Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: What It Means to Perceive 1

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Poetry is a portal, a means of perception. All art is. And just as we can see the very energy of existence through a microscope, we can see the vibrancy at the center of all life through our heart or our mind, when we are clear of bias and noise. Under all the shaping of words, poetry is the threshold of perception through which we taste the shimmer of Spirit that informs everything.

The word “perceive” and the word “receive” have the same Latin root, percipere which means “to understand,” from per which means “entirely” and capere which means “to take.” To perceive, then, means “to take things in entirely, completely, in a way that covers us with understanding.”

But first, we must put down our screens and filters. Once life enters us, then it is useful to discern what has entered. But often we block the true gift of perception by sorting things before they reach us and touch us.

The gift of perception resides in sustaining our sensitivity to wonder, which means that, while we can always learn from others, we are called to be touched by life directly. We are called to maintain our firsthand experience, which then can be integrated with the experience of others. For true perception takes place below all the values and maps we inherit. The great Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore taught his students not to conform to others but to think freely for themselves. And the profound painter, Vincent van Gogh affirmed this when he said, “I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream.”

My second book, an epic poem called Fire Without Witness, came to me in such a dream of perception, which then took ten years to bring to life. The book centers on Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and how the characters he paints come alive to tell their stories as well. And I confess I didn’t have a clue where this was going. I was just following the path of perception as far as I could, trusting that another part of the path would present itself, which it did.

When we take in life completely, it will guide us and form us. For such waking dreams of perception come as gifts that call who we are into being, if we can accept life as our teacher.

A Question to Walk With: Describe one thing you feel you understand entirely and how it influences your life.


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