073. Life As an Inquisitive, Crooked Journey with Mark Nepo

The Do a Day Podcast from Bryan Falchuk

Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers and seekers all over the world with his #1 New York Timesbestseller The Book of Awakening.  Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark has been called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” “a consummate storyteller,” and “an eloquent spiritual teacher.” His work is widely accessible and used by many and his books have been translated into more than twenty languages.  A bestselling author, he has published twenty books and recorded fourteen audio projects.  In 2015, he was given a Life-Achievement Award by AgeNation.  And in 2016, he was named by Watkins: Mind Body Spirit as one of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People, and was also chosen as one of OWN’s SuperSoul 100, a group of inspired leaders using their gifts and voices to elevate humanity.  In 2017 Mark became a regular columnist for Spirituality & Health Magazine.

Recent work includes More Together Than Alone (Atria, 2018), Things That Join the Sea and the Sky (Sounds True, 2017), a Nautilus Book Award Winner and cited by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2017, The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting (Sounds True, 2016), a Nautilus Book Award Winner, The One Life We’re Given (Atria) cited by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2016, Inside the Miracle (Sounds True), selected by Spirituality & Health Magazine as one of the top ten best books of 2015, The Endless Practice (Atria), cited by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2014, his book of poems, Reduced to Joy (Viva Editions), named by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2013, a 6CD box set of teaching conversations based on the poems in Reduced to Joy (Sounds True, 2014), and Seven Thousand Ways to Listen (Atria), which won the 2012 Books for a Better Life Award.

Mark was part of Oprah Winfrey’s The Life You Want Tour in 2014 and has appeared several times with Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday program on OWN TV.  He has also been interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning AmericaThe Exquisite Risk was listed by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2005, calling it “one of the best books we’ve ever read on what it takes to live an authentic life.” Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship.  He continues to offer readings, lectures, and retreats.

Key Points from the Episode with Mark Nepo:

  • Mark sees himself as a life-long student and teacher, and the student part leads him to write his books.
  • He writes from a place of inquiry as he goes through life, and uses his books for people to go through an inquiry themselves (rather than just handing out answers).
  • Mark says he writes about what he needs to know, not what he knows.
  • True teachers are those who point you to your own wisdom rather than giving you theirs. There are no short cuts or how-tos.
  • Mark talks about the journey of being human, which he sees as about the constant steering and struggling to be real.
  • In the context of the journey, Mark does not see there being a destination or arrival point. It’s all journey, exploration and inquiring.
  • He used experience with a compass sailing through fog on a boat his father built – the needle never stands solidly still, pointing North. It wobbles and moves, which he sees as such a great analogy for how life works.
  • He quoted William Blake, who said, “Straight is the road to improvement, and crooked is the road to genius.”
  • Mark shared the source of the word “Genius,” which actually means “Attendant spirit.” We all have this, so we all have genius in us. It’s an interesting way for us to think about who is a genius, and whether we are willing to see the genius in us. It’s an attendant spirit that is within us to see us through the journey.
  • Mark has survived Cancer more than once, a process that taught him so much about that journey and struggle.
  • He found that we don’t have to suffer some terrible fate to really grow – we all suffer in different ways and we can all grow.
  • In his 30s, he was teaching in Albany and was a poet, and was diagnosed with a rare form of Lymphoma that showed as a tumor in his skull bone that was growing and protruding rapidly and dramatically.
  • At the same time, he wife at the time was also going through Cancer, so he was focused on her and didn’t even recognize that there was a lump protruding from his head.
  • After going into a doctor’s appointment where he got the diagnosis, he describes it like going through a door he could never go back through.
  • While he waited for his craniotomy (removal of part of his skull), he felt like the tumor’s size was fluctuating, but no one would believe him. He insisted before surgery to have another MRI, and they found that the tumor was gone.
  • That moment forced him to return to life and wonder who he was, what he was supposed to do.
  • Within 8-10 months, another tumor on his rib had progressed and presented itself, and that needed to be removed, so his battle reemerged.
  • This sparked fear in Mark as the things he used to help with his cranial tumor weren’t helping, so he had surgery to remove the rib.
  • Given the rare and aggressive form of Lymphoma he had, he had to have chemotherapy for four months, which nearly killed.
  • Along the journey, he kept being reminded of the crooked road to the attendant spirit, which required total authenticity, openness and acceptance of what it means today to get to tomorrow.
  • The process lead him to open to the beliefs of many religions, not just Judaism, which he was raised with. He found energy in affirming the common center of all paths of belief, which was so empowering and warming.
  • This also taught him that everything he does must come from his heart. His mind serves his heart today, and everything he chooses to write must come from his heart or he won’t write it.
  • Mark described a shift in his poetry through this where he wanted to write poems that helped him live. Today, in his 60s, he says he wants to be the poems, which is such a beautiful way to think about it.
  • Mark used the analogy of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon to make a point. The butterfly only does that once, while we can do that many times as we grow from different versions of ourselves. And none of those cocoons is wrong, nor were the past versions of us “bad”. They did their job, or we wouldn’t be who we are now.
  • If we think about a glass of water, it’s like us. The water is our spirit and the glass is our identity. If the glass breaks, we are still us, and we can add our spirit to another identity as we grow.
  • We all go exploration, mastery and abandonment as we go through life. We get these opportunities to go back to being the beginner in major life transition points like retirement. This brings possibility and joy.
  • This lead to the discussion of our identity to be tied to our career. Mark shared an example from Native American culture where roles shifted based on the needs of the community. Therefore, no one was defined by one thing they did, but rather by their relationship the community overall. That is a stark difference that could allow them to go through the shifts in life without facing the same sort of identity crisis many of us go through.
  • How do we lean into life and be whole-hearted? The times we really need it are the times we tend to be closed, the times when life is tougher.
  • Mark said something really powerful – fear is to be moved through, not obeyed.
  • We all get the abrasion of living. Pain is the friction of life, and we can’t avoid it.
  • The way to deal with it is to broaden our view. Don’t stay small so the pain is large relative to you. If you enlarge your sense of things, the pain will not be as great relative to all you’re seeing.
  • How you do that is within you, not something Mark can prescribe. Opening yourself to exploring that is a way to start. What makes you feel a more enlarged sense of things?
  • If you feel pain, complication, confusion or entanglement, ask yourself, “Is what’s before me heartening or disheartening? If it’s heartening, lean into it. If it is disheartening, why am I bothering?”
  • We will encounter pain and fear, and that will cause us to constrict. Our job is not to eliminate that fear or pain, but rather to open up. How do we let beauty in while we are suffering. This helps us to open up.
  • Even in moments of pain, we have to discern how bad the pain really is so we can build on those moments. As Mark shared, every pain he felt after his rib removal during his Cancer battle can’t be a 12 on a 1-10 scale, so forcing himself to see the difference helped him open up again and keep things in perspective.
  • Starting in March, Mark will be running a few year-long programs around authenticity and your own personal development practice. They start in-person with Mark in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and all have limited availability so you really get a deep, personal interaction to spark your growth.
  • You can find more about this and everything he does at marknepo.com and threeintentions.com, which is specifically focused on this program.
  • Mark ended with his own twist on “Go out and do it,” asking everyone to be as present in your heart as possible so you can remove whatever is between your heart and the world.


Subscribe to The Do a Day Podcast

Subscribe to Do a Day on Apple Podcasts Subscribe to Do a Day on Stitcher  Subscribe to Do a Day on Google Play Subscribe to the Do a Day RSS feed

Keep Growing with Do a Day

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.