When I found out I was going to have the opportunity to sit down with Mark Nepo, I almost cried. His New York Times best-selling Book of Awakening was given to me years ago by my wisest friend, and it was a lifeline in a time of intense despair. Mark’s poetry helped transform my anguish into awakening.
Since then, I’ve paid it forward by giving the book to loved ones on the harrowing journey of their own awakening. My husband Mike was one recipient. I didn’t know how he’d take it, because if it’s found in the “self-help” section of the bookstore, my ‘lit snob’ hubby gives it the side eye and keeps right on walking.
But over time, I started noticing that his copy was peppered with those colorful tiny post-it notes. For a guy who regularly lectures our kids on the mortal sin of dog-earing books, this was highly unusual.
The power and brilliance of Mark Nepo’s writing is that he never writes at you. His books feel like they are in conversation with you. I’ve found they evoke a response from the deepest places inside me.
So, like any self-respecting wife, I began to nosily read the marked-up sections to get a better handle on my husband’s struggles. Mark’s essays, once again, offered me a way into conversation. This time, though, it was with my spouse, at a time when we desperately needed it.
Mark Nepo’s newest book, The One Life We’re Given is an affirmation of how precious this one life is. By fully living our life, we learn when to try and when to let go. This, Mark writes, is our initiation into grace.
The One Life We’re Given was nominated as a finalist for the 2017 Books For A Better Life award, and brought Mark to New York City for the ceremony. That was where I got to watch my unflappable husband meet Mark. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized just how much Mark’s writing meant to him. Mark embodies an otherworldly tenderness that unlocks in men the ability to touch their own core.
I’m not sure how this is seared in my memory, because I averted my eyes due to the intimacy and power of this moment: Mike and Mark locking eyes, hands resting on arms. Mike sharing how much Mark’s work meant to him. And Mark receiving it with a quiet, humble grace. In that moment, Mark’s writing about intuitive, heart-centered knowing came to life. You could feel the creation of sacred space—that recognition that something essential shifts when men express themselves so vulnerably to each other.
Here, my conversation with Mark picks up in his childhood where he describes the imprint of his earliest understanding of world through metaphor. Mark gives language to the hunches, urges and sensations I feel, but struggle to name. Even today, as the author of 18 books, hundreds of interviews, dozens of awards, and tours with Oprah, he’s still got a boyish wonder and innocence as he lands on a good metaphor. Watching him is pure delight.
Mark goes on to describe the journey from his head to his heart that his cancer experience taught him. In his 30s he gave talks about living a heart-centered life, he says during our conversation, but he still lived up in his head. Now at 66, he’s way down in his heart, and exudes a pure, distilled kind of integrity that comes from years of aligning his values to his life.
“Patience,” as Mark says here, “is a stubborn and wise teacher.”
Waving a lantern in front of us to light the way, Mark Nepo’s The One Life We’re Given gently guides us back home.
And maybe this is the way it was always supposed to go down. It takes none other than Mark Nepo himself to open Mike to the wisdom and beauty of this genre, and more importantly, this life. He’s become our family’s poet laurate. Because, as Mike says, Mark is a poet not only of language, but of the heart. And that, at least to us, is the very best kind.
Read Mark Nepo's writing and follow his speaking schedule at MarkNepo.com.
Storytelling for Social Impact.
Short Stories of Fascinating Lives
This week's storyteller is Mark Nepo, author of The One Life We're Given