Mark Nepo is a poet and philosopher who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for more than 40 years. Inside the Miracle is his 16th book. We have happily profiled him in S&P's Living Spiritual Teachers Project. He focuses his writing and teaching on the process of inner transformation and the salutary dimensions of relationship. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages. For additional information on his spiritual retreats, medical programs, and eleven audio workshops visit www.marknepo.com
In this salutary and transformative collection of poems, reflections, questions, and essays, Nepo shares his three-year journey through cancer when he was in his mid-thirties. He describes its significance:
"There are certain experiences that reform us, as if God's a tireless blacksmith who, against our pleading, forges the metal in us, though it takes years for our heart and mind to cool from the pounding. My journey with cancer was how I was forged."
He has gathered 28 years of his teaching and writing about suffering, healing, and wholeness. The result provides insights and practices to help us navigate our own difficult passages swirling with pain, loss, and disappointment.
This is exactly the kind of book that fits Spirituality & Practice's intention to recommend "Resources for Spiritual Journeys." Think of the chapters on Enduring Suffering; Approaching Wholeness; and Still Here, Still Wondering as both practical and inspirational resources that you can use as you undergo your own rigorous physical, mental, and spiritual challenges. Here's what came to us as ways to use this book.
Questions to Walk With
Peppered throughout the book are questions for reflecting upon in your journal or in conversation with a friend or loved one. Nepo includes exercises from his popular workshops to personalize the experience of seeking meaning in his wisdom teachings. For example:
"In your journal, tell the story of a time when you felt our common humanity. What opened this connection?"
"In conversation with a friend or loved one, tell the story of someone you admire who stopped watching in order to join in the journey of another. Discuss why you admire this person and explore where this ability to lean into life lives in you."
"In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe a time your heart asked you to put your history aside. In your life, when has history helped you know who you are and when has history kept you from yourself?"
"In conversation with a friend or loved one, tell the story of something that's taken a long time to blossom within you."
Take this book in your hands and envision it as a deep conversation with suffering and renewal that will open you to your strengths and gifts:
"We are meant, it seems, to come apart and come together, so we can discover who we are at the core. We are meant, it seems, to be rearranged by those who care. We are meant to accept suffering and care as our teachers, our mentors, as the tools used by time to shape us into what matters."
Images and Metaphors
Be alert to the numerous images and metaphors Nepo uses to describe our situation and the ways we can more fully live. Reflect upon when you have had an experience similar to what he describes. Try drawing, painting, or singing about it. Here's one image to start with:
"Ultimately, each of us is born bathed in being and loosed into the world, into the paradox of feeling, to make our way; breaking and shedding, suffering and accepting; each of us is like the mythic chien of China, an enormously colorful bird that has only one eye and one wing. Into the paradox we fall, needing to find each other in order to fly."
Nepo is a gifted poet and he shares many of his poems here. Spend some time with these alternate ways of sharing. Let the poems speak to your heart. Here are two to start with:
Finding a Way Out
"When a dolphin leaps, something
in me comes out in the open. When
the truth in you breaks surface, some-
thing in me looks for a way out. When
I glimpse the vastness from a height, I
want to return to all I was born with.
It's true, breaking surface and glimps-
ing the vastness live in each of us. And
tripping through the days, we mirror
each other's sleeping angel. So when
moved way inside, open your heart
the way you would a bag of fire.
The world is a spark between
birth and death."
Living with the Wound
. . .
I used to think it bad timing.
When I was up, you were down.
When you were ready,
I was scared. But since
we've never given up on each other,
it's clear that drinking wonder
when we're sad is how we shed
the things we love about pain.
I have a right to joy
even when lonely,
even when in pain,
and you never need
to cover your wounds
when entering my house.
If your voice breaks, I'll be a cup.
If your heart sweats, I'll be a pillow
on which you'll chance to dream
that weeping is singing
through an instrument
that's hard to reach,
though it lands us like lightning
in the grasp of each other
where giving is a mirror
of all we cannot teach.
Lectio Divina with Quotes
We could go on and on. Just open this book to any page and practice Lectio Divina with the words you find there. What speaks to you? Dwell with that thought. Pray through it. Here are a few we have worked with:
"To be broken is no reason
to see all things as broken."
"I honor the inevitable call to be a bridge for each other, so we can endure what we suffer and inhabit the gifts we were born with, until we can enter the days that remain with awe and wonder."
a thousand years,
not in succession,
but in every breath."
"So what are we left with? Each of us with the endless and repeatable task of discovering, un-covering, our enthusiasm."
"Everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
This is how the heart makes a duet of
wonder and grief."
"All I can say is perhaps falling in love with the world
is the bravest thing we can do."