The first lesson of wakefulness is to keep opening our heart so we can meet what we're given; for meeting what we're given reveals the heart's deeper logic and therefore the logic of Spirit. There will always be things that pull us away from our center, things that dishearten us. And there will always be things we can rely on to bring us back to our center, things that will hearten us.

Here are some thing that dishearten us into life-draining positions: The fear of the unknown—that I won't see it coming—infects our distrust of the days.

The fear of being undone—that the worst possible outcome will happen—breeds cynicism.

The fear of breaking—that things will shatter and fall apart—makes an occupation of anticipating pain.

The fear of rejection—that I will speak the truth and everyone will leave— leads to the practice of hiding.

The fear of death—that the clock will keep beating louder—enslaves us to panic and urgency. All of these fears in passing are quite normal. It's when we give them primacy in our life that they become disabling and discouraging.

Thankfully, there are also intentions that counter these fears and bring us back to center. Let me name a few: To strengthen trust, we can expand our ways of being to include surprise and deepen our ways of feeling to include wonder and curiosity.

To strengthen what is possible, we can imagine and spend equal time with what might go right as with what might go wrong.

To strengthen our ability to integrate pain, we can try to be like water and learn how to absorb what falls into us and how to flow instead of shatter.

To shrink our habits of hiding, we can listen to experience as a teacher and wait in the open for truth to show itself, the way trees grow toward the sun.

And to shrink the press and urgency of time, we can linger in the moment and try to accept our death.

I invite you to make a list of personal examples of things that dishearten you and things that hearten you. Which is troubling you the most these days? And which is bringing you closer to life? Comparing the two will help you begin a personal practice of how you can return to your center, when confused and in fear.

That we go numb along the way is to be expected. Even the bravest among us, who give their lives to care for others, go numb with fatigue, when the heart can take in no more, when we need time to digest all we meet. Overloaded and overwhelmed, we start to pull back from the world, so we can internalize what the world keeps giving us. Perhaps the noblest, private act is the unheralded effort to return: to open our hearts once they've closed, to open our souls once they've shied away, to soften our minds once they've been hardened by the storms of our day.

Always, on the inside of our hardness and shyness and numbness is the face of compassion through which we can reclaim our humanity. Our compassion waits there to revive us. Regardless of what we face, few things are as challenging or rewarding as moving from what disheartens us to what heartens us. Choose one thing in the way and begin your journey back to center.

Mark Nepo is the author of 14 books and eight audio projects. He has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for than 40 years. His new book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, is now available from Simon & Schuster. His other books include the No. 1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening, which was selected as one of "Oprah's Ultimate Favorite Things" in 2010. Mark has also appeared with Oprah on her "Super Soul Sunday" program on OWN TV. As a cancer survivor, Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship. To learn more, please visit and

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