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Posted By Opening the Heart

The holidays are keeping me busier than ever - in a good way with family and friends. With no time to write I make no apology for posting another delicious and heart warming video from Playing For Change. If you are unfamiliar with their remarkable four year story and their su supportable mission you could take a moment to visit their website. Here is a totally uplifting live rendition of "One Love"


Posted By Opening the Heart

Just back from our OTH Workshop at Kripalu. What an inspiring and courageous group!

At this darkest point of the year why not take ten minutes to sit in silence with this beautiful version of the concluding words of the Heart Sutra:

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.

(Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, What an awakening, Hallelujah!)

The track is available on Deva Premal's 'Love is Space' CD (see link in the side bar)


Have a happy and rejuvenating Solstice!

Posted By Opening the Heart

The Playing for Change Foundation released this new version of Imagine just yesterday.

Over the last 4 years Playing for Change has traversed the world with a mobile studio recording talented street musicians, local groups and instrumentalists. The recordings are edited into beautiful and moving compilations that completely embody the spirit behind John Lennon's wonderful song. I hope you enjoy it. The blog will return next week after we get back from this weekend's workshop.

Posted By Opening the Heart

Thirty spokes are joined together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that allows the wheel to function.

We mold clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes the vessel useful.

We fashion wood for a house,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes it livable.

We work with the substantial,

but the emptiness is what we use.


Tao Te Ching: Chapter 11
(translated by J. H. McDonald)


Lao Tzu poetically describes the necessity of a cleared out inner space. Consider for a moment how much unnecessary junk you carry around in the form of over tense muscles, unresolved grievances, stress, worry, anxiety, disatisfaction, aversion and the like. In the last twenty years, neuroscience has found convincing evidence that the weight of these burdens alters the physical structure of the brain. Long term or repetitive "burden carrying" reinforces the  physical changes as we habituate to the presence of the weight. Once the habit of "burden carrying" is ingrained it becomes more challenging to eradicate. Each time a new life challenge comes along we repeat our habitual reactions and the burdens keep piling up, filling the space inside us that is essential for creative and loving engagement with the world.

So how can we begin the process of leaving some of these burdens behind?

Relief from burdens is a central theme of many spiritual practices and, in the modern world, of psychotherapy. Prayer, meditation, yoga, vision quest, retreat, and therapy are just a few of the places that people have turned towards for help. The common thread of these approaches is awareness. The first step is to become aware of the fact that we are carrying heavy baggage. The second step is to start sorting through it - much in the same way as we sort our kitchen recycling into different bins. The third step involves sitting in the presence of each of the burdens and using body/heart/mind awareness to fully experience the ground swell of emotions and memories that surround them. Once this step is taken, it becomes possible to leave the weight of the burden behind.

Finding safe and supportive places to do this work is vital. Having been both a participant in and a leader of the OTH Workshop for many years I strongly believe that it is one of those places. Over the years I have witnessed hundreds of people open up to themselves in this safe, nourishing, spiritual (but non denominational) container. These people have found ways to acknowledge and let go of their burdens and open their hearts to new directions and possibilities.

It is with joy and gratitude that I anticipate this weekend's  workshop at Kripalu. Might we see you there?

Posted By Opening the Heart

Yes Peter, you are! You may not be wise enough, but you're certainly old enough to know that no one, no possession, no relationship with another person is going to guarantee your unabated happiness until the day you die.

Your life has given you, and will continue to give you, many happy times - for which you are grateful. But life has also doled out, and will inevitably continue to dole out, difficult, tough and painful challenges. Learning how to deal with these unavoidable challenges is the "responsibility piece." Taking responsibility for appropriately responding to life's difficulties will immeasurably increase your overall happiness.

The Buddha spoke about this in a metaphor. In the hussle and tussle of the "battle" of life we cannot avoid being struck by "arrows."  The arrows take many forms, some of which go deep: sickness, loss, being ill-treated, being used or abused. Others just "graze our skin" - being unjustly reprimanded at work, being cut off in the fast lane. The wounds inflicted by these strikes can be anywhere from excruciatingly painful to mildly irritating. But it is in how we choose to show up to the strikes that we need to take on the responsibility of developing and practicing awareness. (Uh-oh - is this the part that sucks??)

The Buddha continued his analogy by speaking of another, deeper wound, inflicted by a second arrow - one that we shoot into ourselves as we react to the first. The second arrow is fired by our untrained or unskillful heart/mind.

Three Examples:

First Arrow: the 'love of your life' leaves you for another. Second Arrow: to avoid fully feeling the pain of your loss, you indulge blame, anger, even hatred for your former partner and his/her new lover - you suffer!

First Arrow: your small child is diagnosed with a serious condition. Second Arrow: to avoid fully feeling the fear that goes along with the frightening news, you indulge blame of yourself or the pediatrician for not catching the symptoms earlier - you suffer!

First Arrow: you are afflicted by unspeakable psychological trauma while serving in Afghanistan. Second Arrow: instead of getting appropriate help you seek forgetfullness in alcohol and indulge aggresive behavior in you family - you suffer!

In all these examples the first arrow represents unavoidable pain. The second, self inflicted arrow represents suffering. Suffering can be mitigated or avoided altogether by becoming aware that it is actually a choice. Learning how to catch the moment when the choice is made is completely your own responsibility.

The older we get, the more resistant to change we seem to get. Any push towards change - especially a change of habit - can result in a "this sucks" reaction. But if ineffective, inappropriate and unskilful habitual responses to life's challenges produce more suffering, doesn't it seem worthwhile to learn a new skill that will ultimately improve the chance of greater happiness?

At the Opening the Heart Workshop™ we teach the skills of showing up to the raw emotions that arise in the face of difficult circumstance. We show how to recognize the critical difference between dealing with pain and being submerged in suffering. And in  the many years that this workshop has been run we have yet to have a participant leave at the end saying "That sucked".

Posted By Opening the Heart

If you are anticipating feeling




over the holiday period, perhaps you might consider coming to Kripalu for the Opening the Heart Workshop™ next weekend (Dec 19 - 21). We guarantee that you will approach the New Year with a far greater chance of




Hoping that you can make it - there are only a few places left.

Posted By Opening the Heart

Looking for a fabulous and inexpensive gift for open-hearted friends this holiday season? The OTH staff give an unqualified thumbs up to Roger Housden's collection: "Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again and Again".

Coupled with Housden's perceptive and wise commentary, the ten poems hold up "a mirror to our own deepest joys, desires, and sorrows". Of these ten poems, Housden says, "each......has struck me a blow, a direct hit, into the heart of hearts."

Selected lines:

from Rilke - "Every happiness is the child of a separation it did not think it could survive."

from Hirshfield - "If the gods bring you - a strange and frighteneing creature, - accept the gift - as if it were one you had chosen."

from Hafiz - "Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, 'Love me.' - Of course you do not do this out loud; otherwise, someone would call the cops............"

This is a bedside book to cherish and return to again and again.