When life is getting sticky and the thought of, “why me?” appears and lingers, and conversely when life just feels a little too comfortable, and I catch myself smugly believing that “Oh, I totally got this,” I seek out the words of philosopher Mark Nepo. In the fast pace of life that can sweep us up and out to extremes, Nepo’s wisdom has a way of hitting pause, of pulling us back to center and reminding us to rest in the lessons and beautiful mystery of it all.
Enjoy the (Bumpy) Ride
Some days we feel that we have a grip on it all – those days when we find a parking space, make healthy choices, seamlessly manage a work challenge, and go to bed feeling like a good parent, partner, and/or citizen. While such days fill us with gratitude, we can fall into the trap of believing that this is how every day should be. But as Nepo says:
“We’re not meant to arrive in some uninterrupted lake of peace. We’re meant to flex and grow as the living tissue of a living Universe, while affirming the Whole of Life that we serve.”
That means keeping an open heart and mind when life is seemingly doing the opposite of what we would choose, and it means having compassion for ourselves when we’re not living up to our ideals. I write a long list of to-dos every morning only to rewrite two-thirds of the list the following day. While keeping a record can help us navigate our day and give us some semblance of control, it also keeps us in a state of thinking who we are now, and what we have now, is not enough— that everything must be perfect.
“The many lists I carry in my shirt are wet. I take them out to dry and all the tasks have blurred. At last. Unreadable. Forgettable. We carry these lists near our heart and finger them like worry beads. It doesn’t matter what is on them. They are the thieves, and it is the insidious virtue to have everything in order before we live that is the greatest thief.”
Feeling the Fear and Doing It Anyway
Do we take the job? Do we move across the country? Do we have the challenging conversation with a family member? Do we commit to (or leave) a partner? These big questions that arise in life can fill us with fear, but it’s just fear, Nepo reminds us.
“And I know that every fear I’ve empowered has kept me from some wonder that would have lightened my load. I know that the damage I’ve done to myself by running from fear has hurt me more than the things I’ve feared.”
The key is to listen to our feelings. What do we truly want? And then make those tough decisions with an open heart, trusting we will be strong enough to face the outcome. If we think we won’t be able to cope with a “wrong decision” we are mistaken, says Nepo, because there is a resilience that lies within every one of us.
“Somehow, resilience comes from letting what’s unbreakable rise through the broken pieces that make up our lives. And the only way to access what’s unbreakable is through an open heart. And the only way to open our heart is by staying committed to the depth of our feelings.”
Love the Little Things
As we rush from meetings to appointments to parties to family gatherings to soccer lessons to dance classes to a date or to the gym, we miss the cloud that looks like a dinosaur. We forget we’re on a planet hurtling around a star, and we don’t see the people around us who are filled with stories that would swell our hearts. Nepo says when he stops, “the smallest things make him weep,” that there is a beautiful ache of just “being here.” How can we slow down so that we can feel such immense gratitude and awe for the simplest of things?
“It’s a secret hidden in the open, that when fully here, we can find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Beauty is everywhere. What matters is in every small thing. What gives life beams below every surface.”
We’re All in This Together
Sometimes it is overwhelming when we begin to think about the state of the world. Lately, I have found myself avoiding the news, and keeping conversations at superficial levels, so I won’t feel the anger that comes with judging the world. But Nepo proposes that we instead, redirect our attention to what precedes that judgment, which is a very natural underlying urge to protect, to help and to love. Nepo reminds us that this is the natural state of each one of us. This place of innate compassion is like a wellspring, and it can move mountains.
“We have this impulse to protect what falls, to bring water to the thirsty, to love what is hurting. Before we learn to judge and hesitate, we break surface like whales looking for each other. It’s not moral. It’s natural.”
“Though we think we’re alone, we all meet here,” says Nepo. When we remember that we are all sharing this one experience called life, it can encourage us to let down our fences, and reach out for help, and to be of help. And in doing so we may discover what Nepo has discovered, that “everyone is loveable, magnificent and flawed.”
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