each is a living flute ~mark nepo

Suffering makes an instrument of each of us,
so that standing naked, holes and all,
the unseen vitalities can be heard
through our simplified lives.

Sometimes we can’t get what we want. While this can be disappointing and painful, it is only devastating if we stop there. The world thrives on endless possibilities. It is what makes nature a reservoir of health. Yet if the heart is cramped or the mind locks on to its pain, we can narrow wonder to a thread. In contradiction to the endless number of eggs that spawn a fish and the endless number of cells that blossom to heal a wound, we can hold out the one thing we want as the only food. From here, crisis and desperation are a short step.

It becomes a sorry occupation, beating oneself up for the one seed that didn’t take. It is an insidious way: the more we refuse mystery, the more we feel responsible for all that befalls us. Indeed, the more we distract ourselves with analyzing strategies that failed, the more we avoid the true feelings of loss that no one can escape en route to a full and vital life.

Even if we can accept this, none of us is exempt from the turmoil and pain that arises when what we want is love. Continue reading

being easily pleased ~mark nepo

So many of us have been trained to think that being particular about what we want is indicative of good taste, and that not being satisfied unless our preferences are met is a sign of worldliness and sophistication. I remember being at a party where a woman wouldn’t accept her drink unless it was made with a certain brand of vermouth. She was, in fact, indignant about it. Or going to dinner with a colleague who had to have his steak prepared in a complex and special way, as if this particular need to be different was his special public signature. Or watching very intelligent men and women inscribe their circle of loneliness with criteria for companionship that no one could meet. I used to maintain such a standard of excellence around the sort of art I found acceptable.

Often, this kind of discernment is seen as having high standards, when in actuality it is only a means of isolating ourselves from being touched by life, while rationalizing that we are more special than those who can’t meet our very demanding standards.

The devastating truth is that excellence can’t hold you in the night, and, Continue reading

the truth about morning ~mark nepo

There is a vastness that quiets the soul. But sometimes we are so squarely
in the midst of life’s forces that we can’t see what we’re a part of.

The truth about morning is that it is the small light of the beginning breaking through, again and again. It is a wisdom so large and clear, one which carries us through our lives so quietly and completely that we seldom see it.

Day after day, we are covered with the dust and grit of what we go through. It tends to weigh us down, and then we think and scheme and problem solve. Then we worry if it will all really work, and if it is the right thing to do. It all makes us dark and cluttered.

But despite our stubbornness of concern, we tire and must turn what has happened over to the hammock of night. This is a good thing. For no matter how unfinished we seem, the letting go into sleep is nothing short of a quiet miracle.

This letting go into sleep is an innate, reflexive form of meditation, no different than a fly rubbing its face or a doe licking its fawn. Sooner or later, without discipline or devotion, despite our resolutions and mistakes, we each must sleep. We must surrender to the quieting of all intent and regret, so that the small light of the beginning can rise in us, again and again.

There is no escaping this profound simplicity: what happens covers us like dirt. It covers our hearts and minds, till, at the shore we call exhaustion, we slip into the waters of sleep in a daily sort of baptism, so we can begin again.

So whenever you feel urgent or overwhelmed, whenever you feel pressed to figure things out or to rethink the unthinkable…rest…so that the endless beginning—which some call the voice of God—might break through what has happened. And you will wake feeling like dawn.

~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

bird-rock ~mark nepo

Maybe that’s why I want to touch people
so often—it’s only another way of talking.
~Georgia O’Keefe

I was aching and vulnerable, feeling far from home, when, through the harsh shore wind, I saw a large rock surrounded by the rough churned-up sea. The rock was covered with all kinds of animals: willet, gull, cormorant, sea lion, seal, pelican, otter. All had found refuge from the hammering of the sea; climbing, winging, hauling themselves on the rock; living together, laying on each other; finding this rock-oasis of wind and sun; too tired once on the rock to fight, each having been wrung out by the pounding of the wet, wet hours.

I realized this is how the wounded find their way, how we have found each other, even in this book. Every survivor, regardless of what they survive, knows the hammering of the sea, and the rock we find refuge on is an exposed place where we finally accept each other—too tired from swimming to think any longer about territories, too tired to talk except through simple touch.

The wellness group I attended was such a rock. The meeting rooms of recovery are such a rock. The thousand quiet rooms of therapy are such a rock. For those who have suffered, tolerance is not a political position or even a principle. For those of us who have suffered, who have hauled ourselves into the sun, anything exhausted beside us is family.

~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

 

the impulse to love ~mark nepo

If somebody were to cut me into a thousand pieces,
every piece of me would say that it loves…

The man who said this is a deeply spiritual person who is a native of South Africa. He like many others grew up under apartheid. He told me that he was taught by his ancestors not to stay bitter or vengeful, for hate eats up the heart, and with a damaged heart, life is not possible.

In a way, we are each confronted with the same dilemma that Chris faces: how to feel the pain of living without denying it and without letting that pain define us. Ultimately, no matter the burden we are given—apartheid, cancer, abuse, depression, addiction—once whittled to the bone, we are faced with a never-ending choice: to become the wound or to heal.

Terrible things are hard enough to experience the first time. Beyond their second and third and fourth experience as trauma, their impact can easily make us become terrible if we do not keep our want to love alive. Perhaps the most difficult challenge of being wounded is not turning our deepest loving nature over to the life and way of the wound.

This touching statement by this South African man affirms that the nature of the human spirit is irrepressible. Just as a vine or shrub—no matter how often it is cut back—will keep growing to the light, the human heart—no matter how often it is cut—can reassert its impulse to love.

~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

the issue of fairness ~mark nepo

As long as we see what has come to pass as
being unfair, we’ll be a prisoner of
what might have been.

This is a very painful issue to discuss for most of us, because so much of how we see the world hinges on a sense of fairness and justice, those truly noble human concepts that govern how we treat each other.

But the laws of experience in the natural world, in which we have no choice but to live, do not work this way. Rather, the larger Universe, of which humankind is a small part, is a world of endless possibility and endless cycle, a world in which life forms come and go, a world itself that has erupted and reformed countless times.

This is why the Hindu tradition has a deity known as Vishnu, who both destroys and bestows life, often in that order. Continue reading

it is enough ~mark nepo

If you can’t see what you’re looking for,
see what’s there.

One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that beneath all our dreams and disappointments, we live and breathe in abundance. It is hard when in pain to believe that all we ever need is before us, around us, within us. And yet it is true.

Like leafless trees waiting for morning, something as great and as constant as the Earth holds us up and turns us ever so slowly toward the light. Our task is only to be rooted and patient.

Never was this more painfully true for me than during the aftermath of my first chemo treatment. I was in a Holiday Inn at five in the morning after twenty-four hours of vomiting every twenty minutes. I was slumped on the floor, holding the space of a rib that had been removed three weeks earlier. And my wife—in anger, in panic, in desperation—called out, “Where is God?” And from some unknown place in me, through my pale slouched form, I uttered, “Here…right here.”

The presence of God has never eliminated pain, only made it more bearable. Now, when things don’t go the way I want, Continue reading

misery ~mark nepo

If peace comes from seeing the whole,
then misery stems from a loss of perspective.

We begin so aware and grateful. The sun somehow hangs there in the sky. The little bird sings. The miracle of life just happens. Then we stub our toe, and in that moment of pain, the whole world is reduced to our poor little toe. Now, for a day or two, it is difficult to walk. With every step, we are reminded of our poor little toe.

Our vigilance becomes: Which defines our day—the pinch we feel in walking on a bruised toe, or the miracle still happening?

It is the giving over to smallness that opens us to misery. In truth, we begin taking nothing for granted, grateful that we have enough to eat, that we are well enough to eat. But somehow, through the living of our days, our focus narrows like a camera that shutters down, cropping out the horizon, and one day we’re miffed at a diner because the eggs are runny or the hash isn’t seasoned just the way we like.

When we narrow our focus, the problem seems everything. Continue reading

we tend to cling ~mark nepo

I envy the tree,
how it reaches
but never holds.

Things that matter come and go, but being touched and feeling life move on, we tend to cling and hold on, not wanting anything to change. Of course, this fails and things do change. Often, we are stubborn enough to go after what we think is leaving, trying to manipulate and control the flow of life. Of course, this fails, too.

We can’t stop life from flowing. So we are left with feeling what was and what is, and we call the difference loss. But all the clinging and holding on only makes it worse. Now, new things come, and some of us anticipate the loss and just let the things of life go by without feeling them at all.

I have done all these things, but when clear enough and open enough, I try to let things in, to let things touch me. I try not to poke and pull at them as they move through. It doesn’t eliminate loss, but when trusting enough to let this happen, I am tuned like a harp held up to wind.

  • Sit quietly, and bring to mind a feeling you’ve tried to hold onto.
  • Breathe evenly, and bring to mind a feeling you’ve cut off.
  • Breathe slowly, and bring to mind something you are feeling deeply right now, and try to allow it in without interfering with its presence.

~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

kikakou and basho ~mark nepo

We shouldn’t abuse God’s creatures.
You must reverse the haiku, not:
a dragonfly;
remove its wings—
pepper tree.
but:
a pepper tree;
add wings to it—
dragonfly.

~The Japanese master
Basho in response to
Kikakou’s poem

The destruction or healing of the world hinges on which way this thought unfolds. Whether we pull things apart or put things together makes all the difference. Indeed, Basho’s small instruction reveals to us how human history has unfolded, with one pilgrim taking things apart and another putting them back together, and on and on. Continue reading

at random ~mark nepo

Photo by Lisa Tate

Random is the instant a horse at full speed
has all four hooves off the ground.

This is the original meaning of the word. It refers to the mystery of unbridled passion, to the lift that results from total immersion and surrender. In our age, however, random means without design, method, or purpose. It refers to utter chance. It helps us dismiss whatever appears to be beyond the control of our will. If we didn’t author it, it must be accidental.

Yet our lives are full of unexpected surges of kindness that seem to come from nowhere. Just when you’re thirsty, a cup is gathered and passed around.  Just when you are lonely to the point of snapping that bone way inside that you show no one, someone offers you a ride or steadies the grocery bag about to drop from your grip. Just when you feel nothing can raise your sad head from the lonely road, the deer stutter across the road in exact rhythm with Handel.

So what might we learn from the horse at random? Continue reading