Growing in Place with Mark Nepo – Staying Tender

What seeds are you watering to keep the world going?

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Staying Tender and Resilient

We each have the capacity to expand our mind, to follow our heart, and to embrace the unknown. In this regard, there’s a story I’m compelled to tell about the Aboriginal god of the sky who had two sons and a daughter. Each contained a seed that he’d watered since they were born. When they came of age, he brought them together, asking each, “Do you want to know of the seed that grows inside you?” The first son said, “I think it is my mind, for my mind grows over everything.” The god of the sky replied, “It is so. Do you want your mind to grow over everything?” And the first son said, “Yes. It is how I will have power over the Earth.”

The second son stepped up and said, “I think the seed in me is my heart, for I feel everything” The god of the sky replied, “It is so. Do you want your heart to feel everything?” And the second son said, “Yes. It is how I will know the power in everything.”

Then his daughter stepped up and said, “I don’t want to know. I just want to live.” To this, the god of the sky said, “You are the bravest of my children and you will grow greater than me.”

He sent all three to populate the world. And so, each of us has a seed of mind, a seed of heart, and a seed of the unknown, all of which we must water, if we are to know this life.

Some of us meet the world with our mind as we try to climb our way through life. Some of us meet the world with our heart as we try to find where we belong. And some of us just want to live. Yet the god in each of us wants to grow and braid them all, so we can be useful and keep the world going.

What seed are you watering inside yourself? And how do you face the world and its sluiceway of challenges? We can never eliminate all the things that bother us in life, but only stay in right relationship to them. Both the light of the soul and the depth of the world are true. Our daily challenge is to be the crucible in which the light of the soul and the depth of the world mix. When unable to see past our mind, we become literal and miss the depth speaking in everything. When lost in our fear, we harden and impose what is familiar on everything. But when able to put everything down and just live, we loosen our assumptions and the days begin to shimmer.

The clearest way to recover our aliveness is to lean into life, which means that, regardless of the nicks and cuts that experience gives us, we stay committed to moving toward what is true. To lean in means that while we have compassion for the times we need to look away or feel we can’t go on, we stay committed to working with what we’re given. I mentioned earlier that the word respect means to look again. And so, to lean in means to pick ourselves up and look again: at life, each other, and ourselves, over and over, until we reanimate our care.

We can learn about leaning into life by watching how birds fly. When birds outstretch their wings, notice what happens. They lead with their chest and their heart. If they don’t, their wings can’t open fully and they won’t be able to fly. So while the world of no presses us to keep our wings tucked, the instinct to lead with our heart can’t be suppressed. We even dream about this birthright until we find the courage to open our heart. This is the instinctual response to the world of no: not to refute it or debate it or resist it, but to lead with our heart so we can spread our wings and fly.

It takes courage to stop resisting where life wants to take us. This is where the greatest learning takes place. To follow where life takes us, we need to own our missteps because admitting our flaws cleanses the heart. No one can do this all the time. But those who can put down what is false, no matter how dear, are my heroes.

In our vulnerability lies our strength. In the bottom of our brokenness lies our kindness. In the center of our grief lies our truest compassion. These are simple truths that are hard to accept. Yet, run from them as we do, life in the aftermath of its intensity and storm returns us to these truths. When we can stay tender though we’re broken, we’re larger, stronger, and more loving for the breaking. When we can lean in and resist manipulating others, we’re opened to resources beyond our own. When we can lead with our heart, like a bird about to fly, we can lift ourselves from the tangle of our trouble.

Arriving at this simplicity, there is nothing to do but glow. And so, our work—no matter where life takes us—is to let the light of the soul and the depth of the world bring down the walls of fear.

However you want to frame it, love and suffering are the hammer and chisel by which the Living Universe sculpts us. Expression, story, and relationship are the ways we release meaning from being so sculpted.


Admitting our flaws cleanses the heart.


In the days to come, I hope you softly trip into an unexpected moment of bareness, where the glow of your heart will touch everything it meets, and you can’t help but remember how dear it is to be alive.

In time, I hope you can listen to your pain and what it’s saying to you. Listening to my own pain makes my heart ache the way a tree splits. And in the split, I realize that an entire life—a century if blessed—is a blink in the eye of the Many-Named God who gifts us love and suffering, so that in the split and ache that stuns us, we might know the full length of time: in the curl of a wave, in the flap of a wing, in the first breath of a child no one expected, in the last breath of someone who saved us from ourselves, in the dissolution of the clouds that mute our wonder. In that stunning pause of heart, life flies out in the open. When listening this deeply, I have no way to convey how beautifully ordinary we are. I just know, when bearing witness this tenderly, that everything matters.

How we endure the stunning pause in our heart is what allows us to grow. If you’ve been moved to pause by what we’ve uncovered, it may be disorienting or even disconcerting, as familiar ways of carrying who-you-are in the world might be falling away. Though what is next might be unclear.

During times of deep change, we’re forced to kneel before the silent god of patience; listening—not for direction, but for what feels real and true. Until presence leads to presence. This is how we come to listen to our soul.

I know from my own evolution that most of what the heart knows enters us like lightning, and is already true somewhere inside, while the rest of us struggles to catch up. I’ve also learned that we’re never drawn into a change we’re not ready for, though the change may be difficult.

Under the weight of living, I’m thankful for how gifted we are to have hearts that feel. Thankful for the chance to be tender and thorough and possible one more time. And whenever we dare or are forced to lift each other up or ease each other down, we have the glorious chance to find what we’ve lost in our common story. When we can truly behold each other, we slowly become each other. We become love itself. It’s through love’s eyes that we can see that it’s sweetly enough to have come this far.

So however uncertain tomorrow might seem, I encourage you to withstand the dizziness of freedom and to trust the wisdom that waits in your heart, which knows what it needs to be alive and to stay alive.

No matter what seems unbearable, the well of feeling in the center of our being will never let us down, just as the fire in the center of the Earth will never go out. I can only assure you that nothing will keep you from being worn to your beauty, that all will be real, and that everything you touch will gift you something.

Adapted from The One Life We’re Given by Mark Nepo


Monday, June 8th Mark’s new 3-part webinar, The One Life We’re Given: Saying Yes to Life begins at 1pm ET. For information about the series, please check out

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