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With an open heart, giving is receiving

By Jane Seymour, Special to CNN
  • Jane Seymour says her mother's spirit of openheartedness is instructive in lean holiday times
  • Her mother formed her philosophy while helping other POW's in WWII, she says
  • She says that open hearts allow love to flow freely between people
  • Seymour: People should find a way to give, even if they are in need themselves

Editor's note: Jane Seymour is an artist and actress, best known for her TV role as "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" and for playing the "Bond girl" Solitaire in the film "Live and Let Die" (1973). She recently developed a line of jewelry for Kay Jewelers based on her "Open Heart" philosophy and paintings. For more on her philosophy, visit the online community at

Malibu, California (CNN) -- Many people are struggling just to provide the basics these days. The big question is, how do you find joy and fulfillment during lean holiday times like these?

For the answer, I look back upon the philosophy by which my mother, Mieke Frankenberg, led her life, through both its brightest and darkest hours. Her philosophy originated during World War II through her experiences as a prisoner of war in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia. She had lived in that country with an abusive husband, whom she left before the war broke out and the Japanese captured her.

Through the bleakest times, she reached out to her fellow prisoners to provide them with comfort and care. The lack of medical supplies meant care wasn't much more than holding someone's hand or sharing some of her starvation rations. While not a nurse, she gave of herself and drew a sustaining love in return.

Returning to England after the war, my mother remarried and started a family, which grew to include me and my two sisters. With the camp behind her, my mother's philosophy remained to always keep an open heart. She volunteered with the Red Cross and regularly provided emotional support for friends. She found that when love flows with no boundaries from an open heart, love also finds its way back in. She gave and gave, and received love in return.

This "open heart" philosophy has sustained me, as well, through the most difficult of times, including a painful divorce about 20 years ago that left me near penniless. At that point in my life, I attended a fundraiser for ChildHelp USA. I donated some of the last money I had, and in return, I secured a session where an artist drew a picture of my two children at the time. At that sitting, the artist saw potential in some finger paintings I'd made for my children and offered to give me free painting lessons.

As I started painting, I discovered my emotional outlet. I began creating images of hearts that were always open, never closed. These hearts may have appeared unfinished in a way. But they brought me back to the lessons of my mother, a reminder to live as she lived -- openhearted.

Soon, I changed from a frantic, terrified and angry person into someone who was able to let go of the past. I began to let other people into my life and to give back emotionally. Around that same time, I landed the TV role of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and was back on my feet. I now embody my mother's belief that only when you can love yourself and keep your heart open can you best give and receive love.

My family continues my mother's tradition at Christmas, when we open our home to relatives, neighbors, my six children and even their friends -- extending our family to include those unable to head home for the holidays. Some years, there are as many as 50 people at the dinner table.

Living with an open heart can be a path to rewarding holidays for many people this year, even if budgets tighten and troubles mount. The holiday table may be less bountiful. There may be fewer presents under the tree. But an open heart can bring a wealth of love, hope and inspiration. You might think these are shaping up to be your gloomiest holidays ever. But remember, as my mother taught me, someone is always worse off than you.

Find a way to give, even if you're in need yourself. Find the place where you can provide comfort, care or love. Volunteer at a food bank or a shelter. Reach out to elderly neighbors to find out how you might make their lives a little easier.

By opening your heart to others, good things will come to you, too. With that approach, I hope you'll find that 2009 could become the most fulfilling of holiday seasons.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jane Seymour.