By Mark Nepo
Since everything is sacred, staying close to what is sacred is a matter of presence and attention more than travel to some secret place. In essence, staying close is a pilgrimage to the heart of where we are. Since it is we who lose our directness of living, our task is often to restore that freshness of being alive.
Stories help us. They are teachers. They are medicine. They keep us connected to what matters. They keep us awake. Like roots finding water, we always wind up moving toward what sustains us. Some stories are personal. Some have come from dreams. Some have knocked on the door of my consciousness so persistently that I had no choice but to create names and contexts for their pleas. Quite simply and with wonder at what I’ve found, I pass them on. They have all been teachers and continue to be so. For every story has in its marrow the accumulated voice of all of its tellers and listeners. Ultimately, I hope my stories will evoke your own stories and your own sense of what is sacred.
As sheet music is a riddle until played, the stories we carry and stumble through wait to be held and listened to. The truth is that long before disciplines of knowledge were formed, long before degree programs were certified, the quandaries of living were addressed and carried forward in pouches of wisdom we call stories. This is how a tribe and its elders would pack their questions and pass on their meaning, as if to say, “We have done all we can with this. Now it is your turn.”
We often need to tell our stories over and over, not because we are forgetful or compulsive, but because their meaning is too great to be digested in any one telling. So we recount them, again and again, till we can absorb their meaning and learn to love each other on the way.
I have always been compelled by stories. Like most people, I started out as a witness, retelling the episodes of life that would unfold around me. But as life will do over time, what seems so far away and irrelevant is slowly brought very near, and up close, we discover it is essential. In this way, I have come to realize that we are in stories more than outside them. We are more like fish in the stream than fishermen sitting in the grass. More like clay formed in the fire than potters poking at the embers. We are singers waiting to be birthed by a song.
Stories are an invitation to be in relationship with deep and life-giving material. The stories carry seeds of our humanness. They delve into the courage to listen to your own life, the gift of vulnerability, the willingness to experiment and explore your own voice, the abiding commitment to respect your own journey and the journeys of others, and the life skill of working with what we are given. No experience is required, just a Beginner’s Mind and Heart. And the willingness to hear one story and tell another. A willingness to keep listening and trying.
It doesn’t matter how, but if you can rub the pulse of life hidden in these stories and your own, even briefly, like a genie’s lamp, the sense of what is sacred will show its magic and usefulness. As sheet music is a riddle until played, the stories we carry and stumble through wait to be held and listened to. For beneath all of life’s difficulties, we are brought alive and kept alive by holding and listening.
We all have a need for stories that, when heard and retold, reveal stories within stories which bring us, if awake enough, to the one song at the heart of all stories. I’ll meet you there.
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Adapted from As Far as the Heart Can See: Stories to Illuminate the Soul by Mark Nepo. Published by Health Communications. MarkNepo.com. Originally published on-line at NY Spirit