Mark Nepo: Holding Nothing Back

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August 29, 2016

Mark Nepo: Holding Nothing Back

Mark Nepo August 29, 2016

Mark Nepo is a poet, philosopher, and spiritual teacher who is the author of numerous books and audio projects, including the New York Times #1 bestseller The Book of Awakening, which made the list of Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things. With Sounds True, Mark has published many books and audio courses, including Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon has an intimate conversation with Mark about the two most important lessons he has learned from his journey with cancer, the role of effort and grace in our lives, what it means to take “the exquisite risk,” and how we can shift our perspective to see with the eyes of the heart.
(73 minutes)

Mark Nepo is a poet and philosopher who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for over 35 years. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, he has published 13 books and recorded eight audio projects. Mark has been interviewed twice by Oprah Winfrey as part of her Soul Series radio 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. Mark's work is widely accessible and used in spiritual retreats, healing and medical communities, and more. His work has been translated into 20 languages, and he continues to offer readings, lectures, and retreats.

Author photo © Brian Bankston


Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with Mark Nepo:
Holding Nothing Back »
Becoming the Poem »
Writing Is Listening with Your Heart and Taking Notes »

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Subscribe to Insights at the Edge to hear all of Tami’s interviews (transcripts available too!), featuring Eckhart Tolle, Caroline Myss, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Adyashanti, and many more.

Meet Your Host: Tami Simon

Founded Sounds True in 1985 as a multimedia publishing house with a mission to disseminate spiritual wisdom. She hosts a popular weekly podcast called Insights at the Edge, where she has interviewed many of today's leading teachers. Tami lives with her wife, Julie M. Kramer, and their two spoodles, Rasberry and Bula, in Boulder, Colorado.

Photo © Jason Elias

Also By Author

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)

Being in Love with the World

In Love with the World

There is no end to love. We may tear ourselves away, or fall off the cliff we thought sacred, or return one day to find the home we dreamt of burning. But when the rain slows to a slant and the pavement turns cold, that place where I keep you and you and all of you—that place opens, like a fist no longer strong enough to stay closed. And the ache returns. Thank God. The sweet and sudden ache that lets me know I am alive. The rain keeps misting my face. What majesty of cells assembles around this luminous presence that moves around as me? How is it I’m still here? Each thing touched, each breath, each glint of light, each pain in my gut is cause for praise. I pray to keep falling in love with everyone I meet, with every child’s eye, with every fallen being getting up. Like a worm cut in two, the heart only grows another heart. When the cut in my mind heals, I grow another mind. Birds migrate and caribou circle the cold top of the world. Perhaps we migrate between love and suffering, making our wounded-joyous cries: alone, then together, alone, then together. Oh praise the soul’s migration. I fall. I get up. I run from you. I look for you. I am again in love with the world.

 

Journal Questions to Work With

These journal questions have been gathered over the years from my own exploration of journaling and from my work as a teacher. They are starting points, dive spots if you will. Feel free to change them, combine them, undress them, and to voice questions of your own that these might stir, questions that might feel more relevant to what you’re going through. These questions are invitations to better know yourself and to better relate to the currents of life. Each is a chance to personalize all that we have to face.

 

  1. Describe your commitment to the ones you love.  Under what conditions would you stop loving?
  2. What kind of care is necessary to create love, maintain love, and protect love?
  3. Describe the combination of care, freedom, knowledge, and need that makes up the kind of love you value? How is this different from the love you feel able to give?

 

Looking for more great reads?

 

Excerpted from Things that Join the Sea and the Sky by Mark Nepo.

Mark Nepo is a poet and philosopher who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for over 35 years. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, he has published 13 books and recorded eight audio projects. Mark has been interviewed twice by Oprah Winfrey as part of her Soul Series radio 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. Mark’s work is widely accessible and used in spiritual retreats, healing and medical communities, and more. His work has been translated into 20 languages, and he continues to offer readings, lectures, and retreats.

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Express Your Creativity to Jump-Start Vitality

Have you ever felt like you lost a part of yourself? 

Sometimes it happens. Life changes, and we change with it. It could be a move, job change, marriage, kids, taking care of elders, or any sort of transition. Sometimes it’s not even a difficult transition that makes us lose a part of ourselves but a decision we make to keep on with some things and release the rest. And yet, we might regret leaving that part of us behind. Often, the part of ourselves we leave behind is a creative part of ourselves that we might think, in today’s world, is less important or less valued. 

This certainly happened to me—for about fifteen years. Basically, I lost my voice. As much as I loved singing, for reasons I could not fully understand, I knew part of my path was to continue in my study of healing. Unfortunately, when I chose graduate school, I also decided there was no point in singing anymore if I was not “serious.” Not only did I relinquish my opportunity to prepare for a professional career in classical western opera singing—I simply stopped singing altogether. And by making that black-and-white decision, based more in perfectionism than in feeding my heart and soul, I lost a huge part of myself for more than fifteen years. Singing was a gift I was given to bring me back to my own creative bliss—but I had been blind to its purpose for most of my life. And a part of me literally felt like I had died.

I’ll bet many of you can relate. External circumstances seem to shift the tides of our lives so that sometimes we lose parts of ourselves society doesn’t necessarily directly reward. If we enjoyed art, dance, music, or other areas of creative expression when we were young, unless we pursued these passions as professional artists, we might have lost sight of them over the years. We often think we have to leave creative pursuits behind in our process of “adulting”—making money, providing for a family, and pursuing a career. However, losing that creative juice comes with real costs—we can end up losing our ability to innovate, our fluidity, and a great deal of our joy.

Thankfully, our creativity is never really lost. In my case, I found the joy of singing again spontaneously while singing to my kids when they were young. When they got a bit older, I decided to reclaim the fun of singing for myself. Out of the blue, I created a Guns N’ Roses cover band called Nuns N Moses. I searched for musicians and convinced them (all straight males) to dress as nuns while I dressed as Moses for part of the show, changing lyrics and singing songs from Moses’s perspective. It was hilarious fun while paying homage to one of my favorite childhood rock ‘n’ roll bands with excellent musicians. Soon after, I was asked to front an Iron Maiden tribute band called Up the Irons. The music was amazing, and the band was a hit, with thousands of fans and a busy gig schedule at the best venues in Southern California. I found myself blissfully singing my heart out—and I had more energy than I ever had in my life.

I share this personal story with you for two reasons. One is to remind you that the parts of you that you think are forgotten actually live on inside of you—particularly the creative parts of you. These are the parts that long for authentic expression, in whatever ways they are able to manifest. They do not die, and when we give them voice, we actually provide healing for ourselves—an ability to bring us to a greater sense of self-awareness, self expression, connection, and ultimately transcendence. The second reason is to challenge you to consider ways you can step out into a more authentic expression of yourself—even if it feels risky to you. The best thing you can do is to break the false idol of yourself. Creative expression gives you the tools to connect with yourself beyond your cultural and social conditioning and to connect with others in true heart and soul expression. Nothing can be more freeing and more healing.

PUTTING CREATIVITY INTO PRACTICE

Fostering Our Flow

How do we begin to jump-start our experience of creativity and its links to flow, improved mood, and vitality to augment our own deeper, more authentic expression of ourselves and our healing? Following is an easy guide:

First, recognize that you are a creative being. The more you identify yourself as a creator, the easier it will be for you to create in different settings, even at work. Even the scientific data suggest this. 

Start simple. Remember that no one defines what is creative except you. Is there a particular creative activity that draws you to it? It does not matter whether you have prior experience with 

  1. It does not need to be a specific art form, either (putting creative outfits together or improvising a meal without a recipe are examples). Pick something easy for you to engage in at least once a week for six weeks, and do something that you can easily fit into your day or week. (Singing in the car or dancing around the house for fifteen minutes a day counts!)

Go beyond judgment. Suspend your and others’ judgment, and move beyond your discomfort. Believe me, I know what it’s like when the kids beg you to stop singing in the car! You will encounter a whole slew of judgmental statements, most of them likely from yourself. As Nike loves to say, “Just Do It.” (In my case, when encountering my children’s complaints, I keep singing, but I do it more softly so as not to irritate their eardrums beyond belief.) When feeling uncomfortable, do it anyway and tap into the bodily, energetic feeling that you have when you are being creative. That will help you break through those negative self-judgments and clear those vrittis, or mind disturbances!

Observe, persist, and enjoy. Notice how you feel after engaging in your creative act. Be your own scientist. Explore how you feel after the first time, and then the second time, and so on. How did the rest of your day go after you allowed yourself some time for creativity? Keep at it, and even try your hand at something new. You might feel more comfortable working with an art form you have learned in the past. However, remember that your goal is not perfection—it is connecting with the energy of creativity. There is something to be said for examining an art form with “beginner’s mind.” Keep honing your creativity by focusing on both things you know and things you don’t know, and see what insights come to you as a result.

author photo

Shamini Jain, PhD, is the founder and CEO of the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI), a nonprofit collaborative that leads humanity to heal ourselves. Dr. Jain is an Ivy League-trained clinical psychologist and an award-winning research scientist in psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and integrative medicine. She is a sought-after speaker and teacher in mind-body-spirit healing. Dr. Jain is also adjunct faculty at UC San Diego. For more, visit shaminijain.com.

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