In his father's workshop, Mark Nepo looks at the shavings of wood on the floor and remembers how much his dad loved to work with his hands and make things. Morris Nepo, who died three years ago at the age of 93, taught the author that "giving our all can lead to moments of fulfillment and grace. And those moments of full living can sustain us."
Through his life experiences and the life lessons he has picked up from others, Nepo has fashioned this primer as "a continuous inquiry in what it means to be human, to be here, and to care for one another." The wisdom presented on the shining pages of this holy book is another luminous gift from a gallant, grateful and imaginative spiritual master. (His many other gifts to us, beginning with The Book of Awakening, are highlighted in our profile in the Living Spiritual Teachers Project.) At the end of each chapter, Nepo presents "Seeds to Water," journal prompts and conversation starters that provide pathways to a deeper life.
This soulful and reinvigorating book is divided into four thematic sections:
- Getting Closer to Life
- Loving What You Do
- Finding What Can Last
- Being Kind and Useful
Walk with Nepo as he shares stories of those vagabond souls who have discovered what really matters. But this immersion does not lead to controlling events — only to a greater appreciation of the rough and tumble of our days and our doings.
"Recently, my doctor explained why, at my age, it takes longer for the discoloration of a bruise to heal. Our skin thins the longer we're here, and therefore holds its markings. In the same way, we're more permanently touched by the world the longer we're here. The longer we live, the more we hold the world's markings. As it should be, the reward for getting closer to life."
Nepo quotes H. Jackson Brown, Jr.: "Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something."
Like Saul of Tarsus who takes a fall and is turned into Paul, the apostle, we are graced when we trip, stumble, and fall. We look desperately for safe places to hide but there are no safe places. Oftentimes, what we have lost is the fearlessness that comes with surrender to God.
Nepo has some interesting things to say on regret about the past and expectations about the future. They both move us away from the present moment and the journey "to know our own soul and to become our own oracle."
The author takes to heart some wisdom from the poet William Stafford:
"Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now?"
A poet himself, Nepo joins Stafford on the path of the heart. It all comes down to being grounded in love and inhabiting "a very personal unity of being and doing."
One of the many edifying aspects of The One Life We're Given is Nepo's attention to the art of doing what you love. He shares his process of writing and reveals his delight in the tools of the trade of a writer, teacher, and retreat leader. And he also revels in the paintings of Monet, a gifted artist who modeled for us "an unwavering devotion to a life of seeing."
Nepo hits high stride with a celebration of the spiritual practice of wonder which he characterizes as "the rush of life saturating us with its aliveness, the way sudden rain makes us smile, the way sudden wind opens our face." (See the excerpt.)
In our book Spiritual Literacy, we introduced the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy, 37 key practices of the world's spiritual traditions around which we have organized this website. The last practice is Zeal, which we define as being aroused by life; it is the essence of a meaningful life. We are wooed and won by grace; we are animated by passion; we feel a deep and lively connection with all that exists; we honor the ties that bind us in love and intimacy with others; and we let our hearts take us where we are needed.
Nepo has harvested the spiritual practice of zeal in his own special way, and we are thrilled and grateful for what he has done in The One Life We're Given: Finding the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart!