What Transformation Looks Like When You Open Your Heart

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."

Life can be incredibly wonderful and good, except for those times when it’s not.  When we get hurt, or when the hurts pile up, we can feel lonely, stuck, overwhelmed, or like we are cut off from ourselves and everything around us.

This is what it feels like when the heart is closed.

When the heart can begin to open and relax, we get in touch with our positive core—the source of our natural emotional and spiritual intelligence. On the most basic level, when this part of us is accessed, it can help move our life forward again toward balance and health. At its most powerful, it can catalyze transformative positive change for us, both now and far into the future.  

In the Opening the Heart (OTH) Workshop, we create an environment where this can happen. The experiential OTH approach blends skilled guidance, body-centered personal growth exercises, ancient wisdom traditions, deep listening, and simple human kindness.

Here are several typical, but fictional, examples of how participants have used the OTH workshop to move forward on difficult issues. These are not based on any real person, because the staff and each participant in the workshop make an agreement to practice complete confidentiality with everyone else in the group before we begin the weekend.

Suzy: Lonely, But Afraid to Love Again

Suzy likes her job and is doing reasonably well at work. After a difficult divorce several years ago, she longs for a good long-term relationship, but she feels stuck. She’s afraid to open her heart because she might get hurt again. On the other hand, life without this kind of love feels empty and unfulfilling.

At OTH, Suzy feels safe enough to start relaxing her heart. She realizes that the walls she’s put up to keep from being hurt again are also keeping her from dating and exploring a possible new relationship. She processes some of the hurt she was still carrying about her former marriage. With support, she sees that, to move toward a new relationship, she will need to take a risk and open up again. Because of her work at OTH, she realizes that if she does get hurt again, she has learned something about how to process those feelings. She also realizes that she’s strong enough to reach out for good support to help her cope with any hurts in the future. Suzy leaves the program feeling open, clearer, and more able to say yes to dating in order to find the relationship she wants.

Mike: It’s Hard to Say Goodbye

Mike lost his brother in a car accident two years ago and then his father to cancer this past year. He misses them both deeply. Most of the time he feels numb and like he’s just “going through the motions,” but sometimes he feels really angry that they’re gone. Mike’s job performance has gone downhill in recent months and he’s started going to a bar after work each day to drink.

At OTH, Mike feels safe enough to begin to gently relax his heart. At his own pace, taking small steps and with ample support, he begins to open a little bit to his deep feelings of grief about the loss of these two important men in his life. He realizes that the amount of grief he feels will not be gone in one short weekend, but at the workshop he’s able to begin opening the door to his feelings and to take the first steps on his journey of truly saying goodbye. He leaves the program feeling nourished, more connected to the love he shared with both of his family members, and grateful for the time they had together. He also makes a resolve that he will reach out to a friend familiar with AA and get help with his drinking.

These stories and a wide variety of others are typical of the thousands of people who have come to an OTH program over the past 41 years. During that time, through our own observations, and with the significant addition of a wealth of participant feedback, we have learned what tends to work for people. The workshop has been refined and honed by this long and intensive “folk process.” Most of our staff began leading the workshop in the early 1980s; our current team has a combined 115 years of experience, and we have worked for just as long on integrating a heart-centered approach into our own lives. 

Within this safe and structured container, there is complete permission for each participant to go through the workshop in their own way. Some people may come to the workshop brimming with feeling, prepared to dive into the waters of their deepest selves. Others don’t know where to begin and need help just to sit quietly and start finding their inner voice. No matter what brings someone to the weekend, or how much experience they might or might not have with this kind of personal work, our goal is to help them deepen their relationship with their own hearts, find their next steps forward through whatever problems they face, and leave strengthened for the road ahead.

Find out about Opening the Heart Workshop at Kripalu, with Linda Aranda-Belliveau and other OTH faculty.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.

Linda Aranda Belliveau, Med, a grief specialist, and personal growth and wellness coach, has led Opening the Heart workshops for 39 years. She works with clients from a holistic and integrative approach to emotional health.

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