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Posted By Opening the Heart

Change has been happening so swiftly,
When I pause to take a moment i see:
I'm in the autumn of my life.
I look different act different, feel different.
All my life, I've had the great good fortune
To be a tree that knew nothing but growth:
Sure, there were storms to endure,
but I loved the lush greenness and fullness of my leaves,
I loved standing on my own,
I loved the song of the wind through my branches,
Chanting the sound of God’s creation with other trees.
I loved sending out my seed and watching a child grow;
I loved meeting you, and reshaping our garden together.
Lately I have been surprised to find myself
turning from green into so many different hues.
I don't know what color comes next.
I'm surprised all the time.
I can only guess what it's like for you.
I've noticed an ever changing pattern forming around my base:
I've started to shed leaves.
I had heard of this happening,
yet, as I experience it,
I realize I could never have imagined it, myself:
the shock of realization that endless summer is ending,
followed by promise of the deep soothing silence of winter,
oneness with everything in the velvety darkness.
Meanwhile, I have a lot of living to do:
I have love to offer, sunrises to admire, laughter to share.
I have clients to assist on their life’s journey;
(Dis-ease has made me a better therapist, more daring, compassionate.)
I have songs to sing, an album to record, just 30 years in the making;
(Disease has shown me how precious is limited Healthy Time.)
I have god to find.
I rely on tree doctors to prop me up
and give me pills that prevent my limbs from shaking when there is no wind.
I listen to tree surgeons proposing how they would snip and saw,
putting an artificial bough here or electrodes there, up in my crown;
I enjoy Christmas tree lights but this is something else entirely!
I would prefer to listen to the sound of squirrels,
playing in my branches, of birds alighting and folding wings.
Nevertheless, life remains satisfying and wonder-fillled, if in a new way,
for the ever-changing patterns and tints are beautiful,

beyond my control.
Best I can do is align myself with what is.
Once we move beyond fear and its companions, grief and rage, we simply accept what is.
I am still me:
My heart is still my heart, my roots are still my roots, my sap is still my sap.
my soul is my soul.

Nelson Adler


Posted By Opening the Heart

Okay, so as well as I can measure it out, these are the ingredients, for me, of a perfect morning. Place: the beach from Baker's Beach to the Westport River, Westport, Massachusetts. Time: early morning, sun has just climbed above the scrub pine, east on Gooseberry Island. Weather: (very important)- 64 degrees, moderate offshore wind, visibility, forever. You can see Cuttyhunk Island way off on the furthest southeastern horizon. Scenery effects: low tide, no one else in site, no music, no phone, osprey fishing for breakfast; one baby osprey, high-pitched caw, maybe out for its first solo flight- what a morning to learn to take wing; a group of mallards, with families, just going for a sea ride; gulls, soaring, dropping sea clams on the rocks; sandpipers chasing the waves in and out. Perfect!

Then, attention, the mind, shifts to Imperfection. What does the psychologist Jon Kabbat Zinn say "Wherever you go, there you are!" So, NBM starts (Negative, Busy Mind): worry, fear, anxiety. Really!? In this perfect place and perfect time? Come on! Okay, do what you've been trained to do: breathe, bring your attention to NBM with some curiosity: "Isn't that interesting- even in this perfect moment, there are negativities, judgments and shit!"

Attention refocuses on the incredible sparkle of the sun's reflection off the water. The osprey and gulls, the wind all, still, seem to be in perfect harmony, untouched by my NBM. And for a few minutes it "works"! I am back in the serenity and beauty of the moment. For a few minutes- really!?.... Yup! Breathe, pay attention to whatever is before me. AND, remember, Jon, everything you've been taught: the goal of mindfulness is not to make one thing stay- not to hold on to one inner state. Breathe and 'Isn't it interesting: even with practice, we cannot aim to hold on to One Dear Thing'".

Then, as I approach the river, something quite wonderful happens. As I walk along the riverbank, with the water emptying into the sea, the wind picks up and there is a huge flock of terns flying upriver, in the same direction I'm walking, just about at the same speed. They fly and dart, and, then, quite suddenly, one drops straight down into the river and then flies up with a minnow in his beak. He carries it to his wife on the shore and tells her to bring it to the "kids".



flying terns

The whole scene took my breath away. Yes, the intrusive thoughts still occasionally came back. My turn was to stay with those thoughts and then it was Your Tern, and the elegance and poise of the terns took hold. It became a game, not a struggle to make something else happen than what was before me in every moment. And I had an awareness that this walk was, really, no different than any other piece of my life unfolding, and I simply turned to the terns, bowed and gave thanks to God for this moment.

With Love and Respect, JonJon

Posted By Opening the Heart

Having just returned from our August Opening the Heart Workshop at Kripalu i am reminded again of the way the workshop provides the safety for participants to unmask their true colors.

 True Colors

I believe the colors we bring into the world get blurred and covered over because of the hurts, critical messages, verbal and physical abuse that we suffer along the road. We hide the colorful and vibrant nature of our authentic being beneath a veil of self protection that sometimes grows so opaque that we cannot even see out clearly. We project a blurred image of "different from me" onto the person standing across from us at the cash register. But when we remove our veil of protection all we experience is connection and compassion for someone who likely has also been carrying a burden.

It is possible to learn to emerge from behind the veil when given the safety of a structured workshop run by a skilled staff of therapists and healers. At last Sunday's closing a grateful participant acknowledged that she would never have believed how strangers turned into friends over the course of one weekend. 


Posted By Opening the Heart

      ...And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know

        the place for the first time.   T.S. Eliot

So I turn around and know that I will soon begin my seventh decade. Yes, they're all true- all the cliches- like "it seems just such a short while ago" I was swimming through my father's legs in the ocean at Nantasket Beach; or "It really has gone by so fast". And now I'm a grandfather of two of the most delightful dancing Beings of Light: Ivy, eighteen months and Marlowe, two and a half years. Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with stories about how cute or incredibly bright they are. When people my age that I haven't seen for a while learn I'm a grandfather, almost every time they say "Isn't it just the best!?" Well, just between you and me, no, it isn't the best. It's great, yes, but the best? No. What's the best, for me, is watching my son and daughter each parent their little girl.

I think that when any one of us is born, that life begins an arc, a journey, if you will.  That beginning marks the start of a circle. Any arc, mathematicians tell us, eventually comes back to itself, completing a circle. And my belief is that there is something hopeful, redemptive even, about a circle being completed. It's both quite simple and beautiful.

I watched my daughter, Abby, one evening giving Marlowe her dinner. Marlowe is smart, beautiful and loving. At this particular dinner time she was also exhausted. Some parents call it "breakdown time". She finished eating what she wanted and then decided she wanted something else that was not on the dinner menu, so she, understandably, began a tantrum. Watching Abby hold her ground in a loving and skillful way was amazing: "Lovey, throwing food is not okay! Just say 'All done' and we can go take a warm bath. Do you want to give Bunny or Baby a bath, too?" Abby never lost her cool, never yelled, kept to her reasonable limits and held the love between them.

On another day, I was reading outside and 20 feet away I was aware of my son, Ari, lying in the grass doing something quietly with Ivy for at least a half hour. I didn't want to interrupt, but I was intriqued, so I quietly went over and saw my son dropping different size pebbles into a bowl of water: "Listen to the sound of the bigger stones as they plop into the water, Ivy." Then he would imitate the sound for her by popping his finger from his mouth. Ivy smiled, reached into the bowl and picked out a stone and dropped it in the bowl again and again. He was teaching her a quiet, mindful meditation about sound and love.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not meaning to pat ourselves on the back for having taught Good Parenting. Neither of these examples is something I ever did when our kids were little. I'm also very aware that, as a parent, the arc of our children's lives always depends, to some extent, on luck and the grace of God. The great choices our kids made for life partners matters a lot, too. Jess, my son in law, Lily my daughter in law, are beautiful people and loving, skillful parents.

I guess I'm just, in a self reflective moment, in the arc of my own life, expressing tremendous gratitude for all the blessings I have been given, and, as I think about the next cycle of life circles, I feel happy about the kind of parents that Ivy and Marlowe may one day be.

With Love and Respect, Jon

Posted By Opening the Heart

A friend shared this story that resonated deeply with me. A man with a significant history of anger problems began seeing a therapist who recommended that the man attend an 8 week mindfulness course to more effectively deal with the anger. "Joe" was 6 weeks into the course when he found himself one day in a long checkout line at the grocery store. He knew he had only 10 minutes to get checked out, get in his car and make an appointment a few miles away. He began to feel the familiar tightening in his chest and in his fists. He noticed at the checkout counter an older woman chatting with the cashier and he began to get really annoyed and angry. Then he noticed that the older woman was holding a young baby and he saw the older woman hand the baby to the cashier. The line was not moving. Joe was getting more and more angry. To his credit, he tried remembering some of the tools he'd been learning in his mindfulness class and he began to breathe, slowly. He tried to watch his angry feelings and he began to calm himself just a bit. He was able, even a little, to begin to watch the parade rather than to march in it.

By this time the line was moving and, when he reached the cashier, he surprised himself and said "Cute baby!" The cashier smiled gratefully. "Isn't she beautiful?" She went on: "My husband died 6 months ago in Iraq and I had to go back to work and my mother brings the baby in every day so I can get to see her...."

Some years ago I was greeting people on a Friday night at an Opening the Heart workshop and "Paul" walked in. Because I had read the autobiographical data he sent us some weeks before, I knew that he'd served 3 tours of duty in Afghanistan and that his wife was was divorcing him. His life was falling apart. So I was not surprised or judgmental about his withdrawn, angry body language when he walked into the room. I greeted him warmly and thanked him for writing to us.

His "walls" stayed firmly in place until Saturday afternoon when the dam broke and he sobbed like a child for all he'd seen and lost. I just held him until his breathing slowed. He said he felt "broken". I pointed out that that was a feeling, and that I totally understood, and I also suggested that there is a difference between "feeling" broken and being broken. He'd had no other way to deal with all the pain and grief except to keep it locked up inside. I suggested that the tears were a good way to release the pain. The tears were not that pain itself. That, the pain, had gone in over a long period of time. His body and face softened and he cried again.

These two stories are a lesson to me that when we can pay attention and  are able to be back in the present, that we are able to better face the demons, fear and anxiety about the past. It occurs to me that one way of doing this is what I call "using an app". The way this works is that when we experience a judgement (and then, invariably, a trigger), we apply the app by making up a compassionate story about what we "think" we're seeing. It goes like this: "Judgement, App, Compassion". So we see not an angry, insensitive person, but someone who is suffering and deserves our understanding and loving attention. We actually make a concsious decision about what it is that we see in front of us. And that changes everything!

With Love and Respect, JonJon

Posted By Opening the Heart

It was a Saturday morning at an Opening the Heart workshop just as participants were entering the room from breakfast. Friday night had been a beautiful and poignant beginning of the weekend journey at Kripalu and very few of the participants had ever been to this magical place before. So, as participants came into the workshop space Saturday morning, most began to find their way to a backjack in the circle. One woman, though, came over to me and said "Jon, I'd like to tell you an interesting story". I sat down and listened.

She told me that she'd never been to Kripalu before and when she came into the cafeteria hall for breakfast, she paused and just looked around to "take in the scene". She said she was "taken aback" to notice how solemn and unfriendly the whole atmosphere was. "Here were 250 people sitting in one space and I didn't see one person talking to anyone else! It was so depressing and unwelcoming!" She told me that as she continued to look around, she noticed the signs indicating two separate food lines for "vegetarian" and "nonvegetarian", and then she saw the sign that said "Breakfast is a silent meal".

She smiled as she continued to explain to me that when she saw that sign, she took in a deep breath of appreciation and gratitude. She told me that it was so beautiful to witness the whole room in a silent honoring of the invitation to stop the normal social distractions, to go inside and become more mindful of the practice of eating a beautifully prepared, healthy meal. She said that she noticed some people sitting with a smile or with their eyes closed, chewing food prepared and presented with love. Her eyes twinkled as she said "It was so awesome to take this in. The whole room was like one silent, holy prayer!"

Some weeks ago a favorite patient in my office began the session by telling me a story of what happened to her as she ended her day at a stressful and unhappy job. She walked out of the building into the parking lot. As she approached her car, she saw something under the windshield of her car. "I was so angry. At first, I thought it was a parking ticket. As I got closer, I saw that it was not a ticket, but a handwritten note". She said she noticed a fleeting feeling of relief that it wasn't a ticket, but then she saw the relief give way to a deep annoyance that someone would disrespect her private property and have the nerve to write her "some insulting note about parking five inches over the parking lane stripe!'

She took the note from the windshield and noticed the two words written there: "Hey you!" She felt her body tighten, and, as she unfolded it, she read the rest of the message: "You are here to evolve your consciousness and to learn how to grow more love in your life. Everything is unfolding exactly as it should". She told me that she read it again, took a deep breath and smiled. "My whole day, actually, my whole week changed and I took the challenge seriously of going through each day choosing to be a little kinder and more loving to whomever I met".

What struck me about both of these stories was that nothing externally had changed at all. But what made all the difference was the internal change of how these two women chose to see the external circumstances of their lives. Aldous Huxley once wrote that "It is not the external circumstances of our lives that matter. It is our attitude about those circumstances that makes all the difference". I thought, once again, that a lot of amazing things happen when we slow down, breathe and pay attention.

With Love and Respect, Jon


Posted By Opening the Heart

In this, the second of four short videos Dr Laury Rappaport presents mindful exercises designed to melt stress and tension while at work. Before moving to California, Laury was a Co-Director of Spring Hill - the original home of the Opening the Heart Workshop. She continues to advise and support our work.

Posted By Opening the Heart

Its time to re-visit a comment that I posted on the Lead Change Group Website a couple of years ago because the point I was making then is still very relevant today.

Here is the comment and a replyEmotional Intelligence
OTH - Confidentiality - Safety

The exchange above demonstrates why it is important that tried and tested workshops like OTH continue to provide safe and confidential situations where individuals can risk exploring their emotions. Most participants at OTH arrive as individuals or related couples with the security of knowing that they will not be under the watchful eyes of their daytime colleagues as they work through experiential exercises.

Business Owners and Managers Take Note

The emotional intelligence of your employees is an important factor in creating a happy and productive workforce. Wouldn't it be a better investment to encourage and support employes in attending well established workshops like OTH?

What do you think?

As and employee or employer, what experiences have you had of trying Emotional Intelligence Workshops in the workplace? Join the discussion. Your comments are very welcome.

With love and respect,


Posted By Opening the Heart

Wordle Image

We work a lot with feelings at the Opening the Heart Workshop because many people are flummoxed by them.

Feelings can range in intensity from cataclysmic to dormant depending on all kinds of outer and inner conditions and circulmstances. Dealing with them (or the lack of them) requires insight and practice, particularly when we find that one emotion on the surface can often mask another one at a deeper level. Unexpressed feelings can be as problematic as undigested food, but our culture has created some barriers about "freedom of expression." This is precisely why OTH is a valuable resource as a place where emotions of every sort can be explored and safely expressed without criticism and negative judgement.

But what about when you are not at an OTH Workshop?

I was delighted to find this rather good "WikiHow" as I was exploring the web today. It offers an interesting technique for "taking your feeling temperature." The only thing I would add is a mantra that we use frequently at the workshop:

"""Feelings live in the Body, Not in the Head"""

So, when the WikiHow instructions ask you to 'Take a deep breath in, Hold, and as you do this, ask yourself "What am I feeling now?"  I would encourage you to notice what is happening in your belly, your chest and your throat.

Here's a helpful list of feelings you can use with the WikiHow

Hoping you will find these resources useful.

With Love and Respect,



Posted By Opening the Heart