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Poetry reading and conversation about Reduced to Joy

How to Return to Your Center

This article by Mark is featured on today.

We all have moments of clarity and then we’re confused. We’re awake and then we’re numb. We’re buoyant and then we’re down. Just as we inhale and exhale constantly, our wakefulness ebbs and flows.

The practice of being human is the practice of coming awake, staying awake and returning to wakefulness when we go to sleep. We go to sleep because we’re mortal—not because there’s anything wrong with us. This opening and closing is part of the human journey. Therefore the practice of being a spirit—in a body, in the world—is a practice of returning to our center, where we can know the world fully. Life has taught me two things about being centered. First, returning to our center, our solid place of inborn knowing, is only nourishing because it is through our core that we find our connection to the common Center of All Life. As thirst would drive you to a well, to drop your bucket and pull up water from the underground spring that feeds all wells, the individual soul is such a well that draws on the water of Spirit that feeds all souls. We need to know where our well is.

Second, the fact that we need to return to our center lets us know that we will drift away from what matters. This drifting is part of being human, and so, there is an ongoing need to find our way back to what matters. Most of us are educated to think that if we work hard enough and are good enough and disciplined enough, we’ll crack the secret of life and live at the end of all trouble. While these traits are helpful tools, being human doesn’t work that way. From the very start, we’re asked to stay as close as we can to all that is alive. The point of our experience is not to escape life but to live it; and the wakefulness and sleepiness, the agitation and calm, the joy and suffering we encounter, are continual. Our aim is not to eliminate these conditions but to navigate them from a living center, the way you’d steer a boat at sea while balanced in its stable bottom.

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How to Listen to Your Life, via

Listening is a personal pilgrimage that takes time and a willingness to lean into life. With each trouble that stalls us and each wonder that lifts us, we’re asked to put down our conclusions and feel and think anew. Unpredictable as life itself, the practice of listening is one of the most mysterious, luminous and challenging art forms on earth. Each of us is by turns a novice and a master—until the next difficulty or joy undoes us.

In truth, listening is the first step to peace. When we dare to quiet our minds and all the thoughts we inherit, the differences between us move back, and the things we have in common move forward. When we dare to quiet the patterns of our past, everything starts to reveal its kinship and share its aliveness. And though we can always learn from others, listening is not a shortcut, but a way to embody the one life we’re given, a way to personalize the practice of being human.

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Listen to audio of Seven Thousand Ways to Listen


The Art of Encouragement: How to Encourage Yourself & Others


There is an art to imparting strength and confidence, to inspiring and heartening what is already within us. In many ways, to encourage is to help the heart unfold. And each time we do so, another aspect of our true self unfolds. Very often, the art of encouragement is needed to counter some sort of fear, which blocks us from what we already know. Fear makes courage forget itself. Encouragement reminds us of what we’re capable of.

In the modern classic The Wizard of Oz, the lion is afraid of everything and is sorely in need of courage – not to be heroic, but simply to make it through the days. So he joins Dorothy, the tin man, and the scarecrow – all off to see the wizard. In particular, the lion hopes the wizard can magically give him some courage. En route, he is tested in unexpected ways, and, though afraid, he manages to cope quite bravely.

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