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Posted By Opening the Heart

Twigs as Spiders


In my childhood home there was one room I was afraid to enter on my own.  This was because of the picture that hung on the wall.  It was a framed watercolor painting of a woodland scene.  In the center of the painting were the bare twigs and branches of a hazel bush.  To my childhood eyes the bush seemed to be a large and scary spider. My parent’s attempts at reassurance - ” It's only a painting!” –
“There's no need to be frightened!” - were not effective, and the picture was eventually removed.  When I next saw the painting I was in my 20s, and, although I could perceive how I mistook some twigs and branches for a spider, it was clear to me that the artist was portraying a beautiful, if stark woodland scene.

I recalled these memories as I took my morning walk through early winter woods today, and I thought about how frequently in life I have mistaken something ultimately beautiful and beneficial for something frightening that needed to be avoided or approached with great trepidation.  A case in point was my first Opening the Heart Workshop.

The prospect of attending a workshop where I would be invited to reveal myself to myself – and to others - was scary. I was ashamed of the baggage I was carrying and I didn’t want to look at my own “issues” let alone allow others a glimpse inside that dark place. Being real would mean showing up “warts and all.” It was a prospect just as frightening as entering that room from my childhood.

What finally got me moving was the realization that slinking around in my comfort zone was actually not comfortable. Comfort is not the same as equanimity, and what I really needed in an apparently fearful situation was the ability to see and face it with an open heart and mind, without pre-judgment and without the automatic imagined prospect of suffering – in short, with equanimity.

This realization, and the support of close friends was enough to get me to my first workshop. There I discovered that the thing I had feared – ownership and acknowledgement of my so-called “negative” emotions – was a challenge shared with everyone else present – including the workshop faculty. Instead of finding myself in a court of rejection, blame and accusation I found myself in a community of love and complete acceptance.

Just as my fear of the scary spider picture transformed into appreciation of a beautiful painting, the anticipatory trepidation about the workshop experience turned into appreciation, gratitude and a sense of deep fulfillment. So, if fear is preventing you from living the life you would like, I encourage you to bring sensory clarity to the inner discomforts of the “comfort-zone,” to face your fears with an attitude of “Bring It On!” and move towards the freedom that lies beyond your personal scary spiders. Perhaps we’ll see you at an Opening the Heart Workshop one day.



Posted By Opening the Heart

Just quickly writing to let all our friends know that the upcoming workshop at Kripalu is filling fast.Come and join us for what promises to be an exciting workshop.

Registration is available at:

Posted By Opening the Heart

Heart's Ease


A gardener went into her garden and found many dead or dying plants. She inquired of the plants why this was so, and discovered that the marigold was dying because it could not be tall and large like the sunflower. The lily was sickening because it could not grow thorns like the rose. The daisy was wilting because it could not smell as sweet as the freesia. In the whole garden the only plant that was flourishing was Heart's Ease.

Upon inquiry as to why this was so Heart's Ease replied, "I knew that when you planted me you wanted Heart's Ease in this part of the garden. If you had wanted a different plant you would have planted it instead of me. Given this insight, I determined to be the "essence" of Heart's Ease and to give myself fully to that purpose." 

Think of the respect that existance has given you. YOU are needed, not someone or something else. So, maybe take a shot at coming into full flower as yourself - with all of your beauty and possibility. Our culture makes a big deal of role models. The drawback is that many of us spend energy trying to emulate those whose achievements stem from a vastly different set of potentials. Think of all the young women who fall into deep depression trying to emulate the images of female beauty that are promulgated by the media. The same energy wasted in pursuit of the impossible could be redirected to the discovery of our own individual potential, our own purpose, our singular contribution.

Of course, following this route means overcoming the persistant belief that "I'm not good enough" and developing a deep trust in our own worth. There are many paths that can help develop the tools to overcome negative self worth and replace it with healthier positive understanding. The Opening the Heart Workshop has been key for my own personal development in this direction. I hope that you will come and check us out at one of our upcoming presentations.


Posted By Opening the Heart

Can you hear the echo in your heart?
Its that clear familiar voice that travels well
and sings into this world.
Its not a fear and not a hope,
not the tears of letting go -
listen deeply now……
listen and know.


These beautiful words by Maniko are heard in her lovely song And Now.


Maniko is just one of the musicians whose heart-moving songs form an important ingredient of the Opening the Heart Workshop.



Posted By Opening the Heart

   When I decided to create a serenity garden outside the south-facing window of my office a few years ago, I simply thought I would be creating some beauty outside while my patients did the hard work of facing their own demons inside the office. I had no idea that I might be going for a hike along the Wisdom Trail as well.

   I am a gardener by passion. I love to see beautiful things flower and grow. And I am a weeder by nature. Clearing out overgrown places slowly and intentionally is a spiritual refuge for me. So I carried beach rocks and black river rocks to cover the small second floor roof outside my window. I hung geraniums from the fire escape, put out a sky-blue bird bath and planted climbing morning glories. Golden yellow trumpet flowers and purple veronica in clay pots all made it a very peaceful, serene place. Patients from the waiting room went outside just to look or sit. I also hung bird feeders from the fire escape right in front of my office window... Then the squirrels came. They dug up the roots of my flowers and sat on the ledge of my window looking in at me, laughing. My serenity turned quickly to rage. The mind, always ready for a ride, fantasized about buying a paint gun and hiding on the edge of the garden until I could land a big yellow splotch on the squirrel's haunch and I imagined him, shamefully, having to explain it to his family.

   I also began to notice that over a six month period, the only birds that came to the feeders were sparrows- not that there's anything wrong with sparrows, but I remember thinking, with more than a little irritation, "Would it upset some grand universal theme of Nature to have an oriole, blue jay, purple finch, cardinal or wren show up once in a while!?"...

   Bruce is a physician I have been seeing in my office for over two years. He is a kind and gentle man, turning 60 with a wife and three adult daughters. He had become increasingly overwhelmed and depressed in trying to keep up with "the bean counters" (as he called them) at the insurance companies, and to learn and keep up with electronic medical records imposed on him by the health clinic where he worked. His symptoms of depression and anxiety increased as he felt more and more overwhelmed.

   As part of his treatment, I taught him mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques focused on breathing, elicitation of the relaxation response and on practicing gratitude daily. Teaching him how to mindfully choose to focus on his beautiful daughters who gave him such happiness, or on opera which he loved, instead of on the things over which he had no control, seemed to help him self soothe and reduce his symptoms.

   He came in one day and sat in the chair that gave him the best view of the birds flocking to the feeders. I said "Bruce, all I ever get at these feeders are sparrows! What am I to do!?" Not expecting an answer, he gave one. He smiled and said "Enjoy the sparrows, Grasshopper". (The "Grasshopper" reference is to an old television show with David Carradine called Kung Fu, where his wise mentors taught him wisdom while trying to also perfect his martial arts techniques).

   I was duly put in my place of practicing what I professed to teach: don't yearn for what is out of your control. Take delight in what is here now, in front of you, every moment. The best dividends come from opening the heart to the beautiful, dignified and graceful sparrow at my feeder right now. Thank you, Bruce, my mentor, for bringing me back to some serenity.

With Love and Respect, Jon