"Walking Closer to the Bone" (excerpt) THE EXQUISITE RISK by Mark Nepo

---Painting by Linda Johnson

There are no rules now. You who bore me, taught me, raised me, Mother, Father, friends, lovers, You are my brothers and sisters now.
All that you taught me to help me in life Is no longer true, unless I find it so. Your truths for you, mine for me.
But I, being some part child still,
Grieve for the missing parents to be no more,
Nor to be a parent myself.
No longer even a child of God but co-creator.
This is frightening. This is glorious.

—Jane Bishop

When I first met Jane in 1994 when Helen Luke brought me to the Apple Farm Community in Three Rivers, Michigan. She was a remarkable being with unusual spiritual clarity and peace, and I, among many, am more fully alive for knowing her. For Jane lived at the root level of things. Most of all, she listened to everything and everyone from that depth. Magically, I always felt that Jane understood whatever I was about to share. There was no need to translate with her. More than anything she might say, I think it was her complete attention that affirmed my small efforts to thin whatever I'd thickened around my heart and eyes.

It is as she declared: There are no rules. Given enough time and chances, we each discover the center of the earth, one at a time, and just seeing the center burn under everything changes the way we look at the stars, the way we hold the wood we gather. It changes what we see while making love. For me, this seeing from center has deepened the nature of how I feel. Now waves of feeling pulse and ache close to the bone. I used to think that ache was sadness, and so spent many years trying to get rid of it. But now it is deeper than not getting what I want or losing what I need. Now I feel this ache the way the earth feels its core grind about that central fire that no one sees. It is the slight burn of being here.

I am fifty-three, have been lifted and battered by love many times, have survived cancer and a cold mother, have tried to hold on to friends like food for twenty-five years, and all that has fallen away. I use solitude now like a lamp to illumine corners I have not yet seen. And, at times, I am scared that, after all this way, I will come up empty, like a man who thirsts for the water running through his fingers. But actually, I am only scared when thinking of the rules, which say I'm not enough. If we rip them up—no, Jane would simply set them aside—if we set them aside, there is nothing between us and the next moment about to happen.

Jane died last winter. I saw her three weeks before and she was calm and vital, her eyes alight. She loved horses and spoke of death as a pony with no saddle waiting in a meadow. She set things out to make her pony welcome. I loved Jane. I still do. And I marvel at how deeply practiced she became at living at this root level, so much so that curiosity and courage became the same thing. She taught me that listening and being kind are also the same thing.

It's meeting people like Jane, who speak in tongues that know the Source, that makes me believe there is a common heart beneath all human longing that burns like that fire at the center of the earth. And despite the weight of living, there is, within each of us, a luminescent heat from that fire that can be blocked but not contained.

At Jane's memorial, there were friends who knew her for fifty years and a woman she had met just once. Remarkably, they all spoke of the warmth and welcome of her silence. And over the piano there were two pictures of her just before her death. While we were singing, I kept staring at these traces of her. Then a horse whinnied across the road and stopped to out-wait a cloud. I looked at Jane's gaunt face wearing out, more aglow from within, and it became clear. In the end, we are worn to the same bone, each of us hollowed to the one light we all take turns becoming. It's how that fire that no one sees keeps singing. For we each, in our turn, burn at the center under everything. It's how the song of a lifetime is played until we become the earth. It's how the breath of centuries keeps rising.

For so long, I didn't know, but now I confess: This rising forth of sheer life is what I live for. It keeps me alive. If I were a dancer, I'd use my gestures to scribe this endless rising against the sky, over and over, giving it away. Oh, the heart like a whale has no choice but to surface. Or we die. And having surfaced, we all must dive. Or we die. And more than books or flowers or thoughtful gifts that show I know you, the dearest thing I can give is to surface with the sheen of my spirit before you. And so I look for the truest friendships, watching the deep for spirits to surface all wet with soul.

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