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Our Walk in the World: Heart and Path

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Walking Path

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Beneath all our noise and trouble, the secret of life is waiting to be discovered, the way a pearl grows in a shell at the bottom of the ocean long before the diver enters the water.

As all of life is encoded in the strands of DNA, all of life is reflected in the face of a clear heart. Our journey asks us to discover the relationship between our heart and path by extracting lessons from what we feel. Because feeling is the only way to know that we’re truly here. We try to make further sense of everything by turning what we feel into ideas, words, and conversations. Yet when confused or lost, we can only be restored by the original experience of our heart and what it says to us directly. 

Though you may find a common language with others, the goal of uncovering the language of your heart is not to have everyone speak your language, but to help you be you, to be the small sun you are, so you can emanate in all directions. And though you may be heard by others, the purpose of uncovering the language of your heart is not to be heard, but to inhabit life and embody your aliveness.

Beneath all our noise and trouble, the secret of life is waiting to be discovered, the way a pearl grows in a shell at the bottom of the ocean long before the diver enters the water. In just this way, the things we’re born to love are waiting to complete us. We sorely need to listen to life and follow our heart, to find the things that will complete us and to uncover the meaning carried in our feelings. This lifelong conversation between the heart and the rest of our gifts will bring us alive, though the path may appear differently to everyone.

How do we begin? By showing up and giving our all, which are the purest forms of effort. And while we think of grace as a sudden gift of understanding, a moment of epiphany or revelation, effort is often revelation in slow motion. 

There are two fundamental kinds of work. First, the work necessary to survive: to be fed and clothed, the work of inner and outer hygiene, the work of creating and sustaining some form of home. This is the work that keeps us well and safe. And though the work of surviving may be difficult, it’s how we meet adversity.

Still, life is full of distractions that estrange us from both heart and path. It doesn’t help that, in our time, we’ve been technologized away from direct, firsthand living. This makes the heart seem distant. Today, “to know by heart” has been reduced to memorization. But the original sense of knowing something by heart is to be touched by what we meet so completely that our compassion is awakened. When we memorize things, we live in our heads and tend to track life rather than enter it. To truly know something or someone by heart means we will, no doubt, be changed for the experience. Ultimately, as prepared as we try to be, the aim of life is to be surprised into a greater depth of connection and being. 

At times, we may feel numb and enervated and the language of our heart may seem foreign to us. This happens to everyone. Losing our way and refinding our wonder is part of the journey. When feeling lost, which is inevitable, we can remember that giving is tied to life-force, and that being kind revitalizes us while leading us back into our kinship with other life. Wonder is how the heart meets what can’t be seen. The simplicity of direct living can return us to the path of our heart when we’re tired and confused. And listening to life is the most intimate way to uncover the heart of things. 

No matter where we are in life, we come to an edge at which we’re asked to grow. It’s the heart that leads us to that edge. I’ve stumbled at that edge my whole life, only to accept that there’s no one way to grow, and no one shape to the path that keeps us alive. I’ve learned that to strive is the work of apprenticeship. To trust is the work of mastery. And only a practiced heart can know the difference. 

Questions to Walk With

  • In your journal, describe a time when speaking from your heart let your inner beauty be seen in the world. What caused you to speak from your heart and what did this process feel like? Will you speak from your heart again?
  • In conversation with a friend or loved one, tell the story of a time when someone you love gave you well-intended advice that was steering you away from your true path. How did you process this advice and deal with this situation?

This excerpt is from The One Life We’re Given (Atria).

In March and April, 2018, Mark Nepo will be teaching at ABC Carpet & Home in New York City and at Pine Manor Retreat Center in Lake Elsinore, California, and keynoting at the New Living Expo in San Francisco. See MarkNepo.com for details.


Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers and seekers all over the world with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark has been called "one of the finest spiritual guides of our time. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages.


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