Part of Oprah's morning ritual is reading Mark Nepo's Book of Awakening. So we asked him to explain how imperative it is to find the vitality that brings us all alive.
However we express it, staying connected to the sanctity of life is our deepest, most natural belief. Yet being human, we complicate ourselves away from what is life-giving and obvious. There are opinions everywhere, advice from people we love, and pressure from a world that barks at us to keep moving. How then do we discover our deepest-held belief? This is not like following a map but more like staying close to the air that will keep us alive. Part of the blessing and challenge of being human is that we must discover our own true nature. This is not some noble, abstract quest but an inner necessity. For, the way that birds fly in air and fish swim in water, our work while here becomes obvious once we find our natural element.
We can always return to our deepest belief by stilling ourselves till our heart—of its own weight—sinks below the noise of the world, below the advice of others, even below our own expectations. Once our heart is still, our mind can relax and we suddenly have the chance to hear what is natural. For, below all the useful instructions, below the many steps we're so anxious to follow, are the timeless ways of being that ready us to meet life when it calls.
Once the heart is still, we can meet our deepest beliefs by practicing openness. Consider how a flower knows when it's time to bloom. Rather than preparing itself for a particular moment, it seems that a flower stays true to a life of leaning toward the light and to a life of continually opening in the presence of light. The way to our deepest beliefs is the same. For the life of the soul opens like an unseeable flower we carry within that is always leaning toward the light, whether we want to or not. Though we have the choice whether to open ourselves to that light or not.
So when losing track of what we believe in, when wondering what work we are called to do in the world, we can still our heart till we sink below the noise of the world, and ask ourselves: Where is the light coming from today? What do I have to do to put myself in its path? What is illuminated by leaning into that light? What can we learn about ourselves and the world from listening to that sweet, resilient light? Like a flower that can't help but open, what is it our heart can't keep from doing now that it has a chance to open?
There is another important law of nature we must face as we work toward inhabiting the sanctity of life. It is the fact that everything living is worn down and broken open at some point in its journey, and when enduring that rearrangement, the seed that has been living within us, once given air, will grow out of that break. So stilling our heart and living a life of openness also means letting the unexpected break in our life heal in the light that finds us.
All of this requires a steady and quiet courage. When confused and lost, unsure what you believe in, simply put your head below your heart and lean into the light. Like a simple flower, the reward for opening to the light is that we blossom. The reward for leaning into the light is that we find our aliveness. And following our aliveness is how we meet our gifts and how our gifts meet the world. For humans, blossoming into our aliveness is the act of belief by which everything hidden becomes sweet and colorful. When a flower blossoms, it turns inside out and wears its beauty in the world. So do we.
Mark Nepo has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for more than 35 years. His new book of stories, As Far As the Heart Can See (HCI Books), is also available as an audio book from Simon & Schuster. His other books include The Book of Awakening, which was selected as one of Oprah's Ultimate Favorite Things in 2010. As a cancer survivor, Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship. Mark will be teaching a weekend workshop on The Book of Awakening at The Sophia Institute in Charleston, SC, from May 11 to 13, 2012. For more information about the workshop, visit TheSophiaInstitute.org. To learn more about Mark, please visit MarkNepo.com and ThreeIntentions.com.
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