Mark Nepo, profiled in S&P’s Living Spiritual Teachers Project, is a poet, spiritual teacher, workshop leader, and prolific writer. He’s proven in many books, including this one, that he is also an astute observer of societal trends and American culture.
Surviving Storms opens with a 22-page section on “Where We Are Now.” You are not likely to find anywhere else such a concise and wide-ranging analysis of the storms we are experiencing today:
- a worldwide pandemic precipitating the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance),
- a metastasis of mistrust,
- an expanse of social entropy,
- the loss of relationship,
- alienation and estrangement,
- isolation due to technology
- the slow dissolution of reality via entertainment (including “reality shows),
- the loss of a common center,
- the entrenchment of self-centeredness as a way of life,
- an epidemic of narcissism,
- addiction to violence,
It’s important to face these truths about ourselves and keep loving each other, Nepo writes. He notes:
“In the avian world, birds remap their community every day by how they hear each other sing at the first sign of light. And when voices all over the world rise on behalf of each other, we begin to remap society. In the midst of all the chaos and suffering, we can collapse further or we can break the ground of a new age. If we can keep the truth of what we’ve done to each other in the open, we can begin to rewrite our social contract.”
With the rest of the book, Nepo sets out to answer three questions: What needs to be repaired? What needs to be reimagined? And what needs to be left dismantled? With poetic prose and his own poems, he explores what perceptions, actions, and heart practices are needed to meet the storms he’s mentioned and to break new ground.
There are so many ideas and insights here that we can’t point to them all, nor do they arrive in neat step-by-step instructions. Fortunately, Nepo has a list of survival strategies and he uses groups of them to introduce different sections of the book. He explains:
“In facing and navigating the storms of human existence, alone and together, we must find and inhabit the resources that will help us:
- learn how to endure the storms we encounter, and how to process our grief at what has been lost to these storms, while repairing what can be repaired once the storms have gone.
- discover and become skilled at rituals and practices designed to clear the confusion and disorder that live within us and around us,
- rehabilitate our own storm-like tendencies to prevent being so volatile and destructive going forward,
- shore up and preserve our foundations from being eroded and washed away,
- work together to repair our impassable roads and to find or create new ones,
- outlast the whiteout of any one point of view so we can retain our depth perception,
- provide each other enough warmth to thaw the encasement of technology,
- create the interpersonal and societal lightning rods that can safely release the intensity of the charged regions of our society,
- inhabit the forces that ground us more than the forces that incite us,
- accept the greater expanse of life that is waiting beyond whatever each storm breaks,
- pursue the cleared way that is opened by each storm,
- and surrender to the peaceful center we are worn to that waits in the center of all storms.”
We can survive storms by keeping our eyes open; by engaging in acts of service; by becoming familiar with our true selves through the spiritual qualities of presence, meaning, and relationship; by practicing radical respect, amazement, and innocence; by staying real and making authentic decisions; by listening to our limitations – and much more.
As he has done in his previous book, Nepo ends each chapter with “Questions to Walk With” – journal prompts and suggestions for a conversation with a friend or loved one. These are worth the price of the book alone! Here’s one example, from Nepo’s chapter on the meaning of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”:
- “From his Spanish guitar teacher, Leonard Cohen learned the six basic chords of all flamenco music. He later understood that all of his music came from these six chords. In truth, we each must learn the basic chords under everything that help us through life. In your journal, describe what these basic chords are for you; that is, what do you experience as the basic agreements of life under all our trouble that help us find grace through our humanness?
- “In conversation with a friend or loved one, name one instance of your own ‘broken hallelujah,’ describing a time when you had to face the hardships of living and still felt called to praise the larger forces of life that carry us forward.”
Surviving Storms provides a multidimensional overview of where we are, where we could be in the fullness of life, and how to get there.