Mark Nepo: Authentic Expression is Heart-Based

    —
November 13, 2019

“All my work is about devotion to the messy, magnificent human journey”

—Mark Nepo

Every day, we learn. We take in more of the new. And yet, we can only respond to situations based on what we know already. We rely on the old.

Mark Nepo seems to be asking about the space between. What does it mean to grow and change with grace? What does it mean to have faith in that process? And what does this have to do with writing and expression?

We are constantly tasked to face the unknown using tools that may have only worked for us in the past (and that is freaking scary).

I believe that asking questions is elemental to human nature. But, it is impossible to truly know any of the answers.

For Mark, there is no one right way forward. There is no way out of fear. There is only a sensibility that can be adopted: that is, the willingness to listen. 

In other words, there are no objectives. There are no end products. The “answer” is in letting go of resistance to what we know, have, and are.

That way, the invisible can make itself known.

WITNESSING

“How do we talk about the things that matter that you really can’t see?”

—Mark Nepo

The ephemeral connection between ourselves and the world of essence exists within our hearts. With this practice—this practice of inner trust, perhaps even surrender—we can begin to gesture at expressing the unsayable.

What’s clear about Mark Nepo is that he is first and foremost a writer. However, his ideas can be applied to any form of expression.

To bear witness in writing, Mark advises giving full attention to whatever is in front of you, then describing it in as much detail as possible. It’s important not to make it seem magnificent or assign it “a bunch of meaning.”

Don’t evaluate it.

We are the observers and not yet the translators.

There is another part to it. Look inward. Feel what is moving through you at that moment. “Paint” that feeling with words. Don’t judge. Don’t bother with meaning. This disposition is inherently freeing. 

In this state (and I fall in and out of it even as I write this), reality moves up to our eyes like a mirror. We can look at it and hear it, be part of it.

THE INVISIBLE WORLD

“You can’t see light except for what it illuminates. All the forces that hold us and support us are invisible”

—Mark Nepo

We name things all the time. We have to. It keeps chaos at bay.

But, naming things tends to keep us separate from them. That is this and I am this and you are there and I am here.

In his Insights at the Edge episode with Tami, Mark mentions that we are accustomed to listening in this way.

We immediately assign names, places, spaces, reasons, meaning and significance to everything we see and feel. We judge and assume (partly because it is efficient; partly because we are so used to doing it).

This is in stark contrast to the “essence of wholehearted presence, however and whenever that appears.”

IMMERSION

“The truth is, I barely understand half of what comes through me. The other half leads me”

—Mark Nepo

Immersion is a different kind of listening.

Rather than naming, one engages in a mutual conversation with the world. Discovery and creation unite as the byproduct of participation in oneness.

For Mark, immersion is a way to stop resisting our naturalness and be… whatever it is we were meant to be, as humans.

When he talks about “the things that matter,” what he seems to mean is the invisible world, “that which holds us together.” In immersion, we have the chance to interact with the invisible source of our unity.

Like the fiery and untouchable sun from which our individual experiences emanate.

WHOLEHEARTEDNESS

“It’s a gift that we can’t reach what we’re trying to say or what we see, because of all that it gives us”

—Mark Nepo

In his interview, Mark says to Tami about art-making, “What matters more is our wholeheartedness than whether we do it well.”

Tami’s response struck me. “I notice, as you offer that answer, there’s a part of me that really softens.”

Creation can be a meeting place. Rather than prescribing, you meet something somewhere, and then you embrace whatever happens. You accept what is present—and in return, you are accepted just as you are.

Wholeheartedness: letting go of expectation for the sake of the unsayable.

SELF-EXPRESSION

“Just because I write it doesn’t mean that I have the meaning of it all”

—Mark Nepo

As a writing teacher, I often tell my students that if they’re stuck, they may not be empty of ideas. In fact, they may be too full.

Creating space for the heart allows the bubbles to rise up. Like attracts like. We see what we see.

“If you’re not quite there, go back to the heart of whatever the expression is about, and get closer, and get stiller, and put your defenses down, and get closer. … Go back and have a more open heart, and see what comes then.”

Sometimes, it’s unpleasant.

Sometimes, it’s utterly nonsensical.

Poetry, as one possible example of this art, has long emptied itself of pragmatic purpose and precise meaning for the sake of beauty and potentiality.

You may end up with something that you don’t understand for years. You may just take that thing out later and realize what you meant. Authentic expression is not a product. It’s a message from you to you, from the universe to the universe.

And it is always miraculous.

Mark Nepo

Mark Nepo is a poet and philosopher who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for over 40 years. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, he has published 21 books and recorded 14 audio projects. Mark has been interviewed several times by Oprah Winfrey as part of her Super Soul Sunday TV show, and was interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. As a cancer survivor, Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages. For more, see marknepo.com.

Author photo © Brian Bankston

Also By Author

Mark Nepo: The Half-Life of Angels

How do we know our own authenticity? How can we return to our hearts when we find we’ve left them? As we evolve and change along our journey, how do we relate to the “former selves” in our past? In this podcast, Tami Simon and poet-philosopher Mark Nepo address these questions and more, as they discuss his creative process; his new book, The Half-Life of Angels; and how we can each touch the ever-present and wholly miraculous “spark of becoming” waiting to guide our lives. 

Tune in as Tami and Mark talk about the introspective nature of the creative process; the metaphor of the soul as an inlet; congruency; how the heart shatters but inevitably heals; becoming a student to the mystery of life; the meaning of the word “admit,” and the practice of return; seeing through the lens of the miraculous; the intersection of meditation and creativity; the art of re-visioning; how a commitment to truthfulness grows in concentric circles; living from the deep versus diving and coming back up; the shift from being driven to being drawn; impermanence and perseverance; how the life of expression is one of discovery, relationship, and inquiry; why “there’s always a teacher next to you”; “becoming the poem”; and more.

Note: This episode originally aired on Sounds True One, where these special episodes of Insights at the Edge are available to watch live on video and with exclusive access to Q&As with our guests. Learn more at join.soundstrue.com.

Mark Nepo: Authentic Expression is Heart-Based

“All my work is about devotion to the messy, magnificent human journey”

—Mark Nepo

Every day, we learn. We take in more of the new. And yet, we can only respond to situations based on what we know already. We rely on the old.

Mark Nepo seems to be asking about the space between. What does it mean to grow and change with grace? What does it mean to have faith in that process? And what does this have to do with writing and expression?

We are constantly tasked to face the unknown using tools that may have only worked for us in the past (and that is freaking scary).

I believe that asking questions is elemental to human nature. But, it is impossible to truly know any of the answers.

For Mark, there is no one right way forward. There is no way out of fear. There is only a sensibility that can be adopted: that is, the willingness to listen. 

In other words, there are no objectives. There are no end products. The “answer” is in letting go of resistance to what we know, have, and are.

That way, the invisible can make itself known.

WITNESSING

“How do we talk about the things that matter that you really can’t see?”

—Mark Nepo

The ephemeral connection between ourselves and the world of essence exists within our hearts. With this practice—this practice of inner trust, perhaps even surrender—we can begin to gesture at expressing the unsayable.

What’s clear about Mark Nepo is that he is first and foremost a writer. However, his ideas can be applied to any form of expression.

To bear witness in writing, Mark advises giving full attention to whatever is in front of you, then describing it in as much detail as possible. It’s important not to make it seem magnificent or assign it “a bunch of meaning.”

Don’t evaluate it.

We are the observers and not yet the translators.

There is another part to it. Look inward. Feel what is moving through you at that moment. “Paint” that feeling with words. Don’t judge. Don’t bother with meaning. This disposition is inherently freeing. 

In this state (and I fall in and out of it even as I write this), reality moves up to our eyes like a mirror. We can look at it and hear it, be part of it.

THE INVISIBLE WORLD

“You can’t see light except for what it illuminates. All the forces that hold us and support us are invisible”

—Mark Nepo

We name things all the time. We have to. It keeps chaos at bay.

But, naming things tends to keep us separate from them. That is this and I am this and you are there and I am here.

In his Insights at the Edge episode with Tami, Mark mentions that we are accustomed to listening in this way.

We immediately assign names, places, spaces, reasons, meaning and significance to everything we see and feel. We judge and assume (partly because it is efficient; partly because we are so used to doing it).

This is in stark contrast to the “essence of wholehearted presence, however and whenever that appears.”

IMMERSION

“The truth is, I barely understand half of what comes through me. The other half leads me”

—Mark Nepo

Immersion is a different kind of listening.

Rather than naming, one engages in a mutual conversation with the world. Discovery and creation unite as the byproduct of participation in oneness.

For Mark, immersion is a way to stop resisting our naturalness and be… whatever it is we were meant to be, as humans.

When he talks about “the things that matter,” what he seems to mean is the invisible world, “that which holds us together.” In immersion, we have the chance to interact with the invisible source of our unity.

Like the fiery and untouchable sun from which our individual experiences emanate.

WHOLEHEARTEDNESS

“It’s a gift that we can’t reach what we’re trying to say or what we see, because of all that it gives us”

—Mark Nepo

In his interview, Mark says to Tami about art-making, “What matters more is our wholeheartedness than whether we do it well.”

Tami’s response struck me. “I notice, as you offer that answer, there’s a part of me that really softens.”

Creation can be a meeting place. Rather than prescribing, you meet something somewhere, and then you embrace whatever happens. You accept what is present—and in return, you are accepted just as you are.

Wholeheartedness: letting go of expectation for the sake of the unsayable.

SELF-EXPRESSION

“Just because I write it doesn’t mean that I have the meaning of it all”

—Mark Nepo

As a writing teacher, I often tell my students that if they’re stuck, they may not be empty of ideas. In fact, they may be too full.

Creating space for the heart allows the bubbles to rise up. Like attracts like. We see what we see.

“If you’re not quite there, go back to the heart of whatever the expression is about, and get closer, and get stiller, and put your defenses down, and get closer. … Go back and have a more open heart, and see what comes then.”

Sometimes, it’s unpleasant.

Sometimes, it’s utterly nonsensical.

Poetry, as one possible example of this art, has long emptied itself of pragmatic purpose and precise meaning for the sake of beauty and potentiality.

You may end up with something that you don’t understand for years. You may just take that thing out later and realize what you meant. Authentic expression is not a product. It’s a message from you to you, from the universe to the universe.

And it is always miraculous.

Mark Nepo: Writing Is Listening with Your Heart and Ta...

Mark Nepo is a New York Times bestselling author, poet, and philosopher whose many books include The Book of Awakening, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky, and The One Life We’re Given. Most recently, he has partnered with Sounds True to publish Drinking from the River of Light: The Life of Expression. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Mark about about our collective notions around creativity and the societal role of art. Mark details how his own ideas about creative expression have shifted over the decades, as well as why we should try to separate creation from commerce. Mark and Tami talk about the “messy, magnificent journey” of being human and why art must be a “witness to what is.” Finally, they discuss the necessity of holding nothing back during the creative process and why the pursuit of art is also the pursuit of timelessness.(71 minutes)

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5 Tools to Create More Space in Your Mind

Busyness, distraction, and stress have all led to the shrinking of the modern mind.

I realize that’s a strange thing to say. Most of us don’t think of our mind as something with space in it, as a thing that can either be big or small, expensive or claustrophobic.

But just think about the last time you felt overwhelmed, stressed, or out of control. Chances are, you might not even have to think that hard. You might be experiencing that state right now as you read these words.

What happens in these moments? 

First, our mind wanders. It spins through all sorts of random thoughts about the past and the future. As a result, we lose touch with the direct experience of present time.

Second, we lose perspective. We can’t see the big picture anymore. Instead, it’s like we’re viewing life through a long and narrow tunnel. We become blind to possibility, fixated on problems.

Put these two together and you’ve got the perfect recipe for eradicating space in the mind. The landscape of the mind begins to feel like a calendar jammed with so many meetings, events, and obligations that these neon colored boxes cover-up even the smallest slivers of white space. 

So it could be nice for our partner, for our kids, and, mostly, for our ourselves to consider: how can we create more space in the mind?

Here are five tools for creating mental space. If you want to go deeper, check out my new book with Sounds True on the topic called OPEN: Living With an Expansive Mind in a Distracted World.

1. Meditation.

You’ve no doubt heard about all of the scientifically validated benefits of this practice. It reduces stress. It boosts productivity. It enhances focus.

That is all true. But here is the real benefit of meditation: it creates more space in the mind. To get started, try it out for just a few minutes a day. Use an app or guided practice to help you.

2. Movement.

So, maybe you’re not the meditating type. That’s fine. You can still create space in the mind by setting aside time for undistracted movement.

The key word here is “undistracted.” For many of us, exercise and movement have become yet another time where our headspace gets covered over by texts, podcasts, or our favorite Netflix series. 

There’s nothing wrong with this. But it can be powerful to leave the earbuds behind every once in a while and allow the mind to rest while you walk, stretch, run, bike, swim, or practice yoga.

3. Relax.

When it comes to creating headspace, we moderns, with our smartphone-flooded, overly-stimulated, minds seem to inevitably encounter a problem: we’re often too stressed, amped, and agitated to open.

Relaxation – calming the nervous system – is perhaps the best way to counter this effect and create more fertile ground for opening. When we relax – the real kind, not the Netflix or TikTok kind –  the grip of difficult emotions loosens, the speed of our whirling thoughts slows, and, most important, the sense of space in our mind begins to expand.

How can you relax? Try yoga. Try extended exhale breathing, where you inhale four counts, exhale eight counts. Try yoga nidra. Or, just treat yourself to a nap.

4. See bigger.

When life gets crazy, the mind isn’t the only thing that shrinks. The size of our visual field also gets smaller. Our eyes strain. Our peripheral vision falls out of awareness.

What’s the antidote to this tunnel vision view? See bigger.

Try it right now. With a soft gaze, allow the edges of your visual field to slowly expand. Imagine you’re seeing whatever happens to be in front of you from the top of a vast mountain peak. Now bring this more expansive, panoramic, way of seeing with you for the rest of the day.

5. Do nothing.

Now for the most advanced practice. It’s advanced because it cuts against everything our culture believes in. In a world where everyone is trying desperately to get more done, one of the most radical acts is to not do — to do nothing.

Even just a few minutes of this paradoxical practice can help you experience an expansion of space in the mind.

Lie on the floor or outside on the grass. Close your eyes. Put on your favorite music if you want. Set an alarm for a few minutes so you don’t freak out too much. 

Then, stop. Drop the technique. Drop the effort. Just allow yourself to savor this rare experience of doing absolutely nothing.

Nate Klemp, PhD, is a philosopher, writer, and mindfulness entrepreneur. He is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Start Here and the New York Times critics’ pick The 80/80 Marriage. His work has been featured in the LA Times, Psychology Today, the Times of London, and more, and his appearances include Good Morning America and Talks at Google. He’s a cofounder of LifeXT and founding partner at Mindful. For more, visit nateklemp.com or @Nate_Klemp on Instagram.

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Tune in for a very honest and hope-giving podcast on: The phoenix phenomenon; the anatomy of transition; the metaphor of the chrysalis; cultivating a growth mindset; the components of high “TQ” (or transitional IQ); creating space for something new; the great midlife edit; the dark night of the ego; radically shifting how you want to live your life; vulnerability and accepting help; “dancing backwards in high heels”; developing a friendship with your body; letting go—but also welcoming in; the alchemy of curiosity and wisdom; goosebumps as a sign you’re on the right path; and more.

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