I have been writing for forty-five years—poems, stories, journals, dreams, essays—and all of it can be reduced to this phrase: no strangers in the heart. This has led to a belief in our original nature, our endless compassion, our need to listen, and our need to stay awake.
It is only through great love and great suffering that we are exhausted of our differences until our hearts are opened to realize that we are at heart the same. This is the constant renewal of compassion that reseeds the world.
To live in a truthful way requires that we listen to life and each other. 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 real ways, we are invited each day to slow down and listen. But why listen at all? Because listening stitches the world together. Because listening is the doorway to everything that matters. It enlivens the heart the way breathing enlivens the lungs. We listen to awaken our heart. We do this to stay vital and alive. This is the work of reverence: to stay vital and alive by listening deeply.
After all this way, I can affirm that each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry; an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologians call it the Soul, Jung calls it the Seat of the Unconscious, Hindu masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qalb, and Jesus calls it the Center of our Love.
To know this spot of Inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed, but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it. This is a hard lifelong task, for the nature of becoming is a constant filming over of where we begin, while the nature of being is a constant erosion of what is not essential. Each of us lives in the midst of this ongoing tension, growing tarnished or covered over, only to be worn back to that incorruptible spot of grace at our core.
When the film is worn through, we have moments of enlightenment, moments of wholeness, moments of clear living when inner meets outer, moments of full integrity of being, moments of complete Oneness. And whether the film is a veil of culture, of memory, of mental or religious training, of trauma or sophistication, the removal of that film and the restoration of that timeless spot of grace is the goal of all therapy and education.
Regardless of subject matter, this is the only thing worth teaching: how to uncover that original center and how to live there once it is restored. We call the filming over a deadening of heart, and the process of return, whether brought about through suffering or love, is how we unlearn our way back to God.
Through all of this, we humbly take turns. For those who wake are the students. And those who stay awake are the teachers. How we take turns.