Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Dreams of Joy

It could be someone
you never had the courage
to love, holding you
in the night.

Or talking all night
with a lifelong friend,
both of you lucid and hungry,
the talk peeling, not adding up,
but peeling into uncontrollable
laughter and the smell
of honey.

It could be swimming
deeper than ever, alongside
iridescent fish, copying
their wriggle for light.
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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Sample Boards

You taught me to keep a chisel sharp.

You showed me on old pine, always the

sample board. “Don’t stop in mid-stroke

or the board will splinter.” “Once you start,

keep pushing through.” You’d pick up the

perfect shaving from the floor and rub it

between your fingers. Your other hand
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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: FAITH

Faith is an act of ultimate concern.

Paul Tillich

By faith, I don’t mean obedience to any principle or doctrine or person, but more, a faith in life. Faith is our covenant with life no matter what befalls us. It is our belief that we are part of something larger than us. It is our commitment to let all that is larger than us be our teacher. What light is for plants and flowers, faith is for human souls. It is that which causes us to grow and that toward which we grow. Imagine a seed growing underground toward a light it can’t yet see. In just this way, love and suffering cause us to break ground and flower.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: For George

What I love about you most

is how you become what you

care for. You are eager to begin,

but in no hurry to leave. And so,

when you offered to build a bookcase

in which my tall wooden Ganesh can

look over me as I dive into the ancient

swirl of secrets that are only secret

because we refuse to become what

we care for—it made me love you more.

It took many seasons and you shared

every step, from the soft pencil design

to taking off my closet doors to make

sure the dream would fit. Then, the

list of materials and the choice of a

proper light, so that every time I’d

turn, I could see Ganesh bow to the

unbendable truth that what’s in the

way is the way. For months, we dis-

cussed the grain of wood, the number

of shelves, the placing of Ganesh like

truth at eye level, the curve of molding

that would crown the ancient god who

I have come to trust as much as I trust

you. The walnut now holds my books

hauled up from the deep. And while

I work hard to see what waits beneath

the masks we cling to, the precision of

your care holds everything in place.

A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of a friend who has helped you grow. How can you be such a force in someone else’s life?

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: To Go Beyond

You ask, “How can I hold on?”
I remember being forced to let
go, to let the torrent take me
beyond all I could imagine.

You ask, “Are we doomed to
repeat our mistakes?” I only know
that when exhausted I could finally
accept that we are privileged to
have more than one chance
to come alive.

You ask, “Why is it all unbearable?”
I want to rock you until you under-
stand that the dark is there
for light to find its purpose.

You ask if I have anything to say.
And I touch my forehead to yours,
hoping something in all that is un-
sayable will skip like a stone along
the waters of the One Mind.


A Question to Walk With: Describe something in your life that feels unbearable. How are you living with it?

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: THE INNER LAW

That the Universe comes through

your heart is like the sun passing

light through the eye of a needle.

It happens beyond all reasoning.

And though one feather will fall,

many together form a wing, the

way love, not kept to ourselves,

will carry us.

It is a deeper form of gravity,

that only the things that find

each other come alive.

A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of a time when you felt the Universe move through your heart. How did this effect you? Describe your journey of finding others in your life.

This is from my book of poems in progress, The Tone in the Center of the Bell.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: THE URGE TO RUN

The homeless man with no legs crawls on his dolly like a snail while the world keeps whizzing by. No one wants to lose their legs, to go that slow. But sometimes, we’re forced to stop in order to empty ourselves of everything that’s in the way. Love can stop us in our tracks just as swiftly as suffering. It’s up to us to choose love before suffering takes our legs out from under us. In truth, every time I thought I was going somewhere, I began to speed up, and then began to feel behind, then lost, and then I felt a failure of sorts. Until I was loved or broken in place. And being rid of all I imagined and wanted, I rediscovered the wonder of just being here. This seems a cycle of human seasons—from want, to hurry, to feeling urgent and behind, to feeling lost and then a failure, to being stopped in our tracks, so we can rediscover the bareness of being. Now, my want is to accept this endless practice, which we call being human. We keep going, though there is nowhere to go. We keeping wanting, though there is nothing to own. We keep breaking, so that love like light can flood every break. I drop some coins in the legless man’s cup, hoping that you will drop a pebble of light in my mouth, when I have lost the urge to run.

A Question to Walk With: Describe your urge to run and your urge to stop. Which has your attention these days?

This excerpt is from my book in progress, The Signature of Being.

Mark Nepo's Weekly Refection: ART LESSON

The mind moves like a pencil.
The heart moves like a brush.

While the mind can draw
exquisite prints, the heart
with its deep bright colors
will ignore the lines.

If you only follow your mind,
you will never go outside the lines.

If you only follow your heart,
what you touch will never
resemble anything.

We must be
a student of both.

For the mind can build
itself a home, but only
the heart can live in it.


A Question to Walk With: Describe as aspect of home that your mind has dreamt and built. How are you living in that dream now that it is built. Which do you like more: dreaming what needs to be built or living in the dream once it is built? Why?

This is from my book of poems in progress, The Tone in the Center of the Bell.

Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Life After Tears

In the life before tears,
there are endless plans
and we avoid the difficult
feelings at all cost, as if grief,
pain, and loss are canyons
we’ll never climb out of.

But, then, one day, while
not looking, someone dear
dies, or a dream breaks like
a plate, and our world, as
we’ve known it, is blown

Then, we discover that
falling in the canyon is
our initiation, and
the river at the bottom
is the only water that
will keep us alive.

I wish it were different.
But the reward for being
hollowed out is that the
song then sings us.

. . . 

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Sound of Feathers

I will never forget your care,
how you stared into me the way
a painter might peer into a canyon.

You saw a great vastness in me,
where I felt only a great emptiness.
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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Lightning in a Bottle

The being in us flies like a hawk.

It knows nothing of the ground.

But the human in us walks like

a horse and must climb over

everything. We grow by trying

to fly and suffer because we can’t.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, discuss something you have seen with clarity though it has been hard to live out.

This is from my new book of poems in progress, The Tone in the Center of the Bell.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: WORTH THE WORK

My hips burn as I climb the path,
using roots as steps, but the view
is worth the work, always.

The way we climb questions until
we’re out in the open, able to
take in what we seldom see.

This is the purpose of questions,
to help us climb into the open.
Though, often, the heart burns
as we open.

This is not the pain of injury
but the pain of exercise. Like
pressing weights, we lift what-
ever’s in the way.

Only to put it down behind
us, not to deprive the next
seeker their climb, their work,
their training.

A Question to Walk With: Describe a climb you have made that has been difficult but which has been worth the climb.

This is from my book of poems in progress, The Gods Visit.

Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Our One Assignment

Buddha said the origin of light came from within. The implication is that there is an inner plane of forces that mirrors the elements of the physical world. That as matter is a conduit for fire, water, earth, and wind, our wakeful consciousness is a conduit for the forces of inner light, which manifest as intention, care, compassion, and kindness. And while survival has us navigate the struggles of circumstance, the transformative way to meet and mitigate events is to express the inner forces of light into the kinships that strengthen the Web of Life. In this way, light has migrated for eons through our suffering and delight into the world. This, then, is our one assignment: to make our humanness the lens through which light comes into the world.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Everyday Life

It is the simplest of paradoxes:
You can’t see what you are in.

As soon as you try, you are no
longer in it. This is the trap
of self-consciousness.

You can’t see the ocean
when you are in the ocean.

You can’t see the bird flying,
if you are the bird flying.

You can’t see how the lungs
work when you are struggling
to breathe.

Nor the contours of the path
when you are breaking trail.

Only looking back can we
make sense of what has

Looking forward, we can
only open our heart like
a fire to the sky and live.

A Question to Walk With: Describe a trail you have taken or made in your life and what it looks like looking back. What do you see now that you didn’t see when you were in the middle of it?

This is from my book of poems in progress, The Fire Dialogues.

Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Stacks of Wheat

So many thought Monet
was making it up,
imagining wildly
how things might be
if God held them closer.

But what he did
was much braver.
Like a human microscope
he kept looking and looking
as warmth left the trees
as waves remade the sea
as loss slowed into peace
undoing hard men.

He watched
strange flowers open
where only silence had been.

He focused so far in
that everything shimmered.
He proved by the strength
of his attention that
nothing can keep
light out.

It’s a small leap
to say that love
works this way—
a light that lives in the bones,
just waiting to be seen.

So why not
prop your heart
out in the open
like the easel that it is
and dab its blood
on everything.

Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: The Way

When a horse runs, it leaps
and touches down by turns.

In just this way, our life is always
moving between joy and sorrow.

Trying to avoid this is its own
sorrow, like a mad bird trying
to escape the sky.

Rather, our call is to help each
other rise and help each
other land.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, tell the story of how someone helped you rise and land.

This is from my book of poems in progress, The Tone in the Center of the Bell.

This Uncertain Moment Is Your Gift

This Uncertain Moment Is Your Gift | Maria Delivers Commencement Address to University of Michigan

Good morning, Michigan! I’m really excited to be here today in the Big House to celebrate YOU, the class of 2022!

Now, let me be honest: I initially said no to the invitation to be your speaker. I said I had a scheduling conflict, and that I was already planning to be here next weekend for my son Christopher’s graduation. He was part of the class of 2020, the only class in Michigan history to not have a graduation ceremony. Thank you, Covid! But now, finally, his class will have their own moment to shine right here next Saturday!

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: At the Base of the Mountain

The Japanese monk, Ryokan,

returned to his hut in the moon-

light to find a frustrated thief. For

there was nothing to steal. So, Ryokan

offered him his clothes, saying, “You

have come such a long way to visit

me. Take these.”

The stunned thief scampered away

and Ryokan thought, Poor soul. I wish

I could give him this beautiful moon.

Nothing can be taken if it is given.

Nothing can be missing if left in

the open. Nothing is lacking if

we water what we chase, where

it lives, within us.


A Question to Walk With: Describe one thing you are holding onto tightly that would serve you better if you let go. How can you begin to let go?

This is from my book of poems in progress, The Fire Dialogues.

Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Speaking What We Know to be True

The story of Moses carries an archetype that we all must face and live with. Of all his brethren, Moses was closest to God. Indeed, he climbed Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments and heard God directly. But due to an accident as a child in which his tongue was burned by a hot coal, he stammered greatly. All his life, he suffered an inability to easily speak what he knew to be true. Though he listened to God directly, he couldn’t convey what he heard to others.

Inevitably, this is everyone’s fate when crossing from the inner world to the outer world. We all have trouble speaking what matters and yet we must try. Often, we are misled to think that falling short in how we convey the truth is a failure, when it is not trying at all that damages us. For even light through a crack is illuminating.

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Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: Cascade

As soon as we can walk, we are
taught to run. In time, we think
we have to catch something out
of reach, when, if we let go, time
carries us the way a river carries a
boat with no oars. If we find our
place on the bottom, the noise stops
and time holds us in its soft cascade.

So jump into the current of time.
Sure, we will get wet. But that’s the
point. Important papers will dry and
seem less important. And the secret
maps no longer secret will free us
from ourselves. I once saw an old
woman leave her belongings on
the shore and wade in naked. I
feared she might be taking her
life. But she was finally giving
herself over to joy.

A Question to Walk With: Describe a race you need to stop running. How can you begin to stop?

This is from my book of poems In progress, The Tone in the Center of the Bell.

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