We live in a story-shaped world and we are all beneficiaries of this inheritance. From the tales told around the fires of indigenous peoples to modern day movies and Facebook sharing, people have relied on stories to give meaning and magic to our lives. Mark Nepo, who is one of Spirituality & Practice's Living Spiritual Teachers, is a gifted poet and bestselling spiritual writer (The Book of Awakening) whose elegant prose and imaginative daring makes him a reliable guide to the human adventure. Stories are good medicine for the soul and in this book he has gathered 45 of his favorites from workshops and retreats he has given over the years. Nepo says of these tales, parables, myths, dreams, and personal vignettes:

"Stories help us. They are teachers. They are medicine. They keep us connected to what matters. They keep us awake. . . . Each story has a life of its own that simply used me to become known again in the world. And each has some residue of my life on earth, for no story can come through without some taste of the teller."

As a cancer survivor, Nepo has much to offer us as a wounded healer well acquainted with pain, suffering, healing, and personal transformation. His devotional and philosophical sides shine through in the three sections he has created to accompany each story: journal questions, table questions, and meditations. The first are designed to spur self-reflection; the second to be "asked over dinner or coffee with friends and loved ones," and the third to open the heart to all the wild possibilities of life.

Nepo presents the 45 stories under four thematic sections. "On and Off the Path" includes tales dealing with shifts of perception and the friendships that we experience as we stumble, trip, and sometimes fall on our journey through life. Stores in "The Life of Obstacles" section reveal the difficulties we create in our minds or struggle with to survive; sometimes these obstacles can lead to breakthroughs and personal renewal and other times, we are just tested with no outcome. The stories, parables, and myths in "Suffering and Loving the World" emphasize the camaraderie with others that is valuable as we try to repair ourselves and our broken world. "The Invitation to Grow" section probes "the art of living" and the challenge us to polish our character and shine.

Here is an example of a story followed by three ways to process it:

Crossing Time

"Despite his age, he was talking fast, excited about those long gone, about their greatness and courage. Since I'd never heard of them, his eyes became a window to another world. Each name unstitched a story too complex to convey, too searing to leave alone. He sipped his tea and I realized that I will speak of him this way.

"We talked long into the night, and he started to drift. I moved his cane and touched his shoulder and he smiled his way back to now. I said, 'Shall we go?' He whispered, 'We're already gone.' Then slapped his knee, 'But it's all right.'

"I bent over to help him up when he held my head with both his hands and kissed my forehead. He then put his palm firmly on my chest and said, 'You know.' As we waited for his car, he smelled a weed like a flower and sighed. And still I wonder what it is I know."

"Journal Questions

• Bring to mind someone in your personal history or in world history that you have always admired, and, though you might know the events of their time on earth, look into the story of who they were as a person. Then, enlist them as a guide, and journal an imagined conversation with them."

"Table Questions

To be asked over dinner or coffee with friends and loved ones.
Try listening to everyone's response before discussing:
• Is there someone in your life now who you will speak about as great and courageous in years to come? What is their story?
• Speak about someone in history that you feel a connection to. Describe that connection and how you discovered it. It can be the person you write about in your journal.
• What does 'he smelled a weed like a flower and sighed' mean to you?"

"A Meditation

• Sit calmly and put your palm firmly on your own chest.
• Breathe slowly and cleanly with your eyes closed.
• Feel whatever it is that flows from your heart to your palm and back.
• Do this each morning for at least three days and reflect each day on what it is you know that is incorruptible and life affirming."