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Two Kinds of Work

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There are two fundamental kinds of work. First, the work necessary to survive: to be fed and clothed, the work of inner and outer hygiene, the work of creating and sustaining some form of home. This is the work to stay well and safe. The work of surviving may be difficult, but it's how we meet adversity.

The other kind of work is the engagement in life that lets us thrive. This is the creative, loving work of care that has us get up and dance when we imagine a dance. It has us climb a mountain because we've dreamt of the view. It prompts our kindness when we meet someone in need. It has us carry a puppy in our coat in a thunderstorm or sing for no reason other than the sudden light at the end of the day has lessened a darkness we carry inside.

The work that brings us joy isn't necessary to survive, but it's necessary if we're to fully come alive. The path we cut helps us survive, but the heart with which we walk that path enables us to thrive. This kind of work--when the heart and mind and body conspire to completely enter the world--is the effort that opens us to grace.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, discuss which you are currently better at, surviving or thriving. What makes you good at one, and what do you need to do better in living out the other?

This month, Atria is publishing my new book, The One Life We're Given. To make the most of being here, we're required to learn when to try and when to let go. This is our initiation into grace. 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. No one quite knows how to do this, but learn it we must. There is no other way. By fully living the one life we're given, we're led to the wisdom that waits in our heart. "When We Set Out" is an excerpt from the book.

For more poetry for the soul, click here.

For more by Mark Nepo, click here.