by Mark Nepo
Take Me Down
The gift of deepening is that the heart—that ancient fish—swims closer to the center of the Earth, and the rush of being so close to the fire at the center is indescribable. Such deepening can stop us in mid-speech. Or cause us to drop the soap in the shower. Such deepening can rearrange everything, the way sand on the ocean floor stirs and settles around what no one sees. On days like today, it makes me gasp at the sun warming the horse in my mind till it slips out of its barn. On days like today, I can smell music and hear flowers. And the flower of our pain braids with the music of our love until your story is my story. Until we feel the common ancestor we came from.
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The Labyrinth to Shared Happiness
Though I run to get out of the rain, it’s standing in the rain with my hands on my heart that is cleansing. Though I run from the pain, it’s standing in the pain with my face to the sky that is healing. So I never stop peeling the hurt, never stop trusting life to burst through whatever I have to face. Even when lost, there’s a truth we carry that—when released—can return us to the ground beneath all trouble, beneath all pain, beneath the worm in our mind that wants to run. Facing things together is how we move through the labyrinth of trouble, from thinking alone to feeling together. So when my head is burrowed in what I can’t put down, when I can’t find what I’ve just said, please, hold your kindness like a mirror, so I can begin again. Tell me that, hard as it is to accept, the path is right where we are, when too exhausted to chase anything. Remind me that the angels we seek flutter within us, using our hands as their wings.
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What Holds Us Up
As all mountains stand on the ground,
As all trees root in the soil,
As all rivers flow to the sea,
there’s a substance under all life
that joins us and holds us up.
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How to Empty
First is to see things as they are.
Then to meet things as they are.
This is how it happens. Everything runs smoothly till suddenly, the body, like a car, overheats. It coughs and creaks. It won’t start in the rain. For me, my stomach was unable to process all I swallowed and one day it stopped working like a backed-up sink. One too many bites and the pain was unbearable. After a week of tests, I was at the store picking up cottage cheese when I realized I had to keep living. I put on James Taylor. As he sang, I started to cry. Under the song, my heart was widening. When I got home, you called and I broke down. Though now I understand I was emptying myself of all that didn’t matter. We start out wanting everything, never imagining how much everything weighs. Then we can’t swallow things that eat at our gut. We call this integrity. Then one by one, we’re forced to put things down in order to go on. Like a bird dropping food three times its size in order to fly.
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Excerpted from Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living by Mark Nepo (Sounds True, November 2017)