Inside the Miracle
Selected as one of Spirituality & Health Magazine’s Top 10 Best Books of 2015
In 1987, Mark Nepo was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. The heart of that journey and its aftermath has greatly informed his work. In 1994, Mark published and recorded a landmark book, Inside the Miracle, about the nature of suffering and resilience, which Publishers Weekly called one of the best audiotapes of the year. The book had a greater reach than anyone imagined. Sounds True is now publishing a new, expanded edition of Inside the Miracle, which gathers twenty-eight years of Mark’s writing and teaching about suffering, healing, and wholeness, including: the original poems and prose from Inside the Miracle (1994, 1996, now out of print), ten relevant essays from his collected personal essays, Unlearning Back to God (2006, now out of print), and thirty-nine new poems and prose pieces not yet published. Of the book, Mark says, “One of the great transforming passages in my life was having cancer in my mid-thirties. This experience unraveled the way I see the world and made me a student of all spiritual paths. It’s my hope that the trail of this lifetime conversation with suffering and care will open you to the fullness of your own humanity. With a steadfast belief in our aliveness, I hope what’s here will help you meet the transformation that waits in however you’re being forged.”
“Inside the Miracle is simply the best book I have read in years. Mark Nepo invites us to live a human life, fully, joyously and without reservation, using all our experiences and vulnerabilities as a precious opportunity to encounter and serve the Mystery. He has blessed us all.”
—Rachel Naomi Remen MD, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings
“In Inside the Miracle, Mark Nepo gathers almost thirty years of writing, teaching, and thinking about suffering, healing, and wholeness, drawing on his own transformative experience with illness. With everyday lessons and hard-earned wisdom, he has given us a beautiful testament to the resilience of the human heart, and a guide to facing life’s challenges with strength, grace, and gratitude.”
—Arianna Huffington, author of Thrive
“Inside the Miracle will be a miracle for those who read it, especially those going through a difficult time, a big change, a loss, a confusion, a trial by fire. That means everyone born human. Our trials may differ in heat and length, but at the core, we are the same. We need each other, we need insight, and we need help. This book is help. It helps me every time I pick it up and read a poem or a teaching or the brave story of Mark Nepo’s descent and rebirth.”
—Elizabeth Lesser, author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, cofounder of Omega Institute
“In the canyon of his soul, scoured into truth by pain and uncertainty, joy and Mystery, Nepo navigates the deeper currents with prose and poetry that masterfully invites us to those places where only rarely language can reach. Relentlessly refusing to resolve paradox into mere piety, this book is a rare soul-confirming and soul-stretching gift.”
—Sharon Daloz Parks, author of Big Questions, Worthy Dreams
“With a hard-won heart, Mark Nepo takes us Inside the Miracle of our radiant and fragile human life. In every page, Mark reveals the universal in the personal, intimating the wholeness that is best expressed in paradox. This book is raw and painful and indestructibly hopeful. It tells us what we already know in fresh and surprising moments of recognition. This is a gift which we can open endlessly.”
—Bruce Tift, author of Already Free
“This book is a big work, the work of a lifetime. It gives a sense of meaning and a higher perspective on life as we know it. Unlike many books that want us to believe in ‘happiness in 21 days,’ Inside the Miracle embraces and tears open the heart of pain and suffering and looks at the gifts it brings. This is the essence of spiritual nature stripped bare.” (Read the full review HERE.)
—Debra Moffitt, author of Awake in the World
“This book reads like a continuous dialogue with the author, a giving and taking of insights. This is not just a powerful book for anyone going through cancer or another illness, but an opportunity for anyone going through loss and suffering to discover the unexpected gifts of this prolific author.”
—Spirituality and Health
“Nepo draws us into his story with insights so candid and words so lyrical and evocative, that we can resonate with the fragile essence of his humanity and perhaps view ourselves with more compassion and optimism. This book is a love song to life and a celebration of the human spirit.”
—Miriam Knight, New Consciousness Review
“In this transformative collection of poems, reflections, questions, and essays, Nepo gathers 28 years of his teaching and writing about suffering, healing, and wholeness. The result provides practical and inspirational resources that you can use as you undergo your own rigorous physical, mental, and spiritual challenges. This is exactly the kind of book that fits Spirituality & Practice’s intention to recommend ‘Resources for Spiritual Journeys.’ Take this book in your hands and envision it as a deep conversation with suffering and renewal that will open you to your strengths and gifts.”
—Spirituality and Practice
From “Approaching Wholeness”
The truth is that once turned inside out by experience, we’re opened to the life of others and challenged to enter the endless river of feeling. Those who think they can skip over life by never showing their insides take a different road. Wholeness demands opening up and feeling. With those who won’t accept this, there is less and less to share.
If blessed, we’re broken of our stubbornness and humbled to discover the larger wholeness we’re a part of. Even so, relationships have a natural course. They blossom and die, as we connect and disconnect. We lean on each other, then back away. We think we can make it on our own, then need each other nakedly. It’s all very humbling.
I’ve learned over and over through my breakdowns and rearrangements that everything I’ve longed for was already close at hand. I just needed to recognize it, befriend it, love it, and embrace it. This changed what I’d been taught about willfulness and control. Tenderly, I’ve learned to align with the forces around me and have stopped trying to defeat them. To defeat experience is like a fish trying to defeat the very river on which its life depends.
enough of the world
when you’re told
you have cancer
so the dark fruit
never seems larger
than your orbit.
To do what you
have never done
to stay in the
current of life.
To fly 1000 miles
to meet someone
To pray in tongues
To think in ways
To use money
like a shovel
between us with
a tongue like
when the pain
To breathe slowly
when the weeping
don’t pamper you
or look at you
To slap the thought
from their eyes
with your heart.
To climb the days
where the light
spreads your face
and the constant
wind makes you forget
the pains in
To stand as tall
as the weight
you are bearing
on your spirit
which waits within
like a thoroughbred
for the heel
of your will
in its ribs.
to fill it.
you can snuff
in a gust, but
to stay devoted
to the art
What Can I Do?
I was surprised when John,
who helped save my life, came
down with liver cancer. He had
no interest in going through this
the way I did. He didn’t want to
talk. He just stared at me for hours.
I so wanted to be there for him. All
I could do was sit with him in silence.
I read books while he slept, held his
hand, tried to slow his breathing when
he was agitated. All this to say, keep
your friend company the best you can.
Give your heart to what you sense
brings her relief. If she likes to be
with dogs, be with dogs. If she likes
to smell lavender, smell lavender. If
she likes to watch The Iron Chief,
watch The Iron Chief. Ask gentle
questions, expecting nothing. Listen
for her remaining aliveness. Mist
those tender roots with time, the
one thing she doesn’t have. Love
her into some small adventure
the two of you can enter, like
chasing light or watching the
first silent film. To be a second
self is a vaccine against despair.
A CONVERSATION WITH MARK NEPO ABOUT HIS NEW BOOK,
INSIDE THE MIRACLE: ENDURING SUFFERING, APPROACHING WHOLENESS
This book encompasses almost thirty years of work? Can you tell us about the themes and ground this book covers?
One of the great transforming passages in my life was having cancer in my mid-thirties. This experience unraveled the way I see the world. It scoured my lens of perception, landing me in a deeper sense of living. Twenty-eight years ago, that struggle brought me close to death. Today, I remain committed to surfacing the lessons of transformation, as they continue to shape the lens that life has given me. The transformative events may differ for each of us, but every soul will face a life-changing threshold that will keep shaping who we are for the rest of our life. This book gathers twenty-eight years of my writing and teaching about suffering, healing, and wholeness. What you have in your hands is a thematically integrated work that draws from three sources that span all these years: the original poems and prose from the first edition of Inside the Miracle (1994, 1996, now out of print), ten relevant essays from my collected personal essays, Unlearning Back to God (2006, now out of print), and thirty-six new poems and prose pieces not yet published.
You speak about this book as if it’s alive and growing? What do you mean by this?
Transformation, even from a single event, can continue for eternity. And so, I continue to be transformed by my journey with cancer. This is a book that continues to be written, because this is a story that continues to be lived. I felt compelled to expand this book because almost dying and having cancer crack my life open continues to deepen who I am. I felt compelled to rework and further unfold these life lessons as my understanding keeps evolving. I felt uplifted to add new lessons from the growing perspective of decades. This book tries to gather some of what I keep learning along the way.
What does the subtitle enduring illness, approaching wholeness mean? We are each in a lifetime conversation with suffering and care that, in time, will open us to our strengths and gifts. We are meant, it seems, to come apart and come together, so we can discover who we are at the core. We are meant, it seems, to be rearranged by what we go through and held up to that process by those who care. We are meant to accept suffering and care as our teachers, our mentors, as the tools used by time to shape us into what matters. So, though no one can tell us how to endure our way into wholeness, there are common passages. We can help each other learn how to withstand the hardships of life and we can love each other into the fullness of a whole life. Though we never finally arrive, we keep maturing and refining through the good use of our heart. Through this unending process, we help each other stay alive and be alive.
You have been through a great deal in your life, and yet you speak of joy without denying the hardships. How are you able to hold both?
What I’ve endured is the journey that everyone endures in different circumstances and with different names. Sooner or later, we’re asked to be honest with our fears and hopes; to render, through our experience, the irreducible mystery of life in which we all swim. After all this way, I know that I am weak and strong, stubborn and determined, afraid and brave, giving and demanding, resilient and stalled, confused and clear—sometimes all at once. I know now that going on without denying any aspect of the human drama is what strength is all about. We are carved by life into instruments that will release our song, if we can hold each up to the carving. But it’s all for the release of our song while we are here. Joy is the transformation of our suffering, not the escape of all we have to face. How we preserve what matters and how we create medicine out of our suffering can help us heal and approach wholeness.
Throughout the book, you speak about the challenges and gifts of true relationship. Can you give us a sense of what this holds for you?
One of the great paradoxes of being alive is that each of us is born complete and yet we need contact with life in order to be whole. Whether conscious of it or not, we are all engaged in this search for other life, so we might join with the rest of life and be complete. Our longing to join and come alive is our birthright. This is similar to pollination. We complete the world when, opening ourselves against great odds, we inadvertently seed each other’s essence somewhere else in the world to grow. This is the purpose of true relationship: to enliven what is dormant within each other. Once enlivened, it is our responsibility to keep what’s dormant conscious and to integrate the fibers of hard-earned experience into the fabric of a living spirit. The gift of true relationship is that we awaken and complete each other.
How has your journey through suffering into the realm of wholeness changed you?
I’m more open than I ever imagined. I’m at once gentler and more resilient. And though I’m less sure what to call the things that matter, I’m more certain that I live in their currents. I have more and more questions and less and less answers. I believe and experience the aliveness of Spirit that every thing in this world carries. That aliveness is my teacher.
The last section of the book is called still here, still wondering. What are you still wondering about?
I’m still learning. And I’m wondering what unfolds when we admit to our frailty. I’m wondering about the great teacher that is limitation. I’m deepening my vow to eat from the marrow of every moment without crisis or pain pushing me to remember I’m alive. I’m exploring the testaments to wonder and the work that releases it. I affirm how the path opened by expression leads us into meaning. And I struggle to understand the tension between knowing our truth and enduring rejection, disapproval, and misunderstanding. I keep exploring the constant need to remove the cataracts of mind that cover the pain and wonder of being alive. Most of all, I honor the inevitable call to be a bridge for each other, so we can endure what we suffer, and inhabit the gifts we were born with, until we can enter the days that remain with awe and wonder.
What do you hope readers will take with them from Inside the Miracle?
Though what’s unearthed here comes from the heat of my journey, the lessons are for everyday living. It’s my hope that the trail of this lifetime conversation with suffering and care will open you to the fullness of your own humanity. With a steadfast belief in our aliveness, I hope what’s here will help you meet and endure whatever way you’re being forged, and bring you closer to the gifts you were born with.