Mark Nepo has experienced "raw moments of sinking and being lifted, intimate accounts of being thrown into feeling and depth." He calls this new book, which is the result of an ongoing journal he started 15 years ago, "a travelogue of my conversation with the Universe, a mix of inner reflections, questions, and stories that have come to teach me how to be here."
Sometimes Nepo pays attention to the smallest things and in their vulnerability, they make him weep. But instead of isolating and separating him from others, these experiences bring him closer to the unity we all feel in "the ache of being here."
There are a goodly number of short passages in this paperback which draw us into the spiritual practice of openness. We find ourselves putting the senses on full alert, making the mind receptive, and getting ready to go sailing on a sea of possibilities with our souls. Nepo encourages us:
"When we can open our hearts and work with what we've been given, loving what's before us, life stays possible. Then, through effort and grace, we do what we can and with what we have. And when exhausted by all that's in the way, we're faced with the chance to accept and love what's left, which is everything. This is how we discover that Heaven is on Earth."
Like Nepo, we are early risers and in sync with the following description: "Yesterday I watched dawn open its chest, letting all that light pour into the world." And we want to honor the dawn that is within us.
We imagine Nepo standing by a stream and listening to it sing over a stone. Only a person who loves stones would take the time and expend his attention over such a familiar occurrence. Empathizing with the stone, Nepo asks: "How do we not rise too far or sink too low? How do we stay immersed in the glorious thick of it?"
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has praised the spiritual practice of kindness as the essential spiritual virtue. Nepo adds his perspective: "Kindness is love that has no direction, though it needs come through us to water the world."
Things That Join the Sea and the Sky contains 145 short prose reflections collected under 17 thematic categories including Stopping the Noise, Unraveling Our Fear, Beyond What Goes On, What Holds Us Up, Navigating Our Pain, The Reach of Kindness, The Radiance In All Things, Always Building and Mending, and How We Make Our Way.
For those of us who have labored over journals. Nepo has some good advice in the back of the book. We especially appreciate the last tip: "Trust whatever comes." He then provides 100 questions to spur us on our way as we plumb our inner depths or try to be kind to others. The Sufi seer Pir Vilayet Inayat Khan says that "Why aren't you dancing with joy at this very moment? is the only relevant spiritual question." Nepo agrees and admits that joy is the heart and soul of this paperback.