And, well, because this is a clear statement that I so much relate to.
And, well, because, in a conversation with a friend yesterday to plan a series of workshops, we asked each other what was at the heart of it — this was after listing some good skills and expertise that we have individually and together. My answer, as it has been for some time, was because I’m drawn to the energy, simplicity, and practice of being a better human being. Individually and collectively.
From Mark Nepo’s Exquisite Risk,
“I want to open a conversation about the pain and joy of being awake. I want to inquire into the personal practice of being authentic, of being fully here, of being human.”
Mark Nepo remains one of my favorite writers. His poems. His essays. His books. He writes of transitions, struggle, honesty, and the fundamental, yet profound state of being alive. His writings are not flowery to me. They aren’t all about ascendence. There is realness in them that pulls something out from within me that is already there — “the act of being who we are is at the heart of staying well.”
Marp Nepo is also a cancer survivor. Though I imagine this poem to be just a bit about that, it reaches to many realms of human journey, doesn’t it.
The Nature of the Dance
Death pushed me to the edge.
Nowhere to back off. And
to the shame of my fears,
I danced with abandon
in his face. I never
danced so free.
And Death backed off,
the way dark backs off
a sudden burst of flame.
Now there’s nothing left
but to keep dancing.
It is the way
I would have chosen
had I been born
Yup, more from Mark Nepo. Well, actually Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest and writer, who eventually lived in Canada, quoted in Nepo’s book, Facing the Lion, Being The Lion.
“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. This requires not only courage, but also a strong faith.”
It takes strong faith these days, doesn’t it. What, with the everyday reporting of massacres. Or environmental extremities. Or economic systems failing not just individuals but nations. Or the senseless death of loved ones. For some, our faith is in our religious communities. For some, in our families. For some, in the depths of the loneliness that Nouwen writes, from which can come oh, so subtly, purpose, and essential refining of soul, and quintessential letting go, and, ironically, belonging. From the void, from the seeming barrenness, some of us hold to a faith that there is irrepressible life (and have friends to remind us when we can’t see it anymore).
I like happy endings. Of course. Yet, I have learned that happy comes in many forms — sometimes from the deep honesty in sorrow. And that endings are rarely endings — little is so clean. Some stories transpire over a decade, or a lifetime. Some stories stretch the limits of our ability to remember that gardens do exist. My 19 year-old son reminds me — “most of it is about learning and growing; not forcing.” That’s a different kind of happy and a different category of ending.
So lays these tensions that most of us live. Some very personally. Some very globally. Good to be aware of as we walk, and die, on these many paths of humaning.
I love these two passages from Mark Nepo, American poet and philosopher, from his book Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage Where it Lives.
“…head-on engagement and heart-on engagement with the mysteries of life hone us to what is essential. It is our courageous engagement that wears away whatever is extraneous.”
“…a life well lived can be understood as one that risks not being trapped or governed by fears, one that follows the pulse of what matters as it presents itself. This is not to say that we will ever be free of fear, but that, in spite of our fear, we can be drawn by what matters down the unplanned path of time, where we are often called to choose what is actually there over what we thought we’d find.”
Heart-on has always been more compelling to me. It requires an honesty, and friends to help mature us along the way, doesn’t it.