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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

2 Comment(s):
Linda said...
At the Opening the Heart workshop we have learned that "in the heart it is always now". The possibility of healing is always present no matter how great or how old the hurt or trauma. Weekend after weekend we witness this miracle of healing occur. No matter what we have each been through, in the right setting the healing power of love can be employed to restore the heart. Ernest Hemingway wrote: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places." No matter what the hurt one has incurred, Opening the Heart can be a profound tool for becoming stronger at the broken places and emerging with a renewed zest for life.
November 25, 2014 12:43:30
Peter said...
The Healing Circle is such a key component of the Opening the Heart Workshop that it has remained virtually unchanged in design since the very first workshop over 35 years ago. It simply does what its name describes - its a circle of participants contributing their combined healing energies in the service of one of their number. Each individual has an opportunity to receive and experience powerful infusion of grace and compassion.
November 24, 2014 08:16:50
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