Mark Nepo

"What is the Meaning of Life?" comments by Mark Nepo and Mooji (from website: Excellence Reporter)


Mooji: This is perhaps one of the most seemingly profound questions within the human kingdom. Yet at closer scrutiny it is revealed as one of the most elusive in as far as coming to any one satisfactory answer.

Let’s imagine there is a world cup football match being played. The match can only be what it is and goes how it does. However, if there happen to be one hundred commentators giving commentaries on the game, the listeners will only hear each commentator’s interpretation and each one will be different. Now, which commentator has given the most accurate account of the match? Each one will speak from his or her preference, temperament, conditioning and perspective. It will be a subjective view only and not the complete picture, which is impossible to convey. We could go further and imagine that we, ourselves, are at the match—live. Nevertheless, our view will still be biased and based on whichever team we support, as would be the view of each and every supporter. So, with an attendance of one thousand spectators, there will be a thousand unique views. Perhaps, if any view could be accepted as being most universally objective and genuine, it will come from someone who understands and enjoys the game but is inwardly neutral in terms of the game’s final outcome or score.

It is the same with the question about the meaning of life.
We can use this simple analogy or metaphor and see that it will be the same in the case of the lawyer, the mother, the doctor, the thief, the politician and the religious man. We each perceive what we consciously or unconsciously conceive. Each will perceive and experience life according to his conditioning and the role that he identifies with, but each person will only comprehend and reflect a limited perspective of the whole, shaped by the fearful and unavoidably self-opinionated mind.

Amongst the various types of beings, I feel that a sage is the one who has really grasped life in an all-encompassing and holistic way and this is so because, as an awakened being, his personal mind has merged in his universal consciousness—his source being. Such a one looks from the harmony and vastness of unconditioned consciousness, without personal interpretation or judgment. He feels at one with life in all its varied expressions and even beyond this. His enormous compassion and wisdom arises out of his effortless and natural understanding of the laws of nature, the universal play of existence as time and change and the unbroken recognition of his true Self as the core perceiver of the manifest and functioning world. His mind, free of conditioning, is not caught in the bubble of ego-identity and thus he becomes the true friend of all living beings. Seeing himself within all and all within himself, he lives the complete life. The sage alone opens the door to the Divine.

Mark Nepo: The Meaning of Life and the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart


Mark Nepo: As important as this question is, it’s impossible to answer—as it’s impossible to see your hands while digging or to see your eyes while looking. Instead, let me share a story about meaning.

A troubled widower made his way to ask a wise old woman about his troubles. The old woman received him and they walked along a stream. She could see the pain in his face. He began to tremble as he asked, “What’s the point? Is there any meaning to life?” She invited him to sit on a large stone near the stream. She took a long branch and swirled it in the water, then replied, “It all depends on what it means to you to be alive.” In his sorrow, the man dropped his shoulders and the old woman gave him the branch. “Go on,” she said, “touch the branch to the water.”

As he poked the branch in the running stream, there was something comforting about feeling the movement of the water in his hand through the branch. She touched his hand and said, “You see, that you can feel the water without putting your hand in the water, this is what meaning feels like.” The man grew tender but still seemed puzzled. She said, “Close your eyes and feel your wife now gone. That you can feel her in your heart without being able to touch her, this is how meaning saves us.”

The widower began to cry. The old woman put her arm around him, “No one knows how to live or how to die. We only know how to love and how to lose, and how to pick up branches of meaning along the way.”

Every book and form of art, every keepsake and treasure we pass from generation to generation, every story told—these are the branches of meaning that help us along the way. And though we develop over time, there is no logical progression of steps by which our lives grow. Instead, each life unfolds the way rainwater fills the contours and grooves of the ground it lands on. No two patches of earth are identical and so the rain must fit each particular stretch of soil: trickling, pooling, and settling, as it will. In the same way, meaning fills the particulars of each life.

Two things I’m sure of are that we gather meaning through relationship, and that we understand life by working with what we’re given. And regardless of what you do for a living, the only important vocation is listening to the heart when it says: this is vital, this is alive, this can’t be lost. For me, the vitality and aliveness always precede my understanding of them. Making sense of our experience demands a faith in knowing what matters before we understand what it means. Making sense of life demands a conversation with what we’ve found and with what has found us.

As the wise old woman says in the story above, “No one knows how to live or how to die. We only know how to love and how to lose, and how to pick up branches of meaning along the way.”

Ultimately, meaning comes from inhabiting our gifts. I believe each person is born with a gift. Our call is to find it and care for it. I also believe that the ultimate purpose of the gift is to exercise the heart into inhabiting its aliveness. For the covenant of life is not just to stay alive, but to stay in our aliveness. And staying in aliveness depends on opening the heart and keeping it open.

Our dreams, goals, and ambitions are all kindling, fuel for the heart to exercise its aliveness, to bring our gift into the world, to discover what matters. Like a match, our light is revealed as our gift strikes against the needs of the world. When my sincerity strikes against yours, our gifts can give off their light.

We drift in and out of knowing our aliveness. Pain, worry, fear, and loss can muffle and confuse us. But finding our gift and working it will bring us back alive. It doesn’t matter if we’re skillful or clumsy, if we play our gift well or awkwardly, or if we make great strides or fail. Aliveness is not a judge in a talent show. Aliveness shows itself in response to wholeheartedness, when we can say yes to life, work with what we’re given, and stay in relationship—to everything.

When we come out of hiding and bring up the lights, we begin to discover what it means to be awake. When we’re knocked off our horse, we’re brought closer to life. Then we’re challenged to use our heart to break a path—this is the soul’s work. Finding our way always depends on using the one life we’re given to uncover the story behind the story, so we might find what can last.
So brave your way on. You are a blessing waiting to be discovered by yourself. The wisdom waits in your heart like a buried treasure which only loving your self can bring to the surface. And loving your self is like diving to the bottom of the ocean with nothing but who you are to find your way.

~Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers and seekers around the world with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark has been called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” “a consummate storyteller,” and “an eloquent spiritual teacher.” He has published seventeen books and recorded twelve audio projects and his work has been translated into more than twenty languages. The above contains excerpts from his forthcoming book The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart (Atria, July 2016). His most recent book is Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness (Sounds True, 2015). Mark has appeared several times with Oprah Winfrey on her Super Soul Sunday program on OWN TV, and has also been interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. And in 2016, he was named by Watkins: Mind Body Spirit as one of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People.




"THERE ARE TEACHERS EVERYWHERE" (excerpt) The Exquisite Risk by Mark Nepo

--PAINTING - “Power of Wisdom” by Linda Apple

The Upaguru—Hindu for the teacher that is next to you at any moment.

From the rotting tree felled by lightning to the water re-smoothing after the whale dives down, everything is of equal sanctity and grace. From the darkness we can't see through to the [ tenderness of a grandfather afraid to speak, everything and everyone is a teacher. Each flower, each bird, each suffering, great and small, each eroded stone and crack in that stone, each question rising from each crack—every aspect of life holds some insight that can help us live. We can learn and deepen from anything anywhere.

Yet one of the paradoxes of being human is that no one can see or comprehend all of it. Thus, each of us must discover the teachers that speak to us, the ones we can hear. This seems to be our job as initiates of being: to pursue our curiosity and passion and suffering in an effort to uncover our teachers. Just as different insects are drawn to certain flowers, though pollen is everywhere,different souls are drawn to certain aspects of the living Universe,
though God is in everything.

While the geography of stars pulsing in the night may help you discover the peace waiting in your soul, digging in the earth may help your sister know where she belongs. And yet listening to elders speak of their lives as they near death unlocks the things I learn. Each is equally a teacher, one no truer than the other. It's as if everything has to carry what is holy because each of us 1 one set of ears and one set of feet to help us stumble on our way.

The moments that hold mystery, whether dressed in wonder, wait to be treated with respect and sincerity, as i sage was carved in stone for you before you were born, and a storm has washed it ashore just in time, and you need all you can get to decipher its meaning. And we will be found by teachers repeatedly—be they the moon, the thief, or the until we can uncover their meaning.

It makes a difference when we can look at experience a vastness. And the moments that open our lives become p stories in our own personal mythology, the retelling o renews our vitality. For me, such moments include God err solitude through the waves of the sea, and Grandma star eternity at ninety-four when she thought no one was look when I woke after surgery to the miracle of freshly squeezed juice.

So, who and what have been your teachers? What stories carry the teachings? And what inner history do they form? Who can you share this with? If no one, find someone. It's one of things that matter.

And where is your next teacher? In the loss about to that you won't be able to make sense of? Or in the stone shoe next month that has the imprint of a bird's wing?

It is all very humbling. For plan as we will, study as I search as we can, it is all a guess—a wild attempt to land ourselves in the open or in the dark until our teachers appear.




"Listening" — by Mark Nepo

Listening is a personal pilgrimage that takes time and a willingness to lean into life. With each trouble that stalls us and each wonder that lifts us, we're asked to put down our conclusions and feel and think anew. Unpredictable as life itself, the practice of listening is one of the most mysterious, luminous and challenging art forms on earth. Each of us is by turns a novice and a master—until the next difficulty or joy undoes us.

In truth, listening is the first step to peace. When we dare to quiet our minds and all the thoughts we inherit, the differences between us move back, and the things we have in common move forward. When we dare to quiet the patterns of our past, everything starts to reveal its kinship and share its aliveness. And though we can always learn from others, listening is not a shortcut, but a way to embody the one life we're given, a way to personalize the practice of being human.

In real ways, we're invited each day to slow down and listen. But why listen at all? Because listening stitches the world together. Listening is the doorway to everything that matters. It enlivens the heart the way breathing enlivens the lungs. We listen to awaken our heart. We do this to stay vital and alive. This is the work of reverence: to stay vital and alive by listening with an open heart.

Yet how do we inhabit these connections and find our way in the world? By listening our way into lifelong friendships with everything larger than us, with our life of experience and with each other.

Our friendship with everything larger than us opens us to the wisdom of Source. This is the work of being. Our friendship with experience opens us to the wisdom of life on earth. This is the work of being human. And our friendship with each other opens us to the wisdom of care. This is the work of love. We need to stay loyal to these three friendships if we have any hope of living an awakened life. These three friendships—the work of being, the work of being human and the work of love—frame the journey.

In a daily way, listening is being present enough to hear the One in the many and the many in the One. Listening is an animating process by which we feel and understand the moment we are in, repeatedly connecting the inner world with the world around us, letting one inform the other.

All of this helps us hear who we are because our identity and the reach of our gifts can only be known in relationship. The wave would not exist if not for the reach of the ocean that lifts it, and the mountain would not exist if not for the steadfastness of the earth that supports it. Listening helps us discover our relationship to all that supports us in life. Listening helps us find our place as a living part in a living Universe. And each moment is a new place to start, no matter how overwhelmed we might feel. For the living Universe can be entered at any time by listening to our inmost self. This begins by meeting ourselves and opening our minds to silence. It helps to think of silence as the connective tissue for all life. By listening to silence, we can be nourished by everything that is larger than us.

It is giving our complete attention to the silence that holds our self that awakens us to both the soul's calling and the call of the soul. While the soul's calling is the work we are born to do, the call of the soul is the irrepressible yearning to experience aliveness. The center of our aliveness doesn't care what we achieve or accomplish, only that we stay close to the pulse of what it means to be alive. In doing this, we stay close to the energy of all life.

The deeper we look at listening, the more we find that it has to do with being present, because a commitment to being fully present enables us to listen more to others, to their dreams and pain, to the retelling of their stories. It deepens our compassion. And listening to the history of our heart allows us to hear and feel the sweet ache of being alive.

Each of these ways of listening—to our inmost self, to the silence that joins everything, to the soul's calling for meaningful work, to the call of the soul to simply be alive, to the complete presence of others that holding nothing back opens in us, and to the tug of life and its sweet ache of constant connection—is a practice that deepens our understanding of who we are and of the precious life we're given in our time on earth.

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"The Fact of Our Oneness" (excerpt) The Exquisite Risk by Mark Nepo

---“Sheep Painting” by Nancy Easun


That which can't he stolen hut only given, that which survives by opening us all . . .

All the traditions speak of what Thomas Merton called a Hidden Wholeness, an unseen tissue that joins everything. It is in fact our deepest and oldest home. In truth, it is not really hidden, just so immense that it's hard for us to hold in view for very long. In actuality, the fact of our Oneness is constant and everywhere, a secret hidden in the open.

Amazingly, we arrive filled with this Oneness. At birth, there is no separation between us and other things, no subject and object. Of course, we must make this differentiation very soon in order to live. But inwardly, we then spend much of our time on earth finding our way back to that mysterious place where we were all part of one larger Self,- all part of the same living organism, the Universe. Eventually, if blessed, we land where all saints and sages have always landed, back in the consciousness that joins everything, where there is no separation between living things.

Yet no matter how we stray or are thrown off course, we can, at any moment, regain our sense and experience of Oneness through anything authentic: an honest feeling, a truthful thought, the giving or receiving of a kindness, or any sudden surrender to the larger] order. This is the purpose of love, of truth, of spiritual practice: to j bring us to the lip of that sea where all things join.

The common beat of our Oneness is never far away. When we look closely enough at any area of knowledge, the Hidden] Wholeness can be found. For instance, in nonlinear biodynamics there is a phenomenon known as coherence, which speaks to how 1 harmony is as elemental as gravity. A Dutch scientist named Huy- 1 gens first noticed this effect while sick in bed. He placed two pendulum clocks on his mantel and noticed that no matter how they were swinging when started, they would eventually begin swinging in identical motion. Eventually they would find their rhythm of oneness.
Even more telling is that if you place two living heart cells from j different people in a petrie dish, they will in time find and maintain a third and common beat. This biological fact holds the secret of how all things relate. It is cellular proof of our Oneness. For beneath any resistance we might pose, there is in the very nature of life itself some essential joining force. Given the chance, we will find a common rhythm between us that is enlivening. Some suggest that this common rhythm is our home.

That we have this inborn ability to find and enliven that common beat is the miracle of love. For what are full hearts when excuses fall away, if not two cells finding the common pulse beneath everything? From Taoists to Christian mystics, our journey on earth is offered as a way to find that rhythm of Oneness and to swim with it and not against it. Brief as these moments may be, when we feel that common beat, we are vibrating in harmony with other life. Knowing this and feeling this can be a tremendous comfort and resource.

These moments teach us what it means to live in relationship to all of life. The great Native American elder Black Elk speaks to the power of our Oneness when he says: Peace comes within the souls of beings when they realize their relationship, their Oneness, with the Universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, I it is within each of us.

Albert Einstein affirms all this when he says:

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. . . . Our task must be to free ourselves ... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Whether it is pendulums swinging on a mantel or heart cells beating in a petrie dish or strangers realizing they are intimates, there are indications of the Hidden Wholeness everywhere. Consider how a simple stone dropped in water sinks as it sends its ripples out from the center. Likewise, the deeper we are drawn into our common center—into the fact of our Oneness—the more we are compelled to ripple out our web of relationship.

In essence, we are here "to widen our circle of compassion" until we experience "that the center is everywhere." Whatever we attend to with sincerity is in some way a service to this end: to deepen and to reach out, and to live in that common beat.

"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.