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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-two books and recorded fifteen audio projects. For information about Mark’s work and his upcoming events and webinars, please visit Live.MarkNepo.com

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The Anthem of Our Day

Photo-credit-is-Amanda-Phung The Anthem of Our Day

In the ocean of history, things build and then are worn away to what is most essential. This is an irrevocable and recurring tide of time. And while the storms, whatever their form, first push us away, it is only by coming together that we endure and emerge even stronger, clearer, and more loving. This seems to be where we are now. And the practice, so simple and so difficult, is how to move through the days with caution and care, without feeding our panic. For the other virus spreading now is fear. We all feel it, calling us with its hypnotic frenzy. But one thing I’ve learned from almost dying from cancer is that fear is to be moved through and not obeyed. And we need each other in order to see clearly so we can right-size what is before us—day after day.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Singing Light

singinglight Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Singing Light
When I was ill, I walked
the antiseptic corridors,
holding God so tightly
I couldn’t see a thing.

Only now, years later, have
I had this dream in which
a small bird is singing light.
It follows me and everything
it brushes begins to glow.
I catch it, to have with me always.
But in my hands, it stops singing.

It’s made me see that more than
holding, we need to be held,
by the larger things that
enable us to live out loud.
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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: After Many Years

yellow-phalaenopsis-orchid-picture-id507116932 Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: After Many Years

After forty years, my oldest friend, Robert, took my hand and said, “I didn’t give you one thing you didn’t already have when we met. I just warmed it open with love and truth until you opened like a flower, blossoming into yourself.” This is what friendship does.

 

A Question to Walk With: Describe a friend who has loved you the way the sun loves flowers and trees. What is the greatest gift this friend has given you. Once you’ve reflected on this, tell them.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Easy as Gravity

Easyasgravity-Pixaby Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Easy as Gravity
While every love we know is unique
and has its own history, every chance
to care traces back to the same
enduring love that lives below
all names.


The way the branches on this
towering oak trace back to its
enduring trunk.
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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Helping Each Other Stay Awake

photo credit: David Bartus Helping Each Other Stay Awake

As I travel to offer workshops and retreats, I enter a depth with willing others who’ve been opened and shaped by life. Through that depth, we create a path to what matters by which we enter the temple that is the world. I remain humbled and excited by the mystical fact that, try as we do, this depth can’t be opened alone. We need each other to do this, even though no one can experience life for you. And so we journey as pilgrims of the heart, alone and together, crossing this threshold of depth whenever we dare to tell the truth of our lives.

I open these gatherings by admitting that I have no answers and that we’re here to compare notes, because no one knows how to navigate the mystery of being alive. I then try to open a heart space through which we can enter the realm of all that matters, which is always waiting just below the interruptions of life which, if followed beyond our wants and fears, will lead us to the bareness of being that informs all life. I open this heart space by reading poems, telling stories, and sharing metaphors that reveal the unseeable architecture of existence.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Drop of Ocean

20200211-123915 Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Drop of Ocean

The drop of ocean teaches us about integrity and faith because, no matter how churned up it is, it never loses its transparency or its ability to go clear. As transparency and clarity are intrinsic to the true nature of water, integrity and faith are intrinsic to our true nature. Regardless of how churned up we are, restoring our transparency will enliven our integrity, and restoring our clarity will enliven our faith.

As one drop of the sea contains the entire ocean, each human being contains all of humanity. When churned up and full of trouble, we are disconnected from this living heritage and things always feel worse than they are. When transparent and clear, we reflect and reveal all of humanity and are able to draw strength from the living heritage we are a part of. This is why we need to discover and inhabit a personal practice of transparency and clarity that will return us to our true nature by restoring our integrity and faith.

All the spiritual traditions offer rituals and practices, including all forms of meditation, in order to support us in our ongoing task of returning to our true nature when the roughness of living challenges our assumptions. How do we personalize these practices? How do we create our own? What is your own history of being churned up? What are the ways by which you have restored your own transparency and clarity? Who and what helps you return to your true nature?

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Stop Fighting

StopFighting-MarkusSpiske Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Stop Fighting
When humbled, we finally stop fighting—

against life, against the tide of time, against

the avalanche of disappointment, if we can

outwait the stubbornness of our dreams. For

every storm, no matter how fierce, dissipates

itself. The question is how much damage

it does while wearing itself out. Eventually,

once broken open, once our soft center

spits out its pearl, we try to put all that

we’ve damaged back together. And no

one tells us that the storm hurts itself.

It guts its own center. Even the surf

crashes into itself. All this to say, I’m

sorry for the path of my storm. I know

some things can’t be put back together,

and we have to live with what we’ve done.

In time, the hardest nut will crack and

wonder why it took so long to lean into

love. But now that we’re here, I don’t know

what to say, other than, please, stay close

for the time we have. Like flowers, we

spend long hours underground, in the

dark, all for these few moments of

blossom that we never thought

would come.
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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Stewards of Light

comet1 Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Stewards of Light
The more a comet
burns away, the
brighter it gets.


As it enters the
atmosphere, more
and more of it flakes
off and burns up.


Until there is only light.


This is our journey
as a spirit in a body
over a lifetime.


As the years wear us
down and burn us up,
we grow brighter.


Until at death,
we are all light.


A Question to Walk With: Describe an aspect of who you are that has brightened over the years.
This excerpt is from my book of poems in progress, A Thirst for Simple Light.

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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