Open Heart


Surgeons call it scar tissue – the telltale sign of damage and repair. It is what remains when we have been hurt and healed. It is the something left behind.

My journey began there, about a year ago, with scar tissue that had been carefully woven over time and was sitting heavily across my heart. If I closed my eyes, I could feel the stitches. It was as if I was sitting under that blanket. Everything seemed a little shadowed, a little muffled.

In a moment of serendipity, I had received a red reminderband with the words “Hearts Open No Matter What!” It is the rallying cry of a local yoga instructor, and it was suddenly singing out from my wrist. Heart open. No matter what.

But how does one open a heart? Since this was the mantra of a yoga teacher, I started with a Google search for “yoga poses to open the heart“ and found a number of suggestions I could easily add to my regular yoga practice.

The beauty of these types of internet searches — and these types of journeys — is how one thing leads to another. Like this playlist of heart opening music by yoga instructor Martine Marie Holston.

Say, John Mayer
Don’t Be Shy, Cat Stevens
Love and Happiness, Al Green
Stubborn Love, The Lumineers
California Sunrise, Dirty Gold
Go Outside, Cults
Give Love, MC Yogi
Say Hey (I Love You), All Rebel Rockers
Heartbeats, The Knife
Beauty in the World, Macy Gray
You’ve Got The Love, Florence + The Machine
Happy Pills, Norah Jones
Young Blood, Birdy

This playlist became my soundtrack for months — like chanting almost, rhythmic and repetitive through spring and into the summer of 2014.

“A practice like chanting gradually bestows on us the ability to let go of pain in our hearts.” — Krishna Das

Gradually, there was letting go. Movement. Small things, like the appearance of heart shaped rocks, and the multiple messages from the Universe that spoke of new love and increased joy.

But the watershed moment came in late July with a crescendo of rapid-fire closure: a health scare resolved, the return of lost items, a reconciliation, an apology long overdue. If a window does indeed open for each door closed, that one week saw every window in the house thrown open and every molecule of air replaced.

What came in through those windows was pure abundance: a beautiful reception for my book; a deeper level of connection with loved ones; a freer, easier sense of being in this world; more honest and heart-felt writing; and a new relationship in which I am fully present and fully loved.

I am not sure what one thing set me on this journey a year ago, but I am most grateful for every moment of it. It has been life altering, and heart healing.

Thank you for being its witness.

With Love, jensig-left

IMAGE: Heart mixed-media collage, ©Jen Payne.

Spatial Anomaly

“Have you had a gunshot wound?”

“Do you have metal pins, screws, plates or staples?”

“Have you been fitted with artificial limbs?”

It could be worse, I think to myself as I check the boxes: No, No, No.

On the way to Yale’s MRI Center we passed the Smilow Cancer Center and I think: it could be much worse.

I’m here for a routine scan. “Routine” is a nice way of saying I’m not worried…and you shouldn’t be either. I’m not worried about the results anyhow, we’re just getting a better look at something. I am a little worried about the process.

“Do you get nervous in small spaces?”

“I don’t know,” I write in pen next to the Yes and No. It’s not every day I stuff myself into a 2’ x 6’ tube.

It’s days like this when I think:

“Make sure you remember where the exits are.”

“Who thinks up these things anyhow?”

“Damn, where is Bones McCoy when you need him?

But I’ve come prepared. A good friend is here for moral support and hand-holding. My spiffy iPhone keeps me connected to the outside world while I wait — and take photos (see above). A CD of music is at the ready for the 45-minute E-ticket ride that is about to commence.

I’ve been here before. Twenty years ago after a car accident. I remember enough to know three things about an MRI: it’s loud, it’s long, it’s boring.

They’re running late today. Six of us sit in a waiting room — three in street clothes reading magazines, three in one-size-does-not-fit-all hospital gowns with IV tubes taped to our arms, waiting.

Two hours later, I am led down a long corridor and I hand my CD to the technician before she straps me down and hooks me up.

I hope they don’t mind my choice of music, I think. Krishna Das singing kirtan is not for everyone. And it’s playing very loudly. But as the table slowly slides into the machine, I let go of all of that. I hear the first few notes of familiar words and music and…

Namo. Namo. Anjaninandanaaya

… I start to breathe.

Jaya Seeyaa Raama, Jai Jai Hanumaan

And I start to relax.

Jaya Bajrangbalee, Baba Hanuman

Slowly, I let the breath in.

Sankata Mochan kripaa nidhaan

And slowly, I let it out.

Jai Jai Jai Hanuman Gosaaee

In my mind, I am doing yoga.

Kripaa karahu Gurudeva kee naaee

Familiar postures with familiar breath.

Sankata Mochan kripaa nidhaan,

With familiar music.

Laala Langotta, Laala Nishaan

Slowly in my mind.

Hare Raama Raama Raama, Seetaa Raama Raama Raama

Until the table itself moves slowly. Out.

“I have to ask,” says the technician as she unhooks me, “What were you listening to?”

“Krishna Das,” I manage from a lovely state of bliss.



“It’s very similar to what I listen to,” she says.

As we walk back to the waiting room she tells me about Jai Uttal. I spell out K-r-i-s-h-n-a D-a-s and give her the CD to take home.

In the dressing room, I look at the person in the mirror thinking: there is method to the madness, order among chaos, and reasons for everything.

Live Long and Prosper. Namaste.

• • •

Photo ©2013, Jen Payne. Lyrics from “Baba Hanuman,” from the Krishna Das CD Breath of the Heart.

Weathering the Storm

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.
Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.

If you doubted a storm was coming, the sky on Monday morning was a tell-tale sign. Sandy was fast approaching.

The breath of the One breathes in us.
It’s OK to be messed up, to feel small and sad and hurt
with no hope of ever seeing a good day.

Angel de la Guarda
At 5:00 Monday night, we lost power, just as the winds began to howl outside. I lit a candle and set about to quiet the noise: yoga, reading, writing, prayers.

Let yourself float in the beauty of your own heart
into the ocean of Love that fills all space,
that ALWAYS is…that ONLY is.

Que Sera Sera
At some point, in moments like these…in moments of life…you realize there is nothing more you can do but wait out the storm and be ready for what faces you tomorrow.

The breath of the One breathes in us.
Breathes us.
Even when we don’t know.

• • •

Translations of “Baba Hanuman” by Krishna Das, Breath of the Heart,