"Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry; an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call it the Psyche, theologians call it the Soul, Jung calls it the seat of the Unconscious, Hindu masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qalb, and Jesus calls it the Center of our Love." So writes philosopher and poet Mark Nepo in this fascinating collection of 21 essays written for the journal Sufi. The kind of inner work he describes is relevant to the challenges each of face as we seek to find beauty, make connections, cope with suffering , empathize with each other, find love, and encounter death.

Nepo also shares some of his poems which lend a special sparkle to the proceedings. Here's one example:

Living a Making

"Let no one keep you from your journey.
Let nothing dissuade you
from seeing what you see
or feeling the winds that make you
want to dance alone
or go where no one
has yet to go.

You are the only explorer,
Your heart, the unreadable compass,
Your soul, the shore of a promise
too great to be ignored."

Let us count some of the reasons why we found this collection of essays so appealing and spiritually edifying.

• Nepo is a great storyteller who takes us into the far country of his battles with cancer and shares some important facts about pain and suffering.

• He is a sensitive traveler and in a lengthy piece on a journey to Africa, he opens our eyes to the people, the places, and the animals he encounters.

• Nepo picks wonderful teaching stories and has mutual respect for all religious and spiritual traditions. "It is said that a great Zen teacher asked an initiate to sit by a stream until he heard all the water had to teach. After days of bending his mind around the scene, a small monkey happened by and in one seeming bound of joy splashed about in the stream. The initiate wept and returned to his teacher who scolded him lovingly, 'The monkey heard. You just listened.' "

• Whether musing about attention, spiritual ethics, rekindling inner light, or the bridge of well-being, Nepo spurs us to see things afresh from different angles. It's a talent he must have picked up over the years by wedding poetry and philosophy. The end result is a refreshing respect for the mysteries of life.