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Posted By Opening the Heart

   Though I've only seen Sam and Jenny together in my office for a short while, I had seen Sam alone for almost three years. He had been married before, and Sam's life had not been an easy one. It may have been blessed, probably was, but it was one of those lives where you need to wait a whole long time before you say "Wow! it was hard to see those ragged early years as anything but suffering, but now I see how it all fits together".

   Perhaps the most painful chapter of Sam's story was that he lost a child- his only daughter (two other sons). I really liked Sam a lot and my heart ached for all the ways his life seemed to be unfair- too jagged. Then he met Jenny: "She's kind, Jon, and she makes me laugh. She's pretty and she really loves me. Me! Can you believe it?" They loved each other very much but Sam began to see some things he hadn't seen during the months their closeness and love grew.

   The main issue seemed to be around his 'leaving'. It might be for bowling night or a business meeting, but he noticed she would become unreasonably irritable. Even she would admit, with some time to gain perspective, that her behavior was reactive and even blaming of Sam. I asked her to tell me about her dad. She told me her parents divorced when she was about 11 and it was one of those ugly, blood-on-the-walls divorce that took hostages of anyone on the battlefield. Jenny said "My mother turned me against my father". I asked her to tell me more because I sensed there was more. Her eyes began to fill as she told me that she could still remember as "clear as if it was yesterday", when she screamed at her dad that she never wanted to see him again and she recalled the broken look on his face as she slammed her bedroom door in his face, and refused to open it. Out of loyalty to her mom, Jenny did not speak to her father again, as he died of a sudden massive heart attack less than 3 years later.

   By now she was sobbing and trying to talk to him through the almost 30 years that had passed. "I'm so sorry Daddy....' I asked her to close her eyes and I asked Sam to sit directly in front of her. With Jenny's eyes closed, I asked her to remember her dad's younger face, and to bring it into sharp focus as she remembered him that last day. Tears fell down her face. I asked her to see her father's face when she opened her eyes.... And she did. "Daddy I miss you. I'm so sorry..." Jenny emptied her heart and when she was done, I asked her to breathe and listen to her dad's voice coming through Sam. I knew that Sam had lost a daughter, but Jenny didn't know the details because Sam had only ever talked about them in my office. His daughter was 16 and overdosed on drugs and he never had a chance to say good-bye to his "little girl"- until now. He looked at Jenny and saw his daughter's face and he said "I was always with you. I never left. And I will always be with you. I miss you, too, and I will always love you so very much. What I need you to hear now is that I will never leave you and that there is nothing to forgive". By now, the tears were falling from Sam's eyes, too, as well as mine and I thought "If we don't stop this soon, we're gonna be ankle-deep from all the tears". But they were good tears, healing waters....

   So why am I telling you this story? A few weeks ago I posted a piece called "Praying with Beginner's Eyes" and I realized that, for me, praying in that way is one path for creating Godness. That day, in my office, Sam and Jenny's courage in making a descent and in opening a dark place to light- that, too, created Godness right in my office, before my grateful eyes.

   With Love and Respect, Jon

Posted By Opening the Heart

Michael Mezernich is a neuroscientist who developed Posit Science which is a San Francisco company, one of the first companies ten years ago to enter the new field of brain fitness. Here's what he said: "When you're young and you see something surprising, your eyes are attracted to it. You're bright-eyed, literally." For older people in their 60's and 70's, their peripheral vision is three-quarters as panoramic as that of a twenty year old. Here's what amazed me: he said "We want to train your eyes to be more childlike.... We can take a person of any age and restore their sparkiness."

The light that went on immediately in my head is the thought that what he's really talking about is learning to look at things with "beginner's eyes". This is the phrase that meditators and behavioral researchers use in re: to helping people develop mindfulness practices. Just take a moment wherever you are and look at something inside or outside a room. Really, just look at it and breathe and then, keep looking at it and breathing. Just "be with" it, contemplate it. Be, in the present moment, with it and see it as if for the very first time, letting everything you "know" about it drop away: its function, its history, its meaning in your life. Just let it be and let yourself be, with it....

If you've started to read this new paragraph, stop. Go back to the object you've been contemplating and stay with it for ten minutes (approximate the time, don't keep checking your watch!)....

Okay, so the main point I want to make is about prayer. For many years I have had a daily prayer life: before each meal, when I enter my therapy office and when I leave it, when I feel grateful, when I see a wonder or a miracle for the first time, when I am graced with serenity.

My dear friend, Peter, gave me a book for my birthday called Help. Thanks. Wow by Ann Lamott: the three essential prayer. Her challenge is to make prayer real, authentic. So I began to look at my own prayer practice. I took inventory: Gratitude, yup, check; lift our suffering, check; watch over and protect loved ones, got it. I began to see that my prayer life had aged. It was not authentic or real, it had become a rote practice.

I knew I needed to get back to being real, in the moment, to feeling the yearning for connection with whatever you may want to call a higher power or God. My belief is that real prayer, with heart, the juicy prayer, is the authentic ache and yearning for connection. For me, it's not a conversation with God. It's the yearning or the "call" that actually is the response, or echo, of our prayer.

So I began my new prayer practice with a question: How am I feeling inside? Really, how am I feeling? Rather than check off the usual boxes, I was determined to be more honest with whatever was true for me in that moment: raw anger, outrage, grief, elation, relief, peacefulness- to really bring it gently into my embrace and awareness and just be with it, give voice to it, as much as possible, without judgment. In other words, to see it with new, honest, beginner's eyes. This practice has made me, I believe, more real, more whole, more able to see with a wider panorama the beautiful, translucent whole of the life I've been given.

   With Love and Respect, Jon