Author Archive for Mark Nepo

When Young I Dove

Read these weekly reflections on The Huffington Post and VividLife.


When young, we want to dive into everything. But as we age, we surrender more than dive, and so feel the magic of the wind along the way.


When Young I Dove

When young I dove to the bottom of the

sea. Now I know there is no bottom. Time

after time, impaled by falling into life or

cut by the fear and envy of others, I was

certain I would never recover. But here I

am, strong as an oak that has outlived the

war. In the knots that have healed, the

most beautiful grain. It’s taken sixty years

but where I sought to dive I’ve settled into

slowly, year after year, into a bedrock of

being. It’s tender here. The simplest curl

of wind holds the amazement of everyone

who ever climbed into the open, surprised

at what they saw. Like everyone before me,

I’m not ready to go. Nothing’s wrong. I’m

not ill or out of sorts. I simply realize that

the brilliant orange leaf about to die is

looking at me as if I am full of color. I so

love being here. I think this is what it sees.


A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or a loved one, describe a time you dove into experience and what that taught you. Then describe a time you fell into experience and what that taught you.


Catching the Light

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All the valuable things we can learn from books point to the force of life that can’t be contained in a book. This poem explores this paradox.


Forget the books and the dogma.
Faith is a chance that appears when
on the run. When lost in the tangled
wood, there’s a patch of light and for
a second it seems clear. If you can get
there and open your chest to the sun,
things will be safe again. But as you
run, the light moves and you have
to change course. You stop, out of
breath, and question yourself. But
the light is so strong, you keep run-
ning to be in it. Sometimes, like in
football, you as the receiver are guarded
so close, you just have to put your head
down and run to the spot, with faith
that the gift will appear in your open
hands reaching for the sky. Never doubt
your ability to catch the light. You have
a strength that is never far from those
worn to their goodness. Keep singing
the song under everything, even
when you don’t feel strong.

A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of someone you admire who has been worn to their goodness.

Another Day

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We fall in and out of the deepest understandings out in the world while getting groceries and pumping gas.


I was in the market recently, when I closed my eyes until the cup without thought at the base of all I know began to collect the tenderness of those who’ve gone before us and I heard the cries of the world. I looked at everyone walking by and it was clear. It’s tenderness that forces us to be kind till our only reason for being is to soften the pain hardening in others. I looked about and knew that what matters is carried in those who can’t close, no matter how we try to shut ourselves down or run away. And just when I was ready to give up and turn to stone, the blind doves of acceptance fluttered in my face. It was then an old friend came upon me in the market staring at the fish. Without a word she knew, it was just another day, each of us this close to everything.

A Question to Walk With: Tell one story of a moment in public when the deeper world fell open to you.

Sizing His Dream

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After my father died, I leafed through his notebooks as a schoolboy as he was learning his trade. This poem comes from feeling him as a young learner.


Near the end, our father gave me
these notebooks written in his hand
when he was sixteen, trying to under-
stand his trade. There are drawings and
measurements. He was sizing his dream.
I want each of us to have one, to have a
piece of him since he took so much of us
with him. I know his creative gene swims
between us, can feel it when we talk of
painters and sculptors and tireless work-
men, unaware of their greatness. He was
a great builder like you. I think you have
his vision. And I, his mother’s heart. I
want you—on a night when you miss him
deeply—to hold this pad that he held, that
he poured himself into. Know when you
hold it, that I am holding the other. Know
that together we bring him back in a flutter
of what lasts forever. Put your hand on one
of his drawings and imagine him years
before he knew our names, imagine
him leaning over this pad, learning
what to do with all he was born with.

A Question to Walk With: Hold something that belonged to someone you loved who’s no longer here. Let your hands be in conversation with something they held.

The Rough Beauty

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Those who put down what is false, no matter how dear, are my heroes.


We think what’s familiar is normal,
but whether you’re born under a rock
or on a cliff six inches from heaven,
nothing matters but the effort to shed
the mud or glare of whatever covers you,
so that nothing is between you and life.
Though everything wants to film you
over: dirt, pain, regret, memory, or the
shine of dream and expectation. We
all land the same inch from eternity,
rubbing it like a pebble turned gem
between our fingers.

I think of all this while putting a
band-aid on your thumb that blistered
from gardening a stubborn patch of
earth. I think of this while you touch
the soreness in my heart when
I work too hard at living.

I am uplifted by anyone who dares
to stand naked before the world, to
say, “For all the ways I’ve tried to
change, this is the rough beauty
of what I’ve given to arrive as me.”

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, discuss one thing you’ve given to arrive more fully in your life as you truly are.

Disrobing in Time

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It’s humbling how often we try to run from where we land, almost always missing the power inherent in the truth of things as they are.


Disrobing in Time


Nothing is easy, but to tell the truth.

The truth of what I see and feel.

This somehow cleanses my eye

and it becomes clear what to do.


In my pain I forget to admit what is

true and things get worse. Because

I don’t want to be sad, I don’t admit

that I already am. Then I feel like

I’m drowning.


Because I don’t want things to change,

I don’t admit that they already have.

Then I feel like the wheel of life

is tearing me apart.


The greatest power we have when

feeling powerless is to admit what

is already true. Then the stepping

stones of Eternity rise out of the

mud, showing us where to go.


A Question to Walk With: Journal about one change you’ve undergone that you’ve had trouble admitting to. What do you fear might happen if you accept the reality of this change.



Waiting to Be Picked Up

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I was ready to fly home after teaching in Albuquerque, when the sudden light on the underside of a palm trip took me to another time.



A burst of light makes me look across the way,
where a sliver of dawn slips under the leaf of a
palm tree. The lift of the palm feels Egyptian and
the trap door to our age opens to all time. Sudden
light can do this. Like now. And I realize in this
breath, before getting on another plane, it doesn’t
matter how that door opens. We can run into walls
or bounce off each other. We can fall, thinking we
can fly. Or exhaust ourselves by asking life, “Why?”
Or turn in sudden pain. Or rise from our knees in
awe. Or trip when a stranger from the side looks like
someone we’ve lost. It doesn’t matter how the trap
door to our heart opens. My driver is here. I can
feel him watching me stare off. I can’t stop looking
at the light in the palm. I feel certain, if I go and
touch it, we’ll all be in Egypt before the Pyramids
were built. I wheel my suitcase to the car, knowing
that once in the open, the light will find us. When
no one’s looking and we’re out of things to say,
the ancient light that lives beneath words will
fill the hole in our heart that we show no one.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or a loved one, describe what you feel when you suddenly have nothing left to say.

News of the Universe

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We live in a global culture addicted to the noise of how things fall apart. Yet all the while, things are quietly coming together as well. It’s not about good news or bad news, but having access to whole news. This poem explores what’s below the noise.


The thousand alarms we hear each day are
only half the news. There’s no avoiding this
but it’s the other half we need. Today—light
from a star that died 30,000 years ago arrived
so softly, it brought a child out of hiding. Today—
the song from the beginning rimmed the ear of
a broken man in time to loosen his hand on
the trigger. Today—a mountain in India held
its face to the sun despite all that it’s seen and
the expedition so furious to climb to the top
forgot why. Today—someone with nothing helped
someone with everything off their knees. Today—
the best of us cracked its seed way under ground,
under all the trouble, under all the things falling
apart. Today—all the tears in the world watered
that seed. Today—the breath of the Universe
arrived as wind to awaken the Earth,
making everything possible, again.

A Question to Walk With: Report on the news of wholeness happening around you. Tell the story of something coming together to a loved one or a friend.

Short Wisdom on a Long Planet

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Our ecological problems are evidence of a deeper, spiritual problem whereby we, feeling incomplete, feed off the Whole; whereby we, feeling empty, use everything up in an attempt to fill ourselves; whereby we, feeling insignificant, scar the earth in order to feel significant.


Short Wisdom on a Long Planet

We keep turning one thing into another and calling it progress. We keep machining the beauty off of things as they are, using tools to create more tools, as if that will let us live longer. We keep burrowing into everything but ourselves: churning trees into lumber, animals into meat, wind into electricity, vegetables into remedies, silence into noise; turning the Earth, continent by continent, into one giant ant hill. We keep eating our way through the arms of the Universe, desperate for something large and quiet to hold us.


A Question to Walk With: Walk somewhere outdoors and with a friend or loved one, discuss your relationship with the Earth.

The Festival of Life

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We fight it constantly, but the meaning of life waits beyond all our plans and under all our desires; waiting for us to lose our maps and crack our hard shells open so that the light within can join with the light without.



What if the heart cracks like a seed,
needing to be opened to grow? Then
how do we understand what comes
pouring out? Does pain turn into a
small root? Does grief if watered start
to break ground? It does no good to tell
someone broken that they will become a
flower. No one believes this while lost in
the dark, anymore than creatures of the
night can believe that there’s a festival
of life making up the day. But this is
the work of faith, the faith that moves
like song and blood beneath our wounds:
to believe that we are more than what is
done to us. It’s true. I’ve lost everything
more than once, each a devastation. Yet
each in time grew me into who I was to
be. I can’t explain or offer conclusions.
Just know that we’re surprised into being.
Like divers who open the treasure just
as they’re running out of air, we’re
forced to let go of what we want
in order to live another day.

A Question to Walk With: Describe a time when you were close to what you wanted, only to have to put it down or walk away in order to take good care of yourself.