Life is quintessential awe. Just trying to wrap my mortal brain around infinity, just beginning to grasp the majesty of the universe catapults me into instant wonder and gratitude for the opportunity to be here now. What a gift! And what a gift to join with other beings — human, animal, plant, spirit — in the divine dance on earth.
We arrive, set foot on stage, shine, bow goodbye, and keep shining. And I feel eternity dancing in me. My ancestors; galaxies moving, rearranging; prayers sent through the ages, reverberating through the fibers of our bodies; lives lived with love and through love.
We’re living inside the miracle every moment. Some of us go through the motions of daily life without seeing or even recognizing the magic. Others, though, open up so fully to the depths of their experiences that what they unearth brings light to us all. Mark Nepo is such a messenger of light. He’s been broken open from here to the sun; multiple times thrust into the maelstrom between life and death. It’s from the profundity of that pain and flow that he’s been able to reach new heights of vision. A divine view of sorts that helps us navigate the waters of our own storms with grace.
I’m thrilled to share with you the light that is Mark Nepo. Alchemist extraordinaire, poet, philosopher, and #1 New York Times bestselling author, you probably know him best from his conversations with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday and his appearances on The Life You Want tour. Over the summer I received a galley of his new book Inside the Miracle, which nourished me the moment I opened it. It’s a compass to tap into the divine within whilst you’re facing the torrents without. Moreover, I was fortunate to attend all three of his recent events in NYC. It’s from those events that I compiled the sequence of quotes I’m about to share. I hope they inspire, encourage, and revive you. And if you aren’t familiar with Mark’s work yet, they’ll serve as a beautiful introduction to our dialogue. Following the path of quotes, I’m humbled and overjoyed to share our Gratitude Speaks interview. It’s pure gold, practical and poetic. I know you’ll love!
Words to Inspire Wholeness
“The longest journey you will make in your life is from your head to your heart. My story is an example, not an instruction. We’ll all be dropped into the depths of life. Ponder this: The prospect of dying without having truly lived. The prospect of living without having truly loved. The awakening of the soul is our career but where that takes place is our occupation, and that can change. Each of our lives is a sentence in the one story. When we have the courage to be who we are in front of others…
A miracle is a process, not an event. Let things wash over you. Your heart will get what it needs. The thing about going through transformative moments is that you can’t go back. I was challenged to believe in everything. I’m a student of all paths. Those that suffer partial belief are only partially healed. The light comes out. The world comes in. Let’s start there. I aspire to stay tender. The softness of light is everywhere.
The messy, magnificent journey of being human is the role of a lifetime. I need what makes me strong to be strong so I can be strong when you’re hurting. Wordlessly, we have the conversation of a lifetime. We cannot eliminate pain but we can share compassion. It’s an honor to be alive. There’s really nowhere to go. It’s all here. Everyone has a particular touchpoint to eternity — where the heart touches into the sea of all feeling. Just stay near long enough and my eyes will tell. Pain wears us open so our inner beauty can come out. The best self-protection is being who we are and not hiding who we are. Pick up the ball and live!”
1) How do you define gratitude, and what are you grateful for?
Gratitude is the way we meet life with nothing in the way. Since no one can do this constantly, gratitude is a tender opening and closing, an inner way of inhaling and exhaling. As we can’t live without breathing, we can’t stay awake without the rise and fall of our gratitude. When grateful, even for the difficult passages that open us, we are closest to life itself, which is always renewing.
There isn’t a day that I’m not grateful for just being here. As a cancer survivor, I never take for granted the grace by which I wake every day. And so, I’m returned to a gratitude for simple things: the innocent stare of my dog in the morning, the quiet breathing of my wife as she sleeps, the creep of morning light up the side of the house as the coffee drips, the mystery that every person carries an unchartered world within them. Of course, I grew weary like everyone else, but it is gratitude that refreshes me and often teaches me. I often follow the feeling of gratitude, not sure what I’m grateful for. And that deep and simple feeling that has been with us forever becomes my teacher, opening the bare isness of things, which no one can destroy. Gratitude is how the heart opens our inner eye to the majesty of life.
2) What is art to you?
Art in all its forms is how we marry what is with what can be. It helps us live by voicing the truth of things as they are, while enlivening our better angels. In truth, each life contains a language no one knows. And with every heartbreak, discovery, and unexpected moment of joy, with every lift of music that touches us where we didn’t think we could be touched, with every cut and confusion, another letter in our alphabet is decoded. Take a step, learn a word. Feel a feeling, decode a sign. Accept a truth, translate a piece of the mystery written in your heart.
It doesn’t matter what mode of expression you’re drawn to. It could be sewing, quilting, cooking, mountain climbing. It could be the art of listening or any act of service. Each creative act will lead us to our next teacher. Each form of expression will deepen our understanding of the language of our life.
Before we live what’s next, we often think there’s some answer we need to have in order to go on. But soon enough, we’re humbled to discover, more than once, that the act of living itself unravels both the answer and the question. When we watch, we remain riddles to be solved. When we enter, we become songs to be sung.
With all this in mind, I’m moved to offer the notion that great art is an expression in which the author or artist or expresser is changed for having expressed it, is transformed for having encountered and released it. If and when this happens, it’s inevitable that the work will be of use to others, in the same way that fire gives off heat.
By trying to create, we are created. By trying to express, we are expressed. By trying to discover meaning, we become meaningful. So the measure of great art can be understood, not so much by the singular beauty achieved in birthing a piece of art, but more by the power of transformation it births in us for the journey of creating it. It is not the thing created, but the creative act—whatever form it might take—that restores us to our place in the Mystery.
It took me many years to learn and accept that if we devote ourselves to the life at hand, the rest will follow. Having begun innocently enough there arose separations, and now I know that health resides in restoring direct experience. Thus, having struggled to do what has never been done, I discovered that living is the original art.
3) When did you experience significant personal growth, and how did it impact your perspective on life?
One of the great transforming passages in my life was having cancer in my mid-thirties. This experience unraveled the way I see the world. It scoured my lens of perception, landing me in a deeper sense of living. There are certain experiences that reform us, as if God’s a tireless blacksmith who, against our pleading, forges the metal in us, though it takes years for our heart and mind to cool from the pounding. My journey with cancer was how I was forged.
Almost dying caused me to understand that we’re asked to be honest with our fears and hopes; to render, through our experience, the irreducible mystery of life in which we all swim. After all this way, I know that I am weak and strong, stubborn and determined, afraid and brave, giving and demanding, resilient and stalled, confused and clear—sometimes all at once. I know now that going on without denying any aspect of the human drama is what strength is all about.
In truth, I’ve never gotten past having cancer. Rather, it has turned me inside out. And ever since, I have lived so much closer to life. Ever since, my mind has served my heart. Ever since, I have been committed to opening my heart and holding nothing back.
I’ve come to understand that in essence, if blessed, some event or lack of event undoes us until we are broken open into honest living. For me, that event was cancer. But it could be anything, at any time. What opens us may differ, but what it is that opens and what such parting can do to us is the same. My new book, Inside the Miracle, explores my lifetime conversation with suffering and care, writing and gathers twenty-eight years of teaching about suffering, healing, and wholeness.
4) What other gems of joy & wisdom would you like to share with us?
I’d like to share this poem from my new book Inside the Miracle:
The Slow Arm
of All that Matters
(a song for pilgrims)
I have fallen through and worked into
a deeper way—one step at a time, one pain
at a time, one grief at a time, one amends at
a time—until the long, slow arm of all that matters
has bowed my estimation of heaven. Now, like a
heron waiting for the waters to clear, I look for
heaven on earth and wait for the turbulence to
settle. And I confess, for all the ways we stir things
up, I can see that though we can stop, life never
stops: the lonely bird crashes into the window
just as the sun disperses my favorite doubt, a
sudden wind closes your willing heart as the
moment of truth passes between us, and the
damn phone rings as my father is dying. All
these intrusions, majestically unfair, and not
of our timing. So we spin and drop and catch
and land. And sometimes, we fall onto these
little islands of stillness, like now, from which
we are renewed by our kinship with all and that
irrepressible feeling resurrects our want to be here,
to push off again into the untamable stream.
“Poetry is the unexpected utterance of the soul that comes to renew us when we least expect it. We’re all poets when we have the courage to witness what we actually see.”
~ Mark Nepo
For all things Mark, go to www.MarkNepo.com.
Watch him share pure wisdom as featured spiritual teacher in the movie The Power of the Heart, currently on world tour and at www.thepoweroftheheart.com.