say it is east of us, others west of us. Kabir's instinct told him it was inside, and what it was worth,
And he wrapped it carefully in his heart cloth.
Hafiz, a 14th century Sufi poet, tells us what a poet is:
A poet is someone who can pour light into a spoon, then raise it to nourish your beautiful, parched, holy mouth.
Rumi was a 13th century Sufi poet who asked:
If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?
Mary Oliver is a contemporary Pulitzer prize winning poet who lives in Provincetown:
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.
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.
With Love and Respect, Jon