I recently participated in a three-day retreat with Mark Nepo at the Garrison Institute in New York. Mark is a beloved poet, philosopher, teacher and storyteller. He has been referred to as “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time” and “an eloquent spiritual teacher.”

Mark has authored a number of books centered on the heart. The retreat focused on his recent work from the book “The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom that Waits in Your Heart.”

The retreat was filled with amazing people who were learning to explore and to find the wisdom waiting in their hearts. Mark shared his life experiences, highlighting experiences of pain and suffering that led him to discover wisdom.

While many of the retreat participants hoped to find wisdom arising from joyful experiences, Mark taught us to recognize we can gain wisdom and be transformed by experiences of pain and suffering.

The heart has been a perpetual metaphor in my journey. As I moved from the retreat into the season of Lent, I found myself continuing to explore what is waiting in my heart. I have found joy, sorrow, pain, happiness, fear, anger, forgiveness, regret and atonement waiting for me.

As I listen for the wisdom in my broken heart, I am reminded that Lent is a time to cooperate with the grace that transforms our lives. While it is a subdued season, it is a redemptive time and there is a quiet joy that emerges.

While we often move back and forth between joy and suffering, guarding our hearts is essential. We must be careful not to block the Divine from entering the doorway to our hearts. Yet we also know: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)

Scripture teaches us the heart is the center of spiritual activity and the flow of human life. It is the center for emotional, intellectual, physical and moral activity. The heart is meant to understand, to discern and to give insight. We hear that wisdom will enter our heart and will come into our understanding. (Proverbs 2:10)

It is important to have a spiritually and physically healthy heart. The spiritual heart is referenced more than 1,000 times in the Bible, making it the most common anthropological term in Scripture. The spiritual heart refers to the inner orientation and the core of our being.

We also know the heart is a vital and essential organ in our body. It is the central force that circulates blood and provides oxygen and energy to all our cells. It is an astonishing organ! It’s hard to imagine the heart beats more than 100,000 times per day, more than 40 million times per year, and more than 3 billion times in an average lifespan.

Our physical heart keeps us alive and our spiritual heart brings us alive. We must pay attention and nurture both on our journey. On this journey, we will find wisdom and encounter guides. We also know things don’t always go as planned and sometimes pain and suffering become part of our journey and experience.

One of my guides often asks me: “…and now, what?” When life doesn’t proceed as planned, when we experience pain or suffering, when we find things difficult to let go, when we don’t have answers or when we are thrust into a transformative experience, we may find ourselves asking “…and now, what?”

There is no escape from these experiences. While we may not have an answer to “…and now, what?” if we are open to grace, we will be able to listen to the wisdom that waits in our heart that moves us from ignorance to truth and loneliness to love.

As we participate fully in our life experiences, we learn when to hold on and when to let go. This is our initiation into grace. Nepo shares: “The gift and practice of being human centers on the effort to restore what matters and, when in trouble, to make good use of our heart.”

As we move through Lent, let us be open to listening to the wisdom and accepting the grace that waits in our hearts.

Teresa Nizza is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached by email: [email protected] blog: mainespiritus.com