The humbling mystery inherent in all attempts at writing is that the words are like the dirt you dig out of a hole. There’s so much of it piled all around you as you stand there, sweating from all that digging. Yet all that matters is the opening that is left, which keeps drawing you further in.
And from that depth, I can say that if there is an undertaking at the center of this book, it is to devote yourself to gathering the self-knowledge of how your heart works. In the belief that through this ongoing practice, your heart will become your teacher. In the belief that if we stay connected to our heart, it will guide us to the center of all storms and connect us to the Living Universe. Our job, then, is to stay authentic, open, and vulnerable. These commitments to honest living will make a conduit of the heart, so it can naturally infuse us with the resources of life.
Still, no one can bypass the journey to being authentic. When young, I was so busy pleasing others that I was hiding pieces of myself from the world. Quickly, I was defined by what others needed until if they were on fire, I would throw myself on them like water. If they were inching like a root, I would pack myself around them like soil. If they were bleeding, I would soak up their hurt like a bandage. Sadly, I could only be what was missing. I had no idea who I was or where to go to find out.
I so lost myself in others that I secretly pushed the other way and spent the first half of my life trying to define who I am by how I was different, only to discover that who I really am is defined by what I have in common with all living things. And all along, I was stumbling on a journey of love and truth that kept me smack in the middle of what it means to be alive.
The enduring truth is that while we can always learn from others, no one can teach us how to be human or how to receive each other with compassion. In this, great love and great suffering have always been the teachers. All the spiritual traditions offer various ways and practices to erode our internal resistance to life. Yet, whether we learn from the traditions or not, every person will be given the opportunity to be dropped into the depth of life. We often resist this and fall into an argument with life, which we have to let go of in order to fully experience the miracle of being here.
The challenge for each of us is to enter life beyond our argument with an open heart and to meet trouble and help without preference. For, under all our resistance, the mystery of incarnation is that all the wisdom in the world will not relieve us from the weight of living but only support us in our turn at being here. And though the deepest work is internal and personal, we are not alone.
Arwa Qutbuddin, a young mother from India, has said, “What matters is that we teach our children kindness in a world that is wounded by a lack of it.” This is a perennial struggle that each life, each family, each nation, and each generation face: how to be brave and loving enough to rekindle the kindness we so lack in a world struggling not to give into fear. Now it is our turn. For the future of love depends on the tenderness and honesty of those who can bear witness to the depth of soul rising through their pain. This is the deep remedy we need.
If Hell is dying repeatedly without ever feeling whole, then Heaven is the removal of any false or limited way of thinking or feeling that keeps us from being completely alive. And the heart is the unseeable bridge that offers us this pilgrimage. If blessed, our heartwork leads us from Hell to Heaven in some small way every day. If I could take you there, I would. But I am still making my way myself.
Having dug my way completely out of words, again, I offer you this small poem of mine, with which I wish you a lifetime of listening to the guidance of your heart.
A Poem: Inside Everything
Keep trying to hide and in time
you become a wall.
Keep trying to love and in time
you become love.
Our journey on Earth is to stop hiding, so we can become love.
Everything else is a seduction and a distraction.
Courage is staying true.
Questions to Walk With
In your journal, describe your argument with life and where you are in your journey with it.
In conversation with someone you admire, have each of you discuss your own struggle between trying to hide and trying to love.
This excerpt is from Mark’s new book, Surviving Storms: Finding the Strength to Meet Adversity, published this September by St. Martin’s Essentials.