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Entering the Waters of Life: A Story of Recovery in the Heart of Now Community

The Three Springs Intentional Community in North Fork, California is not only a beautiful place to hold a personal growth workshop, but its beautiful place, period. The land is awesome and magnetic, the people living in the community are friendly and welcoming, and my impression was that they had a genuine desire to learn and grow. I arrived at the community after a 13 hour drive from Oregon to assist in the Heart of Now personal growth workshop and, while my senses were awed by the surroundings, my heart had little knowing of what other amazing experiences were to transpire during my stay at Three Springs. One particular occurrence stands out in my mind and I would like to share it with you.

The Heart of Now is a three-day, experiential healing and transformation process that participants are guided through with the intention of helping each person discover deeper levels of emotional intimacy with themselves and others, and a kind of presence in each moment that some “graduates” have described as being spiritual in nature. I have personally assisted in the production of this workshop almost 20 times in the past two years because of the many profound ways in which it has provided me with a place to continue to grow, learn, and to be of service. This weekend at Three Springs will remain in my memory as one of the most powerful so far.

Friday evening had arrived and the participants with whom I would embark on an inward journey with for the next three days were now arriving as well. I had spent the day with a team of other Heart of Now assistants and the program facilitators preparing the workshop spaces and the food for the program, and preparing ourselves psychically and emotionally through a sequence of group processes in order to become open, receptive and clear channels for our guests.

As workshop participants began to gather, I heard that two of the people taking part in the program would be showing up late and so the assistants decided who would welcome them and orient them once that made it. My curiosity was awakened when I learned that one of the women, who had already planned to participate, was bringing a close friend of hers who had decided at the last minute to join the workshop. Her friend, who I’ll call Naya, was in a process of grieving the loss of her boyfriend, the “love of her life” as she put it. Apparently she had witnessed him drowning in a turbulent river undertow several weeks prior and was in a tremendous amount of emotional distress with few opportunities, structures, or community in which to grieve fully. Upon hearing about her experience, I felt hopeful and confident that the Heart of Now would serve as a container for her healing process to unfold.

The introductory evening program of the Heart of Now was finished by nine o’clock, right about the time that the two latecomers came through the front door. I had not met either of them, but I was struck by a sense of power and confidence that emanated from one of them. By the look on her face, it appeared that she was slightly depressed, and the pain reflected in her glance coupled with her body language suggested to me that she was in the midst of a very important life transition. I introduced myself and learned that her name was Naya, the women who had lost her partner.

At Saturday lunch on the following day, I regret having missed the circle of participants that gathered around her in what sounded from across the room to be a conversation about her recent loss. I heard only fragments of sentences as others inquired of the details and also shared of their own similar stories of losing loved ones. I did, however, overhear as Naya recounted the sequence of events that occurred on the day her boyfriend was dragged into the river’s undertow, sucked under water and eventually spit out, having had the life pulled from him. I felt a wave of sadness for her as she shared of her attempt to save his life but then felt her own being beckoned by the powerful undercurrents. I was moved even more deeply to hear of her choice not to let go of the rock she held onto in order to save her own life, even as she watched him tumble about beneath the waves and finally die. It was still early in the weekend and I could only wonder what learning would be gleaned, what healing would occur, what transformations might take place in the life of this young woman who had endured such trauma.

The weekend progressed and I was informed by one of the program facilitators that during an exercise called “triads”, Naya had allowed herself to venture into the torrent of pain that she had been damming since the accident. The triads exercise is one in which three participants come together for about two and a half hours as a group. They are guided with the help of assistants to explore some facet of their life that feels most alive for them. This is not intended to be an intellectual exercise but rather a space created where each person is encouraged to use a block of the allotted time to go deeply into their feeling and emotional body and to become present with what is real for them in that moment. As I continue to reflect on the power of this workshop, I am increasingly aware of a tribal element that pervades so much of the Heart of Now program in the way that many of the activities draw strongly on the power of community as a fundamental and essential element in the healing process. Unlike other personal growth workshops I have taken (I’ve taken many), the sense of authentic community and genuine caring is palpable, abundant and unmistakable in the Heart of Now. Prior to the triad, Naya shared that she felt like she was going crazy and hadn’t had the time or the emotional support from a community of friends to enable her to open to the immense pain she was storing inside. Following the triad, it was apparent that she was experiencing some relief and expressed gratitude for the loving and skillful support she received.

It wasn’t until the following day however, during an exercise called “Platform” that I was fortunate to participate in an unplanned and very spontaneous “ritual” and subsequently witnessed a true miracle…a transformational experience that I believe altered Naya’s fundamental makeup on a very deep level and brought about more than just a sense of relief but a letting go that effected her to the core of her being. Such occurrences are not at all uncommon in the Heart of Now, but to me, this occasion was somehow exceptional in its impact as well as its beauty.

The Platform exercise is a process whereby individuals can choose to stand at the front of the room facing the rest of the workshop participants and be guided into an experience of letting go and embracing the present moment in all of its simplicity and its complexity. Some of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in this workshop have taken place while witnessing people on the platform during this exercise. Naya’s experience was again, no exception, in fact far from it. But her time on the platform unfolded in a slightly different way than usual.

Normally, if there is such a thing as “normal” at a Heart of Now workshop, participants randomly take turns going up onto the platform. Some have issues that they want to work on; others don’t have a clue about why they chose to go in front of the whole group, and others still may just want to practice being present and aware of their experience while being witnessed. In this particular case, when the platform exercise was about to begin, it became apparent that Naya was experiencing a wave of intense emotion. Call it serendipity or synchronicity of merely fortuitous. Regardless, it was a perfect way to begin the exercise, and Naya seemed willing to receive support, and opened completely to an experience of healing that will live with me for a long time to come.

She was lying on the floor, not unlike others in the workshop who are encouraged to enjoy the freedom to be present in whatever way feels best for them, whether it be hugging another participant, cuddling, or simply resting on the floor as she was. Her close friend, the one who brought her to the workshop, approached Naya and proceeded to lie on top of her and embrace her, in a position that brought both of their hearts together. They remained like this for several minutes while Naya intermittently wept and stared quietly and contemplatively at the ceiling. It didn’t entirely hit me how profound this was until Naya’s friend lifted herself up and addressed the entire group: “Naya is open to having anyone who feels moved to lie on top of her, heart to heart”. And then, in a beautiful procession, five other people took turns giving weight and heart-to-heart contact to Naya as she continued to sob and reflect. I recall looking into the clearness of her blue eyes as this ritual unfolded and noticed the contrasting blackness of her dilated pupils. It seemed to me as though her eyes were welcoming an in-pouring of light that was coming to her as a healing blessing from those of us surrounding her. In her eyes I saw a power and will to live flowing into her that held me mesmerized. I hadn’t seen anything like this before.

As I watched her welcome this gift and dive into the abyss of pain that she had been carrying for too many weeks, a moment came when I witnessed a stillness and silence settle into her body. The tears stopped flowing and she appeared to be peaceful, listening to some voice deep within. After several more moments of silence, she shared with the group that “something just shifted”. She told us that she felt her body chemistry change and that she was changed because of it.

The implications of what had occurred seemed huge to me. It is very rare in our overly independent, me-centered, stressed out culture to stop and take the time to support our friends and family when they are grieving. So rarely does this occur that most people who are grieving either don’t realize the need for such ritual or are afraid to ask for the kind of support that would make such a healing possible. I felt excited that I was present to see this gift being delivered, both to Naya and to the rest of us who were there at that moment. I felt joy in the affirmation that the Heart of Now really does transform people’s lives in amazingly powerful ways. But mostly I felt gratitude for the authentic, loving community that had gathered in this transformational cauldron to take part in bringing more love, harmony and beauty into the world. The love, the kindness, the willingness to share deeply and be vulnerable was unmistakable and the fruits could not have been more apparent. If only the world understood the power of being truly present and completely accepting what is real in the moment, without judgment. There would be so much less suffering and so much more joy.

Naya went on to complete the weekend workshop and shared her gratitude for all that she had received. I wonder if she was aware of the gifts that she had bestowed upon the rest of us who vicariously partook in her transformation. I can only hope that through her healing, a gift born of her misfortune may reveal itself and that somehow, in some way, she will grow to be richer as a result of this life altering threshold event. Somehow I believe much good will come from her Heart of Now experience.