The first word, "Ah," blossoms into all others.
Each of them is true.
Mark Nepo is a poet and philosopher who devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship. He has taught for more than 40 years in the fields of poetry and spirituality. Nepo is the author of The New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening and 17 other books. He is profiled in S&P's Living Spiritual Teachers Project and can be visited at www.marknepo.com.
Poems are peppered through all of Nepo's books, but this is the first large collection of them. It is robust and spiritually revelatory volume of 217 poems. Early on, he writes: "This is the medicine of poetry: that through raw and honest reflection, we deepen our conversation with life. The purpose of poetry and expression is to make life real, to remove everything that gets in the way, and to help us live."
These purposes of poetry are revealed the three sections of the book: "Suite for the Living," "Inhabiting Wonder," and "The Way Under the Way." The first two were published and distributed by the nonprofit organization Bread for the Journey in 2004; Nepo has now added 26 new poems to the first and 32 poems for the second. The third section contains 83 of the author's most recent poems. Nepo writes in the introduction that "it centers on the place of true meeting is always near, where we chance to discover our shared humanity and common spread of Spirit."
Two poems in "The Way Under the Way" around the breath.
"As a man in his last breath
drops all he is carrying
each breath is a little death
that can set us free."
Letting go is a part of dying and so is the yearning for freedom.
"If you have one hour of air
and many hours to go,
you must breathe slowly.
If you have one arm's length
and many things to care for,
you must give freely.
If you have one chance to know God
and many doubts, you must set your heart on fire.
We are blessed.
Each day is a chance.
We have two arms.
Fear wastes air."
In the collection of poems in "Inhabiting Wonder," the poet offers us meditations on the ways in which kindness, truth and softness can lighten the burdens of modern day folk. If you've ever been knocked down by formidable obstacles, you can put your trust in the kindness of friends:
"Everyone we meet is a friend
carrying a gift. Our job, to listen
the friend open, the way the sun
listens a stalk into a peony.
Every day has a gift, a piece of food
to keep you going, a trust hidden in
a corner to remind you of your life
about to be lived, a cloth someone
discarded that will keep you warm.
Our job, to love the piece
of gift we find.
The hardest thing is to keep
looking when your heart is broken,
to keep listening when your body is
hurting and violence is all around.
But this is when the gifts are closest,
in the warmth of soup that finds
you coming out of the cold."
Nepo pays tribute to the importance of spiritual practice in "Being Here" where he embraces living in the present moment, doing our daily routine as a sacred path, and rejoicing in the actions which change us and the world around us. There are many poems about significant people in his life and the important of connecting and maintaining relationships. Other poems evoke the blessings of the natural world. Many salute the subtle and consistent ways that people serve each other.
Perhaps what touches us most about these poems, however, is the way they testify simply and humbly to Nepo's experience of the Divine.
"The simple ways are hardest to see
because they are so close. Like seeing
your palms while digging in the earth.
Or seeing your eyes while looking
at the moon. Or seeing the
truth when utterly afraid.
We think what we need is so
far away. Yet it's as close
as ocean to fish.
It's all so simple. And so hard.
As listening without hope of reward,
the way mountains listen to the sun.
Or holding nothing back, the way
rivers can't stop flowing to the sea.
Simple as snow on the tongue
of a child. Yes, God appears