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Posted By Opening the Heart

A few years ago, I took an early morning walk east along Horseneck Beach in Westport. I was heading toward a nature preserve at the end of the beach. As I walked, I watched the ospreys hunting for fish while the terns hovered and then dove for a small herring. If you had asked me why I had gotten up so early or what I was looking for on that walk, I doubt I could have told you- but I know now what it was. I was looking for serenity and quiet. I was looking for a house of prayer. And I found it.

As I crossed the small island, I took in the beauty: ocean, early morning, sun reaching the top of the tree line, scrub oak, the delicate smell of wild primrose in bloom. I was heading toward the dunes and the ocean. As I ascended up the dune, I could see more and more of the ocean. As I reached the top of the dune and began the descent, I froze. My heart stopped and the breath went out of me. There on the beach were 10 great blue herons, all facing the offshore wind coming from the ocean. They were roughly arranged in a skewed circle. They must have been praying because this was a holy place I had come to. I know in some religions you need at least 10 people to make a congregation for the prayer service to happen. I just watched, and then, silently, one of them said "Amen", and they all took off together, flying over the water. Without any signal or word, they all turned right and flew right over me and I could hear the "whoosh" of their great wings. The "whoosh", even then, I remember as the sound one's blood makes when it pumps back into the heart. When we are fully inside a moment of awe, the blood pumps, the senses come fully awake, time dissolves.

Blue Heron(photo courtesy of Jerome

About a year ago I wrote a book with my son called "Sitting in the Circle". It's a series of essays about the inspiration I've received from my patients in my therapy office and from the work that participants do at a weekend-long Opening the Heart workshop. There is something archetypal and powerful about sitting in a circle at the beginning of each workshop session, in a community of brothers and sisters who have come together for the purpose of healing emotional wounds.

The more I thought about it this past year, the more I realized that much more than sitting happens in the circle. For me it is a holy pilgrimage. It is a kind of prayer service that happens in the circle. The service starts with the yearning. I call it "showing up". There's a prayer that says "With all my heart have I gone out to seek You, and in the going out, found You coming toward me". The yearning is the core of the answer to the call. It is the echo of the prayer for yearning. So in doing the work during a workshop, in making the descent and the ascent, we bring the passion for healing, the cry of the heart, the scream, the pounding of a pillow, the tear.

I saw one woman at a workshop looking into her partner's eyes across from her, and for the first time since her husband died suddenly in their bed 7 years ago, she cried. And the whoosh of the heart revived her back from a 7 year paralysis. I saw a man, again in lines work, kill a priest who had sexually abused this man for 4 years when he was a little boy. And whoosh, blood flowed to parts of the body that had been dead for decades.

A good, juicy prayer service brings us home, to a place where there's more peace and serenity, more compassion and self love. This kind of big transformation happens again and again within a sacred circle of people who are praying as if their life depends on it. Because, honestly, it does.

With Love and Respect, Jon

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