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 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

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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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At a time when we’re marinating in trauma and dealing with the test of a lifetime, we all wish things were different. When what we want from life is a million mile march from what it actually is, it can seem like we need a massive intervention to keep facing what’s at hand. 

But research shows that small things can make a big difference. Just like stress is cumulative, so are the daily steps we take to grow and give.

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Here are three ways you can experiment with microdosing bravery including journal prompts for reflection.

Worth the Risk - Be What You Want to Receive

 

BE LOVE. 

Loneliness is being called “the new smoking,” a modern health risk. For some, the global pandemic has strengthened relationships, allowing for bonding and teamwork like never before. For others, it’s wreaked havoc: leading to feeling smothered and stuck. For those living alone, distancing has been brutal, making love feel far from reach. Loss, whether through death, divorce, breakups, or other factors, singes our hearts. We can become avoidant and skeptical of our future potential to love and be loved. 

When we strive to embody love, it’s essential to keep an open mind and heart. Loving connections are protective factors to our well-being. Consider these microdoses of bravery to strengthen your relationships, your sense of belonging, and the co-creation of new love paradigms in your life:

  • Get real. Go through your friends on social media and make a list of all the real people in your life with whom you can be yourself. Make a conscious effort to spend time outside of social media. Thank them for being so real to you and vow you’ll do the same.
  • Spark connection. Initiate a conversation with a partner or friend to see if you can build greater intimacy or camaraderie. To improve your connection, ask them what would mean a lot to them, and offer your own thoughts too.
  • Seek affinity relationships. Write a short poem or essay about yourself to clarify your various identities and then seek an affinity connection. Invite that person for coffee. Don’t shy away from sharing yourself and nudging them to do the same.
  • Be innovative. Create your own bravery microdose to help you be love.

Take note:

Write down what you chose to do and reflect on how it cultivated love in your life. Consider sharing this with someone you trust to help you maximize your efforts.

BE HEALING. 

The level of trauma at hand has ravaged our lives, making healing feel elusive on a good day, impossible on a bad. Given the magnitude of suffering at hand, healing should not be trivialized as a three-step process. Healing requires enormous courage. Microdosing bravery can help us reach out and tap in to the many forms of restoration available to us.  

Understanding how resilience works is a helpful way to begin healing. Gone are the days when it was viewed as a character trait—something you’re born with or not. There’s a lot of hype about being gritty and never letting anyone see you sweat that gets in the way of us finding the right support. Here are some ways to microdose bravery to foster healing and build resilience:

  • Recognize you’re not alone. The biggest lie our difficulties tell us is that we’re the only ones dealing with such intense suffering. All of us are living in a global mental health crisis, with exorbitant pressures and crushing circumstances. Suffering is part of our shared humanity. Finding solidarity and safe community can serve as a catalyst to healing. As we get traction in our own healing process, our acts of courage can be nourishing and healing to those around us.
  • Self-advocate. Healing requires intentional change in our communication. Many of us are comfortable and willing to give help, but few are asking for it. Identify one trusted person in your life that you know has the emotional maturity and skills to listen and support you. Tell them what you’re going through and work with them to identify potential roads toward healing, such as therapy, strategic behavioral change, and targeted self-care.
  • Set boundaries. Untreated trauma and unresolved issues can haunt us and impair the quality of our lives. By paying attention to what we say yes and no to, we can ensure we are leaving space for growth after we’ve gone through significant stressors. Find language to courageously share what you can commit to, and what you cannot. Enlist support to help you firmly protect your time so that you can devote attention to healing and restoration.
  • Identify resources. Take some time to scan your direct environment for things that nurture and sustain you. Select one or two things that can be microdosed to build your bravery.

Take note:

Write down things that help you experience healing. How can you continue to build off this?

BE A LIBERATOR. 

Society can project a lot onto us, caging us into patterns of conformity that can become harmful. Freedom to live as our truest selves isn’t something that comes with safety or ease. The work of unhooking from social prescriptions and ills can be fraught and exhausting. Still, when we find the courage to call out injustice and fight for a more humane world, we can experience exuberance and help change paradigms.

When we strive to liberate, we realize that we must dismantle oppression. That we must advocate for inclusivity and human reverence, particularly for social identities that are marginalized and harmed. Constrained living hinders human progress, individually and collectively. Consider these microdoses of bravery to liberate from social constructs that are harmful:

  • Let go. Take inventory of so-called social “norms” and become less apt to cower in the face of social impositions that are dismissive and destructive toward “difference.” Embrace your own multidimensionality, and that of humanity.
  • Speak up. We all have opportunities to be active contributors rather than passive bystanders in the world. Practicing accountability means that we call out injustice and work to eradicate forms of human suffering and imprisonment—whether based on race, gender, orientation, age, place of origin, or other social identity categories.
  • Practice human reverence. Move from me to we. See the glory and wonder across the human spectrum. Honor varied identities and perspectives. Work to find and engage in diverse relationships, rather than staying insular or spending time with those that look like, love like, and think like you. Become a liberator by standing fervently with those who’ve been marginalized, oppressed, or discriminated against. Seek ways to forge change, bit by bit.
  • Break Free. Create your own bravery microdose to help you liberate.

Take note:

What do you need to be liberated from? Do you know someone who is struggling in a similar way? How might you join forces and work together to become freer?

Author Kristen LeeKristen Lee, EdD, LICSW, is an award-winning Behavioral Science and Leadership professor, clinician, researcher, activist, comedian, author of Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World, and host of Crackin’ Up. She has over two decades of clinical experience in mental health, and twelve years of teaching and leadership roles in higher education, focusing on underserved populations. She leads the Behavior Science program at Northeastern University. For more, visit kristenlee.com.

 

 

 

 

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