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Posted By Opening the Heart

At this time of Thanksgiving I am grateful for the many opportunities life gives us all to learn more deeply about the many faces of love. Life presents us constantly with situations which are crucibles where the opportunity to become as we say in the Opening the Heart Workshop the "quintessential wild lover" - one who learns deep love over time - can be learned and honed.

Over the course of my lifetime I have learned that love is not simply a feeling one has towards one's beloveds, but also an action, or series of actions. Specifically:

Kindness - learning to love "with our work boots on.”

Courage - the opportunity life gives to learn to love by "taking heart" and doing what is needed even when we are afraid.

Sacrifice - the possibility of learning to love by going beyond the self and doing what is required for the good of others even when so doing means there is less for us.

Persistence - learning love by finding endurance we never knew we had as we make conscious choices to keep moving forward and not give up on our beloveds even when doing so would be the path of least resistance.

And finally Vision - an opportunity to learn to love by imagining and aligning actions with the most loving outcome in a particular situation even if current reality appears on the surface to suggest that a loving outcome is not possible.

The gratitude for our many blessings that we open to at this time of Thanksgiving is a first cousin of it's deeper companion, which is love. Perhaps the deepest blessings we enjoy are not the many things that are right in our lives, but the many opportunities that we all have to learn how to love more deeply through every challenge that we face.

The Opening the Heart Workshop offers a profound weekend experience where one can learn and practice some of the intricacies of loving "the not beautiful" - the many places where life has inevitably wounded us as we have gone along.  Rather than running from difficulties and challenges it offers the perspective of embracing life and it's many experiences, both good and bad, with an open heart, and gives strength to practice applying the many faces of love that are needed on a daily basis by each of us when we return back home.

With love and gratitude,





Posted By Opening the Heart

How does one sit with someone who has a shattered heart? I think the simple answer is: respectfully and compassionately. The real answer, though, is hardly simple. This kind of 'being' with someone who has experienced bone-numbing loss and life-draining defeat sometimes means going down into the descent yourself to help someone put their skin back on and to open a space for their soul to come back to their body.

As well as I can figure it, over the course of 35 years of helping to lead the Opening the Heart workshop, I have facilitated hundreds of Healing Circles. The Healing Circle is a small group exercise of about 6 participants who, in Leonard Cohen's words, come to "gather around the brokenness" of each brother or sister in turn as they lay on a mat and are 'loved through' a wound that maybe they have carried for decades. It's important to know the context of this exercise within the whole workshop. I call Healing Circles "the last stop before the highway". In other words, it comes at the end of a day-long descent of cathartic emotional release work, the final act of "emptying the cup", before it is refilled in the second part of the workshop.

They say when you have a very intense experience, you remember it as if it were happening in slow motion, I think because you are totally in the moment to everything that unfolds. I remember in very fine detail when Cindy took her place on the mat, with those around her laying hands gently on her as  she breathed. Seven years before the workshop, she woke one morning and found her husband next to her not breathing. They had been married 3 years and Cindy was 5 months pregnant. She was devastated and lost without her husband and she gave birth 4 months later to a beautiful baby boy. When her baby was 7 months old, he died of SIDS and Cindy began a period of paralysis and grief that was unmoveable. I watched Cindy as she went through the first part of the workshop. I never saw her cry or express any feeling at all.

As she lay on the mat, I remember feeling broken-hearted for her. I lay by her head, prayed, and waited with her. Staying quiet and just being with her was hard. I did not want to try to "make something happen" for her. But I remember, after what was a very long few minutes, asking her if she was willing to "try something". Though she didn't know what this "something" was, she said "Yes". I helped her sit up and asked her to pick two others in the circle to be her husband and infant son. She closed her eyes tight, but opened them and picked two people who sat in front of her. With eyes closed again, I asked her to bring into sharp focus the faces of her lost loved ones and then asked her to open her eyes and see those loved ones sitting before her. Then I asked her to speak to them.

It took her a while to find the words but she told them about her shattered heart, about her grief. She spoke of the pain of missing them, and then something happened that surprised me. She told them of how ashamed she felt for not being able to move on with her life as she knew they would want her to. And as she looked into their eyes, one tear came down her cheek but she choked back the weeping that was there.

I wish I could say that this experience was deeper and more healing for her, but I realized that that one tear had caused her heart to break- not break down, but break open. At the very end of the workshop, as each person had a chance to share their workshop experience with the whole group, Cindy said "I am not in a healed or happy place, but I now know what I have to do to start living again". This was more than enough for me, and I hope her, to start putting her skin back on and to begin to let her soul return to her body. I believe it's never too late for the miracle of healing to happen.

With Love and Respect, Jon

Posted By Opening the Heart

"We all have two lives. The second one starts when we realize the first one ends"- A patient of mine

I used to see Sam in my therapy practice once a week for a long time. Now he calls me once every year or two, leaving me a message that he just wants to "check in and shoot the shit". Sam came in with his 5 year old granddaughter, Louisa. He introduced me as a friend and he led her into my office with a loving, reassuring presence. He asked her to tell me what they were going to do that day. Louisa, cute as a precious button, put her finger to her mouth, looked up at the ceiling and said slowly "Mu-se-um" and the ocean and go for a hike". Sam smiled again and said to me "Not only pretty, but very smart!" He spoke to her in an adult voice and treated her with constant love and respect. He reassured her that he wanted to talk with me for a while and that they would go whenever she wanted. She smiled and said "Thank you Banpop". Sam explained that when Louisa was born, his son asked Sam what he wanted to be called when this new Being of Light was old enough to talk. He told his son "Let her chose my name". So when she was about 2, she started calling him "Banpop", and it stuck.

Sam brought me up to date on his life. His son, once in big trouble with drugs, was now clean for 4 years, was working, and was in a solid relationship. Sam's own relationship of 12 years was a hard one and he said, "It may be that we go our own ways..... I've learned, from you, that I can only do what I can do. I can only save myself".

Sam is about my age, in his late 60's. He grew up in a very physically abusive home, beaten frequently by a father who was alcoholic and had never had a chance to learn how to be a loving father. Sam became a marine at 18 and went to Vietnam for 3 tours where he saw very bad things that, still, at times, haunt him. He is in great shape, handsome, active and he has bright eyes and a warm smile.

He looked at Louisa, then back at me and said "You know, Jon, the worst thing that can happen to a person is for them to lose their childhood". I said "Sam, I am so proud of you for being able to give something you never got". I asked if I could read him a poem by Mary Oliver called The Journey. He smiled.

"One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices kept shouting their bad advice...  'Mend my life!' But you didn't stop... though it was a wild night and the road full of fallen branches, you left the voices behind... determined to do the only thing you could do- determined to save the only life you could save".

Tears were  falling down Sam's face. Louisa looked at him and said "Why are you crying Banpop?" "Sometimes people cry because they're happy, Honey".

I have come to understand that Sam's "check-ins" are about telling me that he has left those voices behind and now lives in a more loving and kinder way that has changed family tradition. He can leave a different legacy than the one he received. Oh, and I do believe he also comes for the hug before he goes back out into the world.

With Love and Respect, Jon