It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us. 

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Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers and seekers all over the world with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening.  Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark has been called "one of the finest spiritual guides of our time," "a consummate storyteller," and "an eloquent spiritual teacher." His work is widely accessible and...
Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers and seekers all over the world with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening.  Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark has been called "one of the finest spiritual guides of our time," "a consummate storyteller," and "an eloquent spiritual teacher." His work is widely accessible and used by many and his books have been translated into more than twenty languages.  A bestselling author, he has published twenty books and recorded fourteen audio projects. 

In 2015, he was given a Life-Achievement Award by AgeNation.  And in 2016, he was named by 
Watkins: Mind Body Spirit as one of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People, and was also chosen as one of OWN's SuperSoul 100, a group of inspired leaders using their gifts and voices to elevate humanity.  In 2017 Mark became a regular columnist for Spirituality & Health Magazine.
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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Lately

Photo credit: Brett Sayles Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Lately

Death has been with me, getting my attention, saying nothing. So this morning, in a hotel in New York, I take a long shower, hoping the hot, anonymous stream might wash the aches from my heart and the fear from my mind. Yet once rinsed of my memory and worry, death takes off its mask and it is only life trying to get my attention one more time. But I insist, I have never taken any of this for granted. And now, from the inside, I can see the story of the Universe in the homeless man’s eye, and the kindness of time in the sun off the thunderstorm puddle, which will evaporate by noon. Like me. Like you. Now life appears as a small bird drinking from the puddle. So that’s it. All our efforts come down to one life offering itself as a drink to another before we evaporate into everything else. It makes me sad to think that you and I will vanish. But the way this works is elegant: the expending of one life till it is seamlessly absorbed in the next. And so, this morning, these thoughts hardly seem my own.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Prosperity

Photo credit: Chris Munnik Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Prosperity
Living with an open heart,
all is real. And we become
briefly all that we meet.


I touch your sadness and I
become sad. I brush against
your wonder and I am restored.


But under all the sadness and
wonder, I remain who I am.


This is integrity, the want to
feel everything and become
nothing.


The orchid in the sun stretches
but remains an orchid.
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Mark Nepos' Weekly Reflection: The Necessary Art

Photo credit goes to Matt Hardy The Necessary Art

Each of us is called to listen our way into the underlying truth that connects us all, though we experience this calling as a very personal journey, the way plants and flowers grow and blossom differently, though they all root in the same soil. This rooting and breaking ground until we flower is the necessary art of coming alive.

As Rainer Maria Rilke offered in his legendary Letters to a Young Poet:

“Go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create.”

I would take this further, because I believe we all must create—that is, we all must root and break ground until we flower. This necessary art of coming alive is not reserved for the few. It is every person’s destiny, though there are always things in the way. Not because we’re unlucky, but because this is the nature of our time on Earth.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Life Marks Us Up

darkroom Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Life Marks Us Up

I was stranded in Washington D.C. due to a storm in Chicago. It was sunny and cold and I wandered into the National Gallery of Art just beyond the Capitol. On the ground floor in the west building in two small rooms was an exhibit called In the Dark Room, which mounted examples of the early process by which photographs were developed in the 1800s.

We don’t see many darkrooms any more, given the ease of digital cameras. But darkrooms still offer a small, reflective solitude for serious photographers. The great photographer Ansel Adams had a very elaborate, expansive darkroom, while the Civil War photographer Timothy O’Sullivan refitted an ambulance wagon into his portable darkroom. Progress doesn’t limit our toolbox but adds to it, the way that master woodworkers don’t throw away their hand tools just because they have a set of power tools.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Practice of Reading

reading-book-while-drinking-coffee-picture-id932272022 Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Practice of Reading

In our modern age, the noble art of reading has been truncated and compromised. Today, a skilled reader is judged as someone who reads rapidly, who can scan the skeleton of any piece of writing and abstract its silhouette of meaning. Yet this is like taking an x-ray of a person and thinking you now have met the whole person.

The word “read” comes from the German raten which originally meant “to guess.” So reading is always a guess at what matters, a leaning in to all that is beyond words, a bow to all that gives rise to words.

I have always been a slow reader, not because I struggle with comprehending what I read, but because when challenged or moved by what I read, I slow down in an attempt to absorb what I’m taking in. Inherent in immersing ourselves in books is the call to enter time and not just move through it. Understanding reading in this way, books become thresholds to moments of living beyond our own.

There is a story in the Talmud in which students notice that their rabbi has been quietly reading the same passage over and over for several days. Concerned, one of the students approaches his teacher to see if he is alright. The rabbit smiles and says, “When I have come upon this small window into Eternity, why should I go anywhere else?”

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Energy of Hope

person-the-pen-writing-on-desks-picture-id635876658 Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Energy of Hope

I believe that teaching, reading, and writing all have to do with searching. Each involves searching for Wholeness through dialogue and experience. When that search involves other living things, we find ourselves in the province of learning and teaching. When that search involves other living things that are not present or of our time, the dialogue takes the form of reading. And when that search involves things that are present and living but not yet visible or known, we have entered the creative realm, which includes writing.

These forms of search are really inseparable. They constantly impact each other. In truth, a teacher is someone who is actively involved in all three forms of search—whether they have a classroom or not, whether they are reading the wind instead of a book, or whether they ever write it down or not. At the heart of it, learning is really seeing, while writing is really internalizing what is seen through the life of our expression. And teaching is asking questions about what is seen and taken to heart—in an effort that if honestly entered usually leads to seeing further and taking in more.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: What It Means to See

Photo credit: Well Cabral Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: What It Means to See

To see takes time like to have a friend takes time.

Georgia O’Keeffe

I was born a seer. Early on, words became the brushes with which I tried to paint what I saw. In time, I learned that while art is movement through space and music is movement through time, poetry is both. And each of us is born with an inclination toward seeing or hearing. I was born a painter and sculptor in a poet’s body.

Over the years, I’ve come across several legendary crossovers in the arts: those whose vision comes in one form, while their expression comes in another. Michelangelo’s genius came from being a sculptor forced by Pope Julius to paint, forced to compress and express his gift for three dimensions into two dimensions. The result was his masterpiece, The Sistine Chapel ceiling. George Bernard Shaw was a social theorist and critic in a playwright’s body. Aldous Huxley was a philosopher in a novelist’s body. And Robert Frost was a masterful short story writer, a weaver of potent yarns, born in a rhymer’s body.

The insight here is that each needed to express what they saw through the instrument they were given. This dynamic is what gave rise to their genius. I suspect that if George Bernard Shaw had expressed his social ideas in pure social writing, their potency would have been lost.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Refection: Not Great But True

Photo credit goes to Markus Spiske Mark Nepo's Weekly Refection: Not Great But True

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.

Rumi

Because all young people are taught to be ambitious, I began as all young artists do—working toward some imagined greatness that might reveal itself in time if I could stay devoted enough to my craft. But along the way, I was humbled to be more uplifted by what was true rather than what was great, by what was heartfelt rather than what was intricate. It kept me close to my own experience, which when entered honestly began to reveal the common ground of all experience and all time.

From there, I risked more by entering the poems than by writing them, not sure where they might go, and found myself touched and changed by showing up in my life so completely. Well, that’s not very different than being changed by loving another, is it? Now in the second half of life, I am devoted to being in that holy space where the conversation of aliveness exists. It’s not about the words but the poetry of life that is revealed and enlivened by our honest engagement.

The process of writing and expressing—whether you become a writer or not—offers many valuable tools for living. If you concentrate on learning what those tools are and are diligent in using them, this concentration of wakefulness will help you live, and chances are that you’ll surface good writing.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Quarter Turn

holdingbutterfly Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Quarter Turn

I suddenly knew I was looking at it from the wrong angle and I gave the cloth in my hand a quarter turn. Immediately I saw a beautiful and coherent golden pattern... In wonder, the pattern had emerged, to be seen in all its beauty by those who could learn to make the quarter turn.

Helen Luke

The above quote is from Helen’s inner autobiography, Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On. She begins the book with a dream in which one of her oldest friends, now gone, is asked on the other side to weave a tapestry that tells the story of her life. But as Helen looks at the cloth, it makes no sense—until she gives the cloth a quarter turn and the pattern of her friend’s life emerges plainly.

Helen then offers the quarter turn as a synonym for a paradigm shift, as a way to understand those unexpected shifts of perception that return us to the hidden wholeness, the spot of grace, the Oneness that exists beneath all subjects and conclusions. And like the fine-adjustment knob on a telescope or microscope that brings what you’re looking at into focus, the quarter turn is the skill of perception by which you can bring into focus the instrument that is you.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Becoming a Poet

Photo credit goes to Min An Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Becoming a Poet

I started writing in high school after my first love dumped me. I was devastated. Though I wasn’t a loner, I didn’t yet have any close friends. So, I started talking to myself as a way to heal. Once on the mend, I realized I wasn’t just talking to myself. I had begun a conversation with the Universe.

In college, I wasn’t allowed to write creatively in the English department. This was before the burgeoning of creative writing programs. But a kind theater professor, Doc Palmer, took me under his wing, and told me that if I became a theatre major, he would take care of me. So I begin by writing plays, that was part of our deal. I’d sign up for his courses, though he’d give me different assignments. Instead of a paper on Oedipus or Hedda Gabbler, he’d invite me to write specific scenes modeled after the great playwrights. I also had to partake in every aspect of theater from set design to acting. This unexpected apprenticeship has stayed with me.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Bearing Witness

Bearingwitness Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Bearing Witness

Bearing witness is one of the primary ways that human beings hold each other up and help each other grow. Bearing witness is also one of the primary functions of art. No matter what we long for in our imagination, we are just as obliged to affirm the truth of how we mistreat each other and how we lift each other up.

Social media is becoming a modern form of bearing witness that is adding to our communal sense of art. In 2010, it was the viral use of Facebook that helped ignite the Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of democratic demonstrations and protests leading to civil wars in oppressive societies in North Africa and the Middle East. The ability of citizens to film events in real time has led to an irrefutable bearing witness of excessive force by police throughout America.

This all speaks to the timeless power of naming things for what they are in the open. In 1981, the luminous poet Czeslaw Milosz was invited to give a series of talks at Harvard as part of the ongoing Charles Eliot Norton Lectures. The talks were published a few years later as his remarkable book, The Witness of Poetry. In these deep and sweeping talks, Milosz articulates his belief that poetry should be “a passionate pursuit of the real.” He challenges us to reclaim the power of art to mirror both the failings and blessings of the world. He offers that art, in particular poetry, is our enduring crucible in which to face the moral challenges of our time.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Releasing the Divine

David Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Releasing the Divine

There are two beautiful notions that speak to our innate yearning to release and be released by the Divine. What I mean by the Divine is the inherent quality of Spirit that informs everything in life.

One notion that speaks to the uncovering of the Divine is Michelangelo’s sense that the statue is already in the stone and that rather than create the statue, our task is to figure out a way to release it. The legendary sculptor would carve away the excess marble to reveal the statue already waiting in the block of uncut stone, as if he were freeing a prisoner from a deep sleep. Giorgio Vasari, the biographer of so many Renaissance artists, compared Michelangelo’s sculpting process to someone pulling a beautiful form from underwater. The form is complete but out of view until lifted into the world.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Feel the Silence

groupmeeting Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Feel the Silence

Wherever I go, I’m blessed to climb with others into the interior we all share. And after a weekend with a group of kind souls, working to listen to each other without judgment but with care, after we’ve journeyed together honestly, we’re closer than when we came together and what that closeness opens is palpable.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: One Living Sense

howling-coyote-picture Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: One Living Sense

Perhaps God is an infinite secret hiding in the open waiting for each of us to slow enough to receive the unseeable. By doing so, we become conduits of Spirit that continually reunify the Whole. This is how life forms begin: energy moves through particles bringing them together, but it is the openness of the particle that enables the life chain to assemble. And what is the heart but the most transparent particle of being known to humankind?

As the legendary dancer, Martha Graham says in a letter to Agnes de Mille, “Our one innate task, even when unconscious or unwilling, is to keep the channel open.” It is out of such transparency that we are renewed while creating things of value. Such openness requires two things: the risk to be, to slow to the pace of creation where all things join; and secondly, the courage not just to let what comes up through, but to sing it through. It takes courage to give voice what we experience, the way a coyote howls; not just out of hunger, but out of a visceral joy at being a part of the infinite secret revealed. In this way, we’re angels wrapped in skin and fur, racing through thick after thicket because we sense what can’t be seen all around us.

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The Aperture of Intuition

aperture The Aperture of Intuition

The opposite of rational is not irrational but intuitive. And while the mind and heart work together, my experience is that the heart absorbs and integrates more deeply than the mind. One way to think of intuition is as an aperture that opens and closes the heart like the lens of a camera, letting in life until it colors our soul.

Reason is often an intermediary for a quicker, deeper, more elusive facility. Reason allows us to think like a ladder, while intuition allows us to think like a constellation. Weaving both, I write about what I need to know, not what I already know. If I had only written about what I know all these years, I would have written very little.

The truth is that I feel things more quickly and more deeply than I understand them. I understand things more quickly and deeply than I can speak them. And I speak things more quickly and deeply than I can write them. One of the reasons I am so prolific is that, years ago, I gave up the notion that I had to understand what I was feeling, thinking, speaking, or writing before I could put it down. Since that time, my writing has become an ongoing curriculum, because I no longer record what I understand but explore what I feel.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: All We Can Hope For

allwecanhopefor Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: All We Can Hope For

I’ve known this world in all its splendor and breakage for a lifetime. Or has it been a moment, the blink of some cosmic eye that let’s anyone still enough see the script of history all at once. I only know that when the forces of life and I move too fast, we author violence. When we stop and open, we discover a softness at the center of all things that gives rise to a music of acceptance. Very few things evoke this soft equanimity, which feels like a violin exhausting itself at the center of a symphony when the composer has spent his creative storm and is wondering if there’s anything left to say. Every day, the things we love sprout and emerge, or break and wither, as the vine grows quietly up the wall toward the light. Perhaps this is all we can hope for. The other day, we watched a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, it’s wings still wet. It had to wait for its wings to dry before it could flutter its way into life. Perhaps loving ourselves and each other and life itself is how we dry and open our wings.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: A Lifelong Process

bee A Lifelong Process

When the question arises, “Why write? Why create?” I’m drawn to ask, “Why breathe? Why climb to a place where you can see the horizon? Why look for things soft and durable to wrap around a wound? Why call into the canyon between us to see if anyone is there?” Because all these efforts help us live.

Repeatedly, we’re called to engage experience as a way to manifest what we carry within us, bringing what is dormant into the world. As the tree that a seed carries breaks ground in time, reflection, dialogue, and writing are seed-like forms by which we release our inwardness into the world. This is why we listen and express. This is why we write, why we create. Because expression is like sunlight that emanates from within. It causes the soul to blossom in time.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The River of Light

waterfall The River of Light

Both Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo left a trail of unfinished art greater than anyone else in modern history. Still, they are regarded as two of the most talented artists who ever lived. They are extraordinary examples of how the journey of expression is more important than the final product.

William Blake is another inspiring example. Toward the end of his life, Blake endeavored to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy, the medieval epic poem that follows Dante’s transformative journey through Hell and Purgatory into Paradise. Blake created 102 watercolors, planning to engrave them all, but he only had time to begin seven.

More than his immense effort to create art, Blake’s innate devotion was to immerse himself deeply in the thickest currents of life. Though he couldn’t finish engraving his illustrations, I imagine that, at some point, the life-force Blake was so devoted to began engraving him. What more can any of us ask for but to be created by the very thing we feel compelled to create? This is where the holy work of effort leads, regardless of its trail.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Thread

thread Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Thread

Thirty-four years ago, in my mid-thirties, I was working hard at becoming a good poet, when I was thrust into my journey with cancer. The torque of that experience pulled me from all my goals and routines and aspirations. I was left in the raw, uncertain simplicity of being alive and trying, by any means possible, to stay alive. I had few native gifts to help me through. The one closest to my heart was the aliveness of expression that lived below my want to be a poet. And so, I began to journal daily about my deepest fears, feelings, pains, and dreams, about the prospects of living and dying. I didn’t think of it as “writing” or as “material.” More, I was climbing the rope of honest expression, day by day, into tomorrow. It became a muscular and tender, honest space in which I began to access my own inner healing. This was my first in-depth experience of writing as a spiritual practice.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: In Our Nature

orchidslipper Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: In Our Nature

As skin will stretch and mend a cut, kindness will heal all our divisions in time. Just as something cellular and internal causes trees to grow and fish to develop fins, something equally cellular and internal causes the heart to open. This openness is what releases the enzyme we know as kindness. And while being vulnerable opens the heart, that earned tenderness yields a wholeheartedness that reveals all forms of kinship. It’s how Grandma Minnie made her way from Russia as a girl and became a strong weed growing in Brooklyn. I will never forget her broken-English dignity, sitting proudly on her stoop, no matter what came her way. She was always ready to weather the next storm with kindness, ready to welcome the needy and to speak up against cruelty. I don’t think she thought of this as brave or altruistic. It was just part of her nature, part of our nature as living beings. Her innate kindness helped her endure. It is the strength of our kindness that roots life in the world. It is our initiation through kindness that lets us grow from I to we. I only know that every time I give, I receive more. Every time I give, the act illuminates my soul and I am enlarged out of hiding, the way an orchid opens to arrive as itself. So, when in doubt, give. When dark and confused, give. For your doubt and darkness and confusion are cuts that reaching out with heart will mend.

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