Mark Nepo is a poet and spiritual adviser who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for over 40 years. With over a million copies sold, Mark has moved and inspired readers and seekers all over the world with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. A beloved 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 his books have been translated into more than twenty languages.
A bestselling author, Mark has published twenty-two books and recorded fifteen audio projects. In September 2022, his twenty-third book, Surviving Storms: Finding the Strength to Meet Adversity, will be published (St. Martin’s. Essentials). Recent work includes The Book of Soul (St. Martin’s Essentials, 2020), which was honored by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2020, Drinking from the River of Light (Sounds True, 2019), a Nautilus Book Award Winner; More Together Than Alone (Atria, 2018) cited by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2018; and Things That Join the Sea and the Sky (Sounds True, 2017), a Nautilus Book Award Winner. Mark is a regular columnist for Spirituality & Health Magazine.
In 2015 Mark was given a Life-Achievement Award by AgeNation; 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. Mark appeared several times with Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday program on OWN TV, and was part of Oprah’s The Life You Want Tour in 2014. He has also been interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America.
Join Mark’s Next 1-Session Webinar: Saying Yes To Life (Dec. 11, 2022)
In his 30’s Mark was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, a struggle which helped to form his philosophy of experiencing life fully while staying in relationship to an unknowable future. 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.
Please enjoy my conversation with Mark Nepo.
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Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 121
Mark Nepo 0:00
You know, in that moment when we're riding the wave, in the life of compassion, we are one with all those who hurt. In the moment of love, we are one with love we are be in that moment of the writing the way we are love. In that moment of integrity, we are truth.
Alex Ferrari 0:30
I've been able to partner with Mindvalley. To present you guys FREE Masterclass is between 60 and 90 minutes, covering Mind Body Soul Relationships, and Conscious Entrepreneurship, taught by spiritual masters, yogi's spiritual thought leaders and best selling authors, just head over to nextlevelsoul.com/free. I'd like to welcome to the show, Mark Nepo, How you doing Mark?
Mark Nepo 1:02
Doing well, thank you. Thanks for having me. It's great to be with you.
Alex Ferrari 1:06
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've been been looking at your stuff over the years. And you've you're doing a lot of good for the world. You're trying to you're trying to spread the word. So I'm hopefully we're here to help you spread the word a little bit more about your teachings and what you've been doing. And you've had an interesting journey, to say the least. But I wanted to take you back from my first question to the day that you found a lump in the back of your head. Can you tell the audience about that day?
Mark Nepo 1:34
Yeah, so obviously, you're referring to my cancer journey years ago, and we're talking almost 35 years ago. And I was in my, my early 30s, I was teaching at Albany University and riding away and trying to find my voice and nice to have this growth that was growing on my skull bone back here. And it didn't have any pain. But it was becoming pretty obvious that there was a large, there was something large there growing. And so I finally went to a doctor and was, was told that I probably had a rare form of lymphoma. And, you know, fell into this. The heat of it was a three year journey. But I want to I want to pause here to share that, that first appointment that day. It really came back to me during a pandemic, because you know, when I, of course, I was just stunned and said, you can double check to make sure you have the right folder. And, but leaving that appointment, the door I had come through to keep that appointment was gone. There was no way back to life before that appointment. And I feel like that's what the pandemic has done to humanity. The whole world is gone. No matter how we cried and I get angry, bemoan it, it's gone. And the only thing is to love each other forward. And so, but back to you know, my journey, so I went through a three year period where that tumor was growing in my skull bone, and grew to the size of a grapefruit. Wow. Yeah, yeah, it was, you know, unbelievable. And I went through, you know, all kinds of oh god gauntlet of, of tests, and biopsies and everything, and that tumor vanished, and it was a miracle. And I was just kind of spit back out into life. And, and that was so dramatic that there was a sister tumor growing on a rib in my back, which why no one noticed I didn't notice. And about 10 months later that started to grow, and I was back in and that time, you know, the miracle appeared differently. That time, you know, I wound up having to have that rib surgically removed. And then I had to go through four months of very intense chemo, which almost killed me. And so I learned that I mean several things, but I learned that miracle is a process, not an event. And even the damn chemo was part of America. And so, you know, a couple of things that were real crucial for me, which I think just speak to is what everyone goes through. It's just when we're ill, or when we're faced with a crisis, it's in greater relief. But they're really the same spectrum of choices all human beings, sooner or later face. And so the first thing was that, you know, I before that experience, I was a driven young artist, you know. And I woke up on the other side, really, so grateful to be here, but really perplexed because my drive was gone. And I was very confusing. And I said, Wow, I'm so glad to be here. But then I lose my gift, and I lose my passion, what's going on here. And that took several months. But then I discovered that I was now drawn to things not driven. And it was actually more freeing, and deeper. And the image I've come to understand around that is, it's like a river, a mighty river, when it's going down, and its banks are steep, it's makes a lot of noise. But when it reaches the mouth of the sea, it doesn't disappear. That River joins more deeply, the greater ocean. And so it's there, but it's quieter. And that's what happened to me. My, my gift just appear differently. The other thing that happened through all of this was that before all this, I was in my head a lot. You know, and even though I was heart centered, I talked about it a lot from the head. But through no wisdom on my part, you know, I was shaken up, Inside Out upside down. And, and then after that, my everything kind of melted into my heart. And that was the center going forward. And and my mind has served my heart ever since. And the third thing, and then I'll pause is that, you know, I was raised Jewish, and I have a great tie to the Jewish heritage. But I had so many people from all walks of life, formal and informal, including atheist and scientists and Native Americans and Sufi prayer groups. I had so many people be kind enough to bless me and help me and offer things. When I woke up still here, I was not at all these later, years later, I'm still not wise enough to know what worked and what didn't. And so I feel that I was challenged to believe in everything. And so ever since then, all my work, all my books, all my teaching, I'm a student of all paths. And the count, what I feel is the common center of all paths and the unique gifts of each.
Alex Ferrari 8:07
You know, it's really interesting when you say being drawn and driven. And that's something really interesting because when you're driven, it's coming from the mind, it's coming from the head, when you're being drawn, it's coming from spirit, it from my interpretation of it. And throughout my life, I've been driven. I too, am a driven artist. So I understand that. And only now is I get older, do I realize that guess there's a certain amount of drive, you need to get the ball rolling, you know, you got to, you know, you got to get up gotta get out of the house. You know, you gotta you gotta you gotta submit things, you got to do the work, and you got to do that. And that's, that's fine. But being drawn to a certain mission being drawn to a certain idea of why you are here. And how that works into you, being an artist, or whatever your skill set might be, is something that I'm working through as we speak. So it's really interesting when you said that I really just checked something in my head really quickly don't want us to kind of dive deeper into that. Because I feel that so many of us are we we live our lives through our head, our mind our logic. And just think too much. Yeah, and not feel enough. And I know that might sound woowoo to people listening, if you're listening to this show, you're pretty woowoo but in general,
Mark Nepo 9:36
It's essential. It's essential, it's only called woowoo by people who are uncomfortable with exploring it so correct. So let's look a little bit. Yeah, effort and grace. And and, you know, I believe in effort because I don't know when grace is going to show up. And so Will you know in terms of writing, I push the pen until it pulls me you know. And I,
Alex Ferrari 10:05
Oh, I love that I'm sorry, I have to stop there for a second that is such a great quote there. I push the pen until it pulls me. And and and I've spent on my other shows, I speak to a lot of high end Oscar winning writers and things like that. I've never heard anyone say it like that. So you type in now you move the fingers on the keyboard until someone else takes control of
Mark Nepo 10:31
This, this goes. So let's look at effort in Grayson. Yeah. And about this deep sense of being drawn to things versus driven. And so, you know, grace for me is when a great image for this is sir is surfing. So the effort surfer paddles out again, gets through the surf gets out there, waits, paddles, and then if they're lucky and blessed, there's a wave. Now it doesn't matter. If it's a small wave, it's a great way of if it's a once in a lifetime, we have no way of last forever. But the boat for the duration at the surfer is riding the wave, they are one with the way. And then the wave ends. And you're thrown back into effort. And you may come back on shore, or you may paddle back out. But But this rhythm between effort and grace, and we can use that to talk about whether it's creativity or compassion or care. You know, in that moment, when we're riding the wave, in the life of compassion, we are one with all those who hurt. In the moment of love, we are one with love, we have been in that moment of the writing the way we are love. In that moment of integrity, we are truth. And because we're human beings, no one can stay there. But those moments of grace of unity, not oneness. They inform everything. They inform the rest of our life. We learn from them, I've learned from them, I grow from them. And then I come back and unsure and go, Wow, what's his hat? What's going on there? What happened? So, so a lot of this when we when we look at it? Yeah, I think that humbly we have very little control in life, we basically can control our presence and our absence. And I think everything comes from our presence, which means holding nothing back, giving over being completely open hearted. And, and so when I'm, when I'm confused or troubled, or in fear or pain, I tried to give my full attention to the nearest piece of life, it could be dust on a windowsill. I give my full attention until it becomes my teacher. I give over completely. And so this leads to the difference between giving attention and getting attention. So yeah, we do we have to do the work. We have to you know, I mean, even no doesn't matter about whether it's creative or not, you want a job, you got to make a resume you're getting you're saying, Hey, give me a look. That's fine. And that's necessary in the outer world of circumstance, when we get in trouble is when we take that getting attention to to identify our worth, our worth comes from giving attention to our worth calm, you know, when I was a before I had language for this as a boy, you know, I, I wonder came by giving attention by recognizing and verifying and in truth I, I initially started writing or two reasons. I mean, one one was I would see something amazing, and then it will be gone. And I can wait a minute wait, wait, I didn't get it, you know, like, and I would write to keep like like taking a verbal snapshot to keep the wonder in view a little longer, a little longer. Now, of course, the second reason I started writing was because the first woman in high school that I love dumped me and broke my heart and, and I wasn't a loner, but I didn't have close friends till college. So that was a way to start healing. And of course, as I started healing, I realized I wasn't talking to myself, I hadn't begun a conversation with the universe.
Alex Ferrari 14:52
So to go back to that analogy of the wave and the surfer many of us do the effort. And when you're driven, you're constantly going out to try to catch the wave. But at a certain point, the ego comes into play. And it believes that by the effort that you're doing you are either entitled to the wave or you actually control the wave that's coming. And that's where I am. I mean, am I wrong in that? Is that a fair?
Mark Nepo 15:17
No, absolutely. And that's one of our human frailties.
Alex Ferrari 15:22
Right. But so doing the effort, it's kind of like showing up. And like, as a writer, we show up every day we write. And then occasionally, the Muse shows up, and something comes through you. But you have to show up every day, a lot of the writers I've spoken to over the years, they say, I just show up at eight o'clock every day in the morning to start writing, I let them use know that I'll be there, if she wants to show up, she'll know where I'm at. But you need to go every day, and be there to let them do this, to let her know where you are.
Mark Nepo 15:55
Well, and part of the difference between being driven and drawn is that when we show up, we and this is why it's to me more of a relationship than the fact. You know, so let me back up a second. So in the Western world, we tend to, through the ego, we pump ourselves up as artists, regardless of the foil, like we're little gods, Oh, absolutely. Create everything at all,
Alex Ferrari 16:21
We have a little world and we have our own little universe.
Mark Nepo 16:23
And, and that's just not true. You know, we are living parts in a living whole who LA and it's a relationship it with the unknown, it's a relationship of the part with the Living Universe. And therefore, once the effort is put in, we have to be open to discover what's there to let live writing over the years has become listening and taking notes. Not directing material where I think it should go. And so you know, when I was young, like all writers and all artists, really, I was taught to be on the lookout for good material. Well, almost dying from cancer. One of the other gifts I was given was the lens of the miraculous, that is, everything's part of the miracle, and everything's miraculous. So if I'm open hearted and present enough, everything is worth exploring, is worth putting words to is worth listening to. And therefore it's not about good material. It's about verifying the miracle of what is in a specific detail as possible. And that's where stories come that you can't make up. You know, that's where images that's where you overhear a conversation and there's some truth in it. And so and then we like prospect inner prospectors, we pick it up and go, Oh, my God, what's here? So this is one of the hardest thing to teach young writers is Me too. When I was young, you know, you finally have a vision, you have something you think is worth exploring or writing about or putting down and, and then you put all that effort in, and then it doesn't stand still. And then it doesn't, you know, and we in our ego think, Oh, I missed I didn't aim right. I missed it. No, it says if when you put in enough effort and work, just like you were saying other people have said, it says if the Muse I will go even beyond the Muse and say the Living Universe, the the the essential presence of spirit says, Okay, now that I see you're serious, I'm going to show you what this is really about. Pay attention.
Alex Ferrari 18:55
So you also mentioned a little while ago that you found your voice. And I know you I think you meant the voice as a writer. But I think you also meant it as a deeper, deeper concept of finding your voice where it could be an M interpreting it as you found your mission, your purpose in what you're here to do in this life. So many of us have problems finding that purpose. What advice do you have for people who are lost who are, you know, in the rat race or just unhappy or just don't feel where there needs to be? Because I know from myself, I've took me a while to find what I'm doing. And find the love for it because I was angry. Probably over a decade. Easily angry until I like oh, this is this is where I need to be. So took me a while to find my own voice my own mission in life. So what advice do you have for people who are struggling? Well,
Mark Nepo 19:55
I think and again, you know, for when we talk like this which is wonderful. Well, I want to be clear that I don't have any answers. What I share are examples, not instructions. We're just comparing notes. Fair enough, fair enough. All we can do. And so from my experience, you know, I have found that the most important thing is to follow what will bring your heart alive. And the rest will become your teacher. So, you know, it's while it's understanding, what's my purpose, what can I do? How can I make that happen? You know, I think, when we start out by just I often now offer this question this kind of daily inventory, to ask whatever's before you, is it heartening or disheartening? If it's heartening, amen. If it's disheartening, what am I doing there, regardless of what my mind says, and then you start to build a reservoir of, of resources, that are heartening, and you know, the soul, I believe, this is the difference to me between the call of the soul and the souls calling the call of the soul. The Call of the soul is, I believe the soul, it just wants your heart to be as alive as possible. And just like fire, a fire doesn't care what kind of wood you put on it. Elm, pine, cherry, now, and I think the soul, it doesn't matter to the soul, what form of care you put on it. Care makes the soul burn bright. And through care we discover where we can apply that aliveness in life. So you might love to help things grow. In we need to nurture that there are many forms that can take, you could be a therapist, you could be a teacher, you could be a gardener, you could, there's all kinds of things. So but the most important thing is to nurture how the heart comes alive. And then it'll become apparent, you know, where that can be of most use. So there's another metaphor I like to use for this. And that's of a wooden match. So we all know that the tip of that match in the phosphorus that the flame is dormant there. It does not release its light or heat until it strikes against the surface. So to our gifts, our gifts are dormant until they strike against the needs of the world. And they come alive. And so often, you know, there was a great, this is why the inextricable link between inner work and service. So there was a great Hindu teacher Ramana Maharshi, from the 80s. Yeah, Ramana Maharshi, among many things, but he said this about, he said, to try to save the world, without first liberating yourself is like carpeting the earth rather than wearing sandals. Oh, oh, gosh. Yeah. Yeah, to try to save the world without first liberating yourself is like carpeting the earth rather than wearing sandals. And that's why it's so important to do the inner work to find what brings your heart alive, and then see where that can be of service. So okay, go ahead.
Alex Ferrari 23:53
So let me ask you a question. Because I'm gonna go a little deeper, dig a little deeper into this concept, because many times you as a soul will have a gift. Let's say, you know, a certain gift is singing, and you're very good at singing. And you love singing, and you truly love it, and you go down the path of becoming a singer. But it doesn't work out in the way that your mind thinks it should. You should be a big star or you should be, you know, have a record deal or you should be making money or making a living at singing. But yet the talent is there and the love is there. It really does feel the heart up. And only years later after struggle. Do you discover that the skill sets that you learned along the way while you were singing played a part in the bigger mission, that you needed that element in order to create the bigger mission that you're truly are to do. And that's a very difficult pill for a lot of people to swallow. And, in many ways, so
Mark Nepo 25:07
Let's let let me speak into that this way. So and this has to do with again, whether we're getting giving attention or getting attention, or we are because we, we tend in this world to commodify everything, including our souls. So, you know, we're not so you're you're Yeah, you're in the urine school yard and at recess, you're spinning around, and you're singing, and your teacher says, you know, you got a great voice, you'd be, you should be a singer. Okay? And that's fine. And maybe you devote yourself to that or not, but then something happens. And when we say, well, how do I know I'm a singer, if someone tells me I am if I'm recorded, if I, you know, perform good deals, or at a club, and that is a way of, that's one path. But that has nothing to do. So what happens is, we go out into the world, and we become a noun. But what's life giving? What brings the soul alive is stay a verb, if you like singing, just sing,
Alex Ferrari 26:23
For the love of singing.
Mark Nepo 26:24
Well, the singing is what brings your soul alive. Yes, if you want to do that, and it's frustrating, and you don't get recognized. That's its own journey. And that's difficult. And there's rejection, and there's a whole other set of things we learn by going through that, that has nothing to do with our worth. That's a separate journey. Be a separate journey. So you know, there's a great, there's a novel by Aldous Huxley, the philosophy philosopher, wrote the perennial philosophy and was a novel called antic hay. And it set in the, in the early part of the 1900s, in London, and it has his clique of artists and writers, and they all gather at this cafe, and they're, you know, having wonderful conversations, but the one painter in the group, this guy, he's the main character. And when you're with him, he has a vision like nobody has ever, ever had. He's just what he sees. And what he understands about painting is just phenomenal. He can't paint. He doesn't paint, well, he can't, when he goes to put it on the canvas, it doesn't work. But he's so passionate and, and has such a love and is so alive, more alive than all these other people. And they come together and the other more intellectual people in the circle, they actually kind of make fun of him without him knowing it by asking him questions, and he leaves in a tea. But the whole point of the novel by Huxley is who's the real artists? Is it all these intellectual Zaros? Who are swinging their swords everywhere? Or is it this painter who sees more deeply into the mystery of life? But he doesn't have the skill to put it on the canvas. So who's the real artist?
Alex Ferrari 28:29
So my question to you is, if he has that great skill? Why hasn't the Why hasn't he was answering my own question, as I'm telling asking it to you, because he has lessons to learn around that. And that's something they asked to walk through. I mean, we can use Van Gogh as an example. Sure. I mean, he painted obsessively throughout his life, never had an ounce of recognition. He died penniless. And yet now considered one of the greatest artists of all time. And that was it lessons he went mad, you literally wasn't in a sanitarium
Mark Nepo 29:04
II and Monet, you know, we're seeing more deeply than any paint, just to that point. And in fact, the French Prime Minister at the time, Clemenceau, who was a friend of Monet's, this was at the same time that the microscope was being discovered and, and, and Clemenceau said about, especially about Monet and Van Gogh, because, you know, at the beginning, people weren't accepting Impressionism. They were going, what's going on here? And he said, No, you don't understand painters like Monet and Van Gogh are like human microscopes they are seeing at the they are seeing at the level of energy. So that, you know, there's a whole nother thing about why Van Gogh didn't get strength from what he knew and that's not to fault him. It's it's, you know, it was tragic and, and we can learn And from that, but the inner rewards, the aliveness I came, you know, so this brings up the difference between. And this is not just for artists, this is for any soul on earth, the different and this is archetypal, we all go through this the difference between what we want and what we're given. And in my life, at least, I have learned that it doesn't mean, you know, there's nothing wrong with working for what you want, and having goals and ambitions. But I think, I think we all hold them too tightly, we make Gods we want something or we see it and we make a God out of it. And the truth is, that I have discovered my gifts. Because working for what I want has often turned out to be an apprenticeship for working with what I've been given.
Alex Ferrari 31:00
It's very interesting too, because if you look at you know, let's say someone is born extraordinarily beautiful, they have physical gifts beyond you and I. And everywhere they walk, they're this, they're magnets for people, as as beautiful people tend to be. And many of them like, oh, you should be an actor, you should be a model. And that is what they've been given. They've been given this amazing tool, this amazing gift. Some go down that path, but others were like, Nah, you know, what I really want to do, I want to be a scientist, I really, really just want to help the world that way. But they are stunning. I mean, ridiculous, stunning. And it's interesting that certain people choose things many times in life, that don't associate closely with what gifts they've been given, regardless if they want to go down those roads. And they might have to just be a test. Like, if you're given this gift, the universe is like, Okay, let's see where they go with this. Because so many people throughout their life are going to continue to tell them, you should model oh my god, you're so beautiful, oh, this or that. And to maintain a place of being wanting to give, and to give attention, as you said, as opposed to get attention. And to give being a scientist, let's say, or a writer or an intellectual, whatever it is, even hospice, whatever. It's fascinating, and I've seen people like that met people like that. And then I've met the other people who have no business trying to be a model or an actor, and are angry and bitter because they're not getting where they want to go. But I'm like, those aren't the gifts that you were given. It's something you want. And I love that concept is it's what something you want. And then instead of using what you've been given, so I always use the example like I, let's say, I want to be an NFL player. I don't have those gifts, nor the age at this point. Though Tom Brady does give us hope. But generally speaking, it's I might, and I did want that when I was younger, as many young boys do. But eventually, I realized I don't have what it takes to get to that place. So you let that kind of go to the side. It's just a fascinating conversation. Well, I
Mark Nepo 33:24
think that I think that one of the paradoxes that we have to face as human beings as a spirit in a body and time on Earth, is the fact that the Spirit in us simply wants to be, we don't have to become anything. It is we and our humanists to say, Well, can I do something with it? Now, you know, we don't have to do anything. We don't have to become an amine and a great teacher for this are flowers. This consider how it let's look at this little closely that a flower, a flower, whether they're planted or whether it's wildflowers, they start with a seed in the ground. So that seed before it has any experience of light. It starts growing full force toward an element if it doesn't have any conception of it hasn't experienced light, and yet it's growing toward it so forcefully that it finally breaks ground. Now it grows in two directions. It grows inwardly and outwardly, it grows roots and shoots. And then when it's strong enough, it starts to form the flower itself. And when a flower blooms, what is it actually doing? It is revealing its beauty by turning inside out. That's what a blossom is. And it does this without going anywhere, I think this is a good model for what it is to be a soul on earth. Now we have all yeah, there's lots of places to go and things to do. But that's, again, not. That's not at the core of our being. So, you know, it's not about oh, well, therefore she should just sit around and meditate all the time. No, we I, we we should be out doing things and bringing that energy and light and care wherever we go. But it's not. Let me give you a story. This is a wonderful to two stories. One is from a about the story of a Japanese monk Tetsu. Logan lived in the 1700s. And his call his vision, what he wanted to do from a very young, early ages, the talks of Buddha had not yet been translated into Japanese. And he said, That's my thing. I want to do that. I'm going to do that. And he had an artist friend, he said, Look, you do, you will carve these beautiful woodblock prints, and I'll translate the toxic Buddha, and we'll go around and beg for money to publish it. And we'll do this. So they, they were very passionate as young men, they started out they worked. And about eight, nine years into it. The northwest part of Japan, where tetsubin came from how to flood like Katrina, gave all the money away, started over, kept translating, his friend kept painting and drawing and school doing woodblocks and then printing them. And they they again, another 1012 years, they and now there will there was a famine in another part of Japan. But after the first thing, he said, Well, just because I didn't grow up with these people. What's the difference? He gave it all away. And after 25 years, Susan published the holy talks of Buddha in Japanese for the first time with those beautiful prints. And today, there is an original copy in the museum in Kyoto. And under it, there's a plaque that reads in his lifetime, Tetsu Kun published three versions of the holy text, only one is visible. And
Alex Ferrari 37:33
it's beautiful. That is beautiful as
Mark Nepo 37:37
one is visible. Now, here's an example that he he was called to translate the talks of Buddha, the teachings of Buddha. He was really meant to do that by embodying it and living it. writing it in words in another language was what he thought he was supposed to do. Now he was able to do both. He did what he wanted. And he did what he was given. It doesn't always work that way. Sometimes what we want burns up to ignite what we're given. You know, so here's another small story this is. So this is just one to refer to, to, you know, everything we're talking about is at the heart of one of my books called drinking from the river of life, a life of expression. The entire book is about all of this story, I'm going to tell it's a very short story. And it'd be it opens a book of teaching stories of mine called as far as the heart can see. So in this story, there's a professional cyclist, like a Tour de France cyclist, and he is into it. I mean, he's got all the state of the art equipment, he's training, and he shaved all the hair on his body. So he has no resistance. And he's ready. And you know, the day of the race comes, the first leg is out in the country. And he's doing so well. In the first mile or two that they come over a hill. He's coasting at a great speed down the hill, and briefly, he's so far ahead, you can't see the other cyclists. And as he comes down to bottom of the hill, coasting out of nowhere, a great blue heron with its wings spread swoops over his handlebars. And he's, he's stunned. And he literally stops and straddles his bike. The other racers are catching up. And he stops because the Heron has opened something he's been chasing. And now, we flash ahead several years, and he's living where he's living and he's looking in the woods behind his house. And once in a while, if you ask him what caused you the race, you'll say I didn't lose the race. I left it that's an analogy
Alex Ferrari 39:59
For lies I've ever heard of one.
Mark Nepo 40:02
And now Now you, you know, somebody will hear that story and say, Well, that's all very poetic. But he did lose the race. He didn't come in first. But I hold it differently. Because I think he trained to meet the Heron which changed his life. And if you told him, he was training to me to heroin, he wouldn't have trained.
Alex Ferrari 40:28
Oh, my God, it's just this is like a therapy session for me and Mark, I appreciate this. Like, it's so many things are flying in, like, I'm just using my own life in my head going, Oh, God, he's right.
Mark Nepo 40:42
Well, so so. So what? Often, we that's why it's important to have goals, but to hold them loosely, because we train for what we can see. So that when, when the Heron appears, whatever form it's in, we don't miss it. We go all Oh, and so let me back up just to our earlier conversation about creative process. So when I retrieved that story, which I say rather than wrote it, I didn't know that was going to happen. I didn't know the Heron was going to show up. I'm not that smart. Now. But the vote and I share this because it's an introspective process, not just the creative process, I pursued the story, and what felt true. And the reward is that I was shown, okay, now we're going to give you the Heron
Alex Ferrari 41:48
It's so fascinating, because I mean, I'll use my I'll use my life as an example, as we should, as teachers, we use our own experiences. And for most of my life, my goal was to be a professional filmmaker. And I had decent success, I made a living. Let's just put it that way. I made a living doing that for over 25 years. And so many of the skill sets that I picked up along the way, got me to start a podcast seven years ago. And what who did I interview filmmakers, because that's what I know. And those skill sets grew. And a lot of the things that I a lot of the tools in the toolbox that I've picked up over the years, I'm now using on a show like this. Now, if you would have told me that you're going to have a spiritual
Mark Nepo 42:44
Podcast 20 years ago,
Alex Ferrari 42:49
I would have said, What's a podcast. But secondly, let's say a radio show, I would have said you're absolutely mad, I would never do anything. I'm not that I'm not that guy. So it's really interesting to start looking at all of that. And then where I've found, I've truly found my happiness is doing this. It's this is remarkable to me. And I've been dealing with this and kind of coming to grips with this for the last five, five years, let's say, of my journey, because first it was a little side hustle, then all of a sudden, I'm like, no, no, I really kind of like this. Really enjoy this. And then it really kicked into high gear when I started this show over a year ago, which is like, you know what I feel like, I'm good at the filmmaking and screenwriting side, that's great, but I really want to go deeper. And then I launched this show, and then I had a lot my own journey with this show. But it's fascinating, everything we're talking about I can I could just start picking out parts of my life, where it makes sense, because there was no one more driven than me in regards to working hard for the dream that I had. And that dream is not gone. It sits there in the back. And I still work but it doesn't have the importance. I'll tell you what, when I first started that dream, it was about getting attention. It was not about giving attention, where now any projects that I walk into, are starred in that space is about serving, it's about giving to others, and not as much about me getting the attention. And that's a very big distinction.
Mark Nepo 44:30
That's beautiful. That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. So honestly, too, because it's because so many of us experienced this and this is, you know, every pore and so the dream. I mean, the lesson of the Heron is that the dream gets transformed right into something we couldn't have imagined. And actually, you know, it actually opens us up to new ways of being deeper. ways of being relating to life. And, you know, you know, likewise for me, you know, I was teaching at Auburn University when I, when my cancer journey hit me. And, you know, I was hoping, hoping maybe if I worked hard enough, maybe I'd write one or two poems that might be great and be added to the literature. And then, you know, all of a sudden, I'm in the hospital forget writing great poems, right? I need to discover true poems that would help me live. And now all these years later, I just want to be the poem.
Alex Ferrari 45:42
You're right. You're absolutely right. So with everything that we've been saying, Mark, is there. I mean, there's so many people, I think most people have a problem with everything we're talking about here. It's a journey. It's life's journey is generally life's journey. What can we do in your experience in your, your notes that you've taken on your life that you can give us in regards to how we can connect higher, connect more to spirit to be more of that? Giver her of attention, then get her attention?
Mark Nepo 46:16
Well, I think again, my experience is that so much comes back to being fully present. You know, the difficult things in life make us recoil, you know, fear, pain, confusion and despair. You know, they make us go up, and we get tight, we pull back. And our job in those moments, is to go the other way and lean in. And that takes a quiet courage, because everything's telling you I have already been lean in. Wow. Now, that's exactly when we need to lean in, lean in wholeheartedly. And no one being human beings. No one can do it all the time. But I'm committed to being wholehearted, even though sometimes, because I'm human. I'm half hearted. Okay, so a commitment to hold nothing back. And a commitment to a life of question is sorely needed today, you know, because when we're too certain about what we think we know, then all we start to do is look for things that will confirm what I already know. That's not education. Education is thank god, you're not me. Tell me something I don't know. Because we're more together than alone. So I think in very detailed, like specific ways, I invite anyone who's listening to begin a journal of aliveness that Chronicles and bears witness to your own rhythms of aliveness. That is, when are you wholehearted? What was what what triggered that? Did it come from within? Did it come from without? Was it being with a certain person? Was it being in nature? Was it singing? Was it reading? Was it? You know, what was it what were the conditions do make your life, your case, study your inner life, your case study so that you can learn, you can become intimate with your own nature. And as we become more intimate with our own nature, we start to understand what brings us alive. And that's the teacher. That's the teacher. In the Hindu tradition, there's a term Rupa guru, which means the teacher that is next to you at this moment. There's always a teacher next to you at this moment.
Alex Ferrari 48:50
Absolutely. Absolutely. And at this moment that is user for me. Without question, now, and you said something really interesting, that we should look for other ideas, other things, teach me things that I don't know. Don't look for things that reinforce what I know. And do you believe that that is what's going on in the world today that we are all boxing ourselves up with social media and so many things that we just keep hearing our same thoughts reinforced again and again, when
Mark Nepo 49:29
In talking about where we are today. And of course I don't have any answers I'm as I'm as mystified and frustrated as everyone about how we are where we are. But that's a whole deep conversation which could take a whole nother hour but let me in to speak to it. You know, my new book is coming out just in September called Surviving storms. And, and in there, I open that book with my my guest said how we are where we are. And I think so just to touch on a couple other things? Because yes, let me kind of flesh out a little more what you were starting to suggest. I think that there's kind of a perfect storm of a lot of different things that have been going on for a couple of 100 years. And you know, so but right now in our age, I think there's a large part of our society that have lost their direct connection to life. And without that, we also lose our reverence for life. And so all the things we've been talking about not only are good for the individual, but they're good for society, because only by restoring our direct connection of life, can we revere life, and then we will hurt each other. I mean, one of the things that was so like, baffling in to me, when I witnessed on TV, the insurrection in January 6, that year ago was, these people were, forget, cause forget why forget what these people were barbarically violent. And at the same time, they were taking pictures of themselves, right? They were so dissociated, violent and dissociated, as if they were in a video game. Right? So, so one of the things is that without that direct connection of life, we and and you look at the advent of reality TV culture over the last 50 years, we have lost touch with what is real. And violence, at some level, is a last attempt to feel distorted last attempt to feel the defeat, the need to feel doesn't go away. So, you know, we have all these things, you know, one of the things is that so this reality TV culture, for instance, I don't think anybody designed it, but it's a vicarious way. You know, it's interesting, everybody wants to be a celebrity when everyone is secretly aching for something real to celebrate. termination. So, you know, what happens is you're invested, you're in, you're alone in your home, your apartment, you're invested in these shows, you're voting, you think it gives you the illusion that you have a relationship. And then you expend all this heart and energy. And then it's over, you turn it off, and you're still alone. And so, what's happened, what I one level is, you know, you go back into Roman times the Roman Colosseum, the Roman Colosseum was deliberately created to dissipate rebellious energy of the masses. That is, they got people all revved up watching gladiators and lions and all this stuff. And then when they went home, they didn't have enough energy to demand a better life. Yeah, so today, the whole reality TV culture, I know the Romans, they were they designed that. I don't think anybody designed it in the modern world, I think it's the today that's our inadvertent virtual Coliseum. So people have lost their connection to life, that have dissipated their energy to do anything about it. And then you put on the whole social media that we're all in our bubbles. And so there's all this energy coming out that at the world is gone as we've known it. And so there's all this energy coming out that is it where intensity is mistaken for meaning. Intensity is just stimulus. It's not meaning. And so how do we how do we get out of this? I don't know. But I do believe that all the tools from all the traditions are not abstract. They are tools waiting to be used for times like this, and this happens to be our turn. You know, in my parents generation, it was World War Two. Now regeneration is challenged with something as to are we going to choose love over fear? Are we going to show up? Are we going to be kind are we or are we going to hunker down and self interest and so it's kind of our turn.
Alex Ferrari 54:47
So our great art, great war social media in many ways. All of these shows because you know what, look, social media. Is it like any tool? It is wonderful. And it could be damaging could be useful tool.
Mark Nepo 55:02
It's a tool.
Alex Ferrari 55:03
It's a tool, and I see many people spreading much love and information and good knowledge out there and making people think through social media. And then there's the other side as well. Just like a hammer could kill somebody, it can build a house. Absolutely. It's it's a tool. So where we're at is, it's so interesting, because I'm sure you've ended, I'm sure in your book as well that you talk about. It's not just one thing that's off. There's 1000 things that seems like there's so much happening now where it's political strife, economic strife, environmental strife. There's so much stuff happening political, everyone's so divided, more so than I mean, I know we've been divided politically in in the past, there's no question, especially here in the United States. But there's something different about this. It's really it's a really different. So there's so much going on, it seems like some and also the pandemic as well. There seems to be something that is very much like you said at the beginning of our conversation, your lump is what is the equivalent of what is happening to us, not just with the pandemic, I think in the list of the other things that just said, are, are the the cancer scare for society, because something has to change, we can't keep moving towards the end,
Mark Nepo 56:32
I think I think that you know, what the things we're facing are real. Yeah. And so not to minimize them. And I would offer that if you imagine, you know, take a look at my me physically, my body, if I have one more healthy cell than toxic, I'm considered healthy, I'd like a lot more. But as long as I got one, I'm leaning toward health. Humanity is a global body. Every soul is a cell in that body. So everything we do, including our conversation, everything we do, that is life giving is one more healthy cell in the global body. And we have to stay committed to that. And then the other thing I would share is in doing work on another book that I did more to call more together than alone, I was looking at community across history and different cultures and and you know, in the Middle Ages in Europe, which we call the Dark Ages, actually, the rest of the world at that time was pretty enlightened. It was just Europe. We whitewash it. Oh, it's the whole world was dark, no hints.
Alex Ferrari 57:43
It was pretty India, they were pretty, they're on the right path of
Mark Nepo 57:46
China, Asia, right, everybody had some, even the
Alex Ferrari 57:49
Native Americans had it more together.
Mark Nepo 57:53
In Europe, for only 10% of the European population was literate. That 10% kept literacy alive for over 300 years. So if we are in a dark time, or if we are in a strident time, when we are awake, because we take turns being awake and asleep, when we are awake, it is incumbent on us to keep the literacy of the heart alive. Not to be snuffed out. That's absolutely beautiful.
Alex Ferrari 58:27
There was something that you said in another, an interview I saw called the notion of shadow. I think it's important to kind of bring that concept into where this conversation because I think as it relates,
Mark Nepo 58:44
Yeah, so. So the know the notion of shadow, and that's not mine, that really was coined by or imagined by Carl Jung. And then the Great, the great psychologist of the unconscious, and what he talked about was that and shadow wasn't bad, or evil or dark, it was the unconscious or unlooked at parts of our humanity in parts of our mind and heart. And by not looking at that, not processing it and looking at it, it gets empowered and it comes out sideways. So, you know, in, in a person's life, if, you know you have a fear of something, it can come out sideways if you don't face it, you know, and in our society, we can see whole groups of our society or I think, in my opinion, are acting out of shadow right now. You know, people wanting something to believe in and they're believing in hoaxes. You're so desperate for something to believe in. That They'll give their entire passion
Alex Ferrari 1:00:01
And life possibly, and life.
Mark Nepo 1:00:05
You know, the last week or whatever, excuse me last week or whatever. After the FBI search, Trump's Mar a Lago, some guy shows up, it's Cincinnati, FBI. And dice gives his life for what? For what? Yeah. So what's going on there? I don't know, I wasn't him. But in the context of our conversation, I would conjecture to say that the, with a disconnection from life that direct disconnection from life, and still needing to believe and have the experience, and aliveness of believing in something
Alex Ferrari 1:00:49
That's so latched on to the nearest thing. So regardless, regardless of where you're at, in life, your connection or wanting or needing to connect to life, never goes away, never goes away. So if you don't get it in a positive way, you will find another way, like you said, violence just to feel we need to feel. And if we can't get it one way, we're gonna get it another, it's kind of like children, like, I need attention, and I'm going to get good attention or bad attention doesn't matter what kind of attention I'm going to get. But they need, they need the attention. So it's the job of the parent to give them either positive or negative attention, depending on what they're
Mark Nepo 1:01:32
Using all the all the traditions in one way or another speak about, speak about wellness, as inhabiting our kinship with all of life, and speak about disease, dis ease, or as, as the illness is being disconnected from that kinship with other life, and ultimately with ourselves.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:03
So when there is some sort of disease within our body, because I and I've talked a lot about health on the show, and I've had a lot of experts on the show in regards to body health. And a lot of people don't understand that the body is built to be healthy. It is designed to be healthy at all times. If not, it would be a horrible machine. You know, it's that it's, it's it wasn't made in Detroit to fail in 10 years. Like that's not that's not what it's built to do. So when there's diseases because the fuel you're in jack and jack, Burt, you know, giving it is not proper, or there's other things, environmental things, or even just emotional baggage that you don't deal with. So brings me to my question to you, what do you think was the cause of both of those lumps in your life, other than, obviously, the catalyst to the spiritual mission? And that could be the end of it. But do you think there was
Mark Nepo 1:03:05
Other things that I think that. I feel that we don't, cause. I don't think anybody causes their own cancer? Sure. But I do think that we contribute to how things show up. So for example, if there's a bridge, and there's a weak point in the bridge, when a hurricane comes, that's where it's going to break. So, I don't think I caused the cancer, but it's not by accident, that that tumor appeared on the creative side of my brain, right? Because I was so driven. I was out of balance. Right. So that was the weak point in my bridge. So I think that we can tribute to whereas the, you know, no one, I don't think anyone creates their own. I mean, certainly, in certain cases, like if you drink
Alex Ferrari 1:04:06
And you're smoking or drugs, but as we get more
Mark Nepo 1:04:11
Into the, you know, out of the addictive cycle, that in the, in the, quote, normal spectrum, you know, it's like trees that that, you know, they get nixed, they get disease, they get worms, they, you know, then there's parts branches fall off and storms Well, human beings. We're no different. We're no different and we keep the lifeforce going and, and then we adapt and we heal and we grow around the scars that come our way. And it's incumbent, yes, it was incumbent on me. I mean, I was thrown into being drawn and not being driven, but I had to understand how I contributed to that while I was driven so I didn't reengage that on the other side. Fair enough.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:02
Are you afraid of dying? And what do you think happens once we do?
Mark Nepo 1:05:07
Well, I'm not, you know, I'm not afraid of death. I am afraid of the process to get there.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:17
Everybody wants to go to heaven, but just not now. Yeah.
Mark Nepo 1:05:21
You know, I mean, you know, suffering the way I did during my cancer journey to imagine, you know, dying being like that frightens me. And that doesn't mean that's how that appear will appear when it's time. So I'm but I don't of course, you know, I don't know, no one knows. But I, I think that it's quite possible that we disperse. And you know, I love the Hindu notion of energy and life force. And it talks about, you know, it has its own Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. And Brahma is the, the eternal, formless, indestructible spirit, that it's like the sky, it's like air. And then that enters you and me and the microphone and my, you know, my glass of water and my dog and it enters the life of forms. And no form can last forever. And so that then Shiva comes and Shiva is known as the transformer. Except in the West, we call it the destroyer, because we self centered li say, well, that's when I'm doing my form will die, I'm going to die. But what that's doing is releasing that universal portion of spirit back into Brahma. So, you know, I think that it's quite possible that and it's just a guess. But, you know, we in the West, think of reincarnation is too we make too much of a cartoon out of it. Right? And of course, in every one comes, you know, was or comes back as King Tut.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:11
Obviously, I was I was obviously, Alexander the Great, right, obviously, but
Mark Nepo 1:07:17
I think, you know, it makes more sense like nature, that, you know, perhaps when I die, part of me will become part of the wind and maybe part of me will become part of the nail that holds the barn together, and maybe part of me will become the comb that some young, innocent girl will find her own beauty with and who knows, right? That's it.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:48
I just wanted to ask you that question, because I was really interested to hear your answer. Now, Mark, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all of my guests. What is the definition? What is your definition of living a good life?
Mark Nepo 1:07:59
Oh, my definition living a good life is being fully present with an open heart to to inhabit heaven here.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:16
What is your mission in this life?
Mark Nepo 1:08:20
Oh, simply to be open hearted and kind.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:29
And what is the ultimate purpose of life?
Mark Nepo 1:08:31
The ultimate and this sounds kind of like it's tautology. But I think the ultimate purpose of life is to animate, to animate everything with life, to have everything be as fully alive as possible. And the rest will take care of itself. You know, Thomas Merton, who was a wonderful Trappist monk and a great writer who believed in all the traditions and he said, you know, if we truly beheld each other, we would fall down and worship each other. And so you know, the purpose of life is just to live out in the open because you know, what, everything, everything in nature, every plant, every tree, every bush grows to the light. So we let our light out will just grow to each other.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:21
Beautiful, and where can people find out more about you and your books in the work that you're doing?
Mark Nepo 1:09:26
Oh, yeah, thanks. So there's two There's marknepo.com which has all the places I'm teaching and and like I said, my new book is coming out it's it's already up for pre order on Amazon and other places. And then live.marknepo.com has all the kind of the weapon online teaching, I do webinars that I offer and things like that.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:48
Mark, it has been out my god such a beautiful conversation and such a pleasure meeting of so like yourself, my friend. Thank you for doing the work you do and I look forward to having you back on the show, hopefully quickly because I just absolutely just love talking to you. I think it was a very, very fascinating conversation. Hopefully, it will help some people out there so I appreciate you my friend.
Mark Nepo 1:10:13
Well, thanks so much and thanks for thanks for your good work and glad to be part of it.
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Links and Resources
- Mark Nepo – Official Site
- Join Mark’s Next 1-Session Webinar – Saying Yes To Life
- Three Intentions
- Books by Mark Nepo
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