The Gift of Relationship Archive

Session 1: Alone and Together

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Session 2: The Life After Tears

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Session 3: Ten Thousand Hands

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Supporting Materials follow, Sessions 1 – 3



The Wall Builder
Mark Nepo

I knew a man so hurt by love

that he created a tower of

requirements to try again.


And the poet H.D. made the

hole through which her poems

could pass so small that she

erased her whole life’s work.


I used to long for what was

unreachable, frustrated at what

I couldn’t express.


But having too many preferences

is how we build a wall so high

that no one can climb it or so

clear that no one can find it.

Then, we wonder why we are

so lonely.


And blaming everyone for our

loneliness is just another

kind of wall.


Stacking what we want and

what we fear, we never grow.



The Treasure
Mark Nepo

What if we’ve had it all wrong?

What if the mind isn’t king?

What if there was no big bang?

What if a grain of dirt rolled in

space till it grew into the Earth?

What if the last lonely god knelt

in the clouds that circle this Earth?

What if her tears formed the oceans?

And her truest tear formed a bubble

in the depth of all that water, dropping

itself into the mouth of a diver looking

for treasure. What if the diver never

knew that he carried the treasure?

What if the treasure settled in his

chest and made a sweet animal of

his heart? What if the heart of the

diver in you and me now aches for

the lonely god hiding in each of us?



Across the Way
Mark Nepo

He is in his window.

I, in the cafe.


His head is shaved,

except for a bristle

down the center,

and he’s patting and

positioning leaves

on a hanging plant.


Two naked children enter.

He pats their tummies,

then looks at me.


At first, it’s an intrusion.

But neither of us looks away.


Bearded mammals

cross the street between us.

I shrug with a smile.


He nods and points

to his children.

I point to my heart.


Musicians drift between us.

Neither of us looks away.


Two trucks pass.

His window shakes.


A baby cries.

He shrugs again.

I lift my cup.


We both recede

to tend what we can.



Finding Each Other
Mark Nepo

We’re re so desperate
to find someone, so we can
build a raft against the horrible
sea. And yet, through loving you,
I’ve learned to love the world.

Who would have guessed
that intimacy is a prism,
not a cave.

In caring for you, I’ve learned
how to care. And holding you,
I’ve learned how to hold. And
listening to your pain, I’ve
learned how to hear the
pain of the world.

So loving you has been
a threshold more than
a nest.

Who would have guessed
that caring enough to
lift each other, we begin
to lift the world.


The Existential Question
Mark Nepo

Stand in a river and the water keeps moving by.

Swim and you can never catch it.

But sit in a boat and you are carried by it.


The question, then, is how to grow a boat?

By calming your mind?

By awakening your heart?


Move too fast and you start to sink.

Slow your life and you are carried.


Old Lessons
Mark Nepo

Grandma learned English

by reading picture books to me.

She taught me that there are

many ways to pray, that we can

read our questions to the wisteria,

which will answer with its sway.


She told me about hiding in Russia,

and how systems of belief will skip

generations, as grandchildren wear

what their parents throw away.


Grandma learned my language and

when she was dying, I came to hers.

She taught me three things I have no

words for, though I feel compelled

to try: We all need a break in logic

through which our softness can rise.

And whatever you can’t care for, it

will harden you. For nothing matters

except how we love each other alive.



I am alone but not alone enough

to make every moment holy.

—Rainer Maria Rilke




You didn’t come into this house so I might tear off

a piece of your life. Perhaps when you leave

you’ll take something of mine: chestnuts,

roses or a surety of roots.

—Pablo Neruda



Take Home Journal Question:

The Rhythm between Solitude and Community

What is your rhythm between solitude and community? Are you spending too much time in the world or in the deep? What can you do to find your own personal balance?


Take Home Journal Question: Loving Healthfully or Giving Yourself Away

Describe a time when you gave yourself away in a relationship. What happened and how did it effect your sense of self and relationship? Then, describe a time when you began to love the world through the healthy commitment of loving another. How does this experience differ from the experience of giving yourself away? What are the signs of loving healthfully and of giving yourself away?



If you bring out what is inside of you,

What is inside you will save you.

If you fail to bring out what is inside you,

What is inside you will destroy you.

—The Gnostic Gospels


Something’s lost but something’s gained

for living every day.

—Joni Mitchell


I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself, I have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

—Sir Issac Newton


The Life After Tears

Mark Nepo

In the life before tears,

there are endless plans

and we avoid the difficult

feelings at all cost, as if grief,

pain, and loss are canyons we’ll

never be able to climb out of.


But, then, one day, while

not looking, someone dear

dies, or a dream breaks like

a plate, and our world, as

we’ve known it, is blown



Then, we discover that

falling in the canyon is

our initiation, and

the river at the bottom

is the only water that

will keep us alive.


I wish it were different.

But the reward for being

hollowed out is that the

song then sings us.



In the Sea of Others

Mark Nepo

It’s next to impossible to do this

alone. We need the loving truth of

others to be well. Inevitably, some

come with us and are forever changed

while others watch as we’re forced

out to sea. It’s the power of love that

enables those who come along,

where a language of experience

is unearthed that can’t be translated

to those who stay behind.


About Joy

Mark Nepo

Often, what keeps us from joy is the menacing assumption that life is happening other than where we are. So we are always leaving, running from or running to. All the while, joy rises like summer wind, waiting for us to grow in the open, large as willows it can sing through. Yet failing to grow in the open, we can be worn to it. Though working with what we’re given till it wears us through seems to be the grace we resist. Like everyone, I’ve spent so much of my life fearing pain that I’ve seldom felt things all the way through. And falling through more than working through, I’ve learned that if we can stay true to our experience and to each other, and face the spirit that experience and love carry, we will eventually be reduced to joy. Like cliffs worn to their beauty by the pounding of the sea, if we can hold each other up, all that will be left will be wonder and joy.



Day at the MET

Mark Nepo

They say Degas painted his

eyes on everyone. But shouldn’t

it be the other way around?


The man who served me pickles

on 54th, a native of Istanbul,

was a med student till his

teacher was shot.


And while Degas’ bathers never

show their face, my pickle man,

kept from healing others, still

wants to see as others do.


So whose eyes should I wear:

the gifted painter who can only

see himself or the healer

with no teacher?



The Immersion

Mark Nepo

Now that I am here, I am somewhat ashamed

at my long insistence on there. Now that I am

loving, I am sorry for the hurts I caused in my

want to be loved. Now that I can see, I am

humbled by my desperate attempts to be seen.


Such a long, unforeseen road to simply be

without defining myself by others, for others,

in compliance with or resistance to.


Such an arduous path to breathe in the light

without running from or running to, without

giving myself away, or demanding too much

of those I admire.


Forgive me. Perhaps I can care for you

better in my heart than I did in the world.



Keeping Truth Alive

Mark Nepo

The pain was necessary to know the truth

but we don’t have to keep the pain alive

to keep the truth alive.


This is what has kept me from forgiveness:

the feeling that all I’ve been through

will evaporate if I don’t relive it.


In this, the stone you threw in the lake

knows more than I. Its ripples vanish.



The Festival of Life

Mark Nepo

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, any more 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.



Intrinsic Brightness

Mark Nepo

You can lose yourself in love

or find yourself. What we love can

become everything in which case we

spin endlessly, thirsting for someone

else’s light to soften our darkness.


Or what we love can become the

veil we part to see and know what

holds the world together.


I know this because

I have done both.


And while making what I love

everything has kept me from my soul,

loving everything open, the way the

constancy of the sun opens flowers,

has allowed me to know the shimmer

where who I am is joined to

everything that ever lived.



Take Home Journal Question: Now You Must Choose

Tell the story of a time when you were watching life from the rim of your inwardness. Then, tell the story of a time when you stepped into life, bringing what lives within you out into the world. Describe the difference between these two experiences.


Take Home Journal Questions: Boundaries

Where are your boundaries to thick and hard, keeping you from being fully alive? And where are your boundaries to thin, keeping your from maintaining your sense of self?






I was in a circle of those who
climbed from the sea of trouble
onto the shore of a day like today.
We were tired, aglow, broken.

Out of a sudden silence
a young woman stood and sang
You’ve Got a Friend. When I heard,
“You just call out my name and
I’ll be there…” I saw you all.

No vow has meant more to me.
Yet there was the time I couldn’t
get there. And the time I was afraid
to come for some dark reason too
familiar for me to understand.

I am sorry for the wounds my
absence has caused.

We try like birds awakened by
a tone of light to fly into each
other’s need. And always
wind throws us off.

I am so sorry not to be
what I promised.

But like a whale whose tears
only add to the ocean that slows
him down, I swim to you.
I swim to you.



In my sixty-eighth year, I saw a dancer, middle-aged, outside a café. I was at a conference in California and she was hired to dance at lunch time in the open. I sipped my coffee and watched her for a while. Most of us were busy going to what was next. Something in how she leapt and landed softened me. For she was so thoroughly herself that there was nowhere to go. And I realized that all of us were there to find what she had found.

It’s been a week since I flew home. And I’m up early, having dreamt of the dancer being herself. And before the sun comes up, I realize Mom, now that you’re gone, that this was all you ever wanted—to find a spot in the sun where you could leap out from under the turmoil of your life and be thoroughly yourself.

Under all your anger and darkness, you were trying to find your dance. If you had only let me know. If only, when I had come home from college to tell you I was a poet though I had written nothing, if only you had taken my hand and shared your dream and your pain, we could have searched together. But instead, you swirled your dark wine and said, “You’ll see sweetie, dreams die hard.”

You painted the world with your disappointment till you couldn’t see the sun. Oh Mom, I wish you had taken my hand. I wish we had a different story. In my sixty-eighth year, I finally see the softer part of you before you walled it in. It took a lifetime, but it reached me anyway.


A friend is a second self.


We are born whole but need each other to be complete.


The more souls… resonate together, the greater the intensity of their
love… and, mirror-like… each soul reflects the other.



The heart has ten thousand hands.
They want to love everything.
But we have only two.

And so, we hurt each other and break
the world when we insist on carrying
what no one can carry.

This is the ghost of love.

But ask the ten thousand hands
to love one thing at a time and we
can repair the world and release
the sweetness of Eternity.

This is the symphony of life.



Drop your opinions, the way you
took off that sweater on a long hike
once the sun had come out.

Drop your past and your future
the way you dropped the weights
you were exercising with when
the doorbell rang and it was your
love coming to surprise you.

Drop all you’ve been taught by
those afraid of life, the way you
jumped naked into the lake when
no one was around.

Stand your ground, the way you
lifted your arms to the sky after three
days of climbing, and look at everyone
the way you looked at the world
from that summit.



Try to close your eyes. Try
to close whatever works in you
to build against today.

Feel the light on all you have closed.
Feel the love you have saved wash loose
from your heart. Feel it breeze behind
your eyes.

When everything you’ve put off is here,
when every dream of love is on your lip,
when everything you’ve saved becomes a rose,
open your eyes, though they are busy seeing,
open your mind, though it won’t stop planning,
open your heart, though it keeps remembering,
open and focus on the first thing you see.

If it is a bench, say I believe in bench.
If a tree, say I believe in tree.
If a flower torn by storm, say
I believe in flower torn by storm.

Rise with this simple belief in what you see
and touch what is before you. See. Believe.
Touch what you Believe.

See every confusion into a new hour.
Sweat all feeling out of its tower.
Touch every sore into a fresh flower.



Just open your hands and say, “I don’t know.”
Say it softly and wait, so your other can see
that you mean it. Give them a chance to
drop what they think is secret. Let them
come up with a cup of what matters from
the spring they show no one. Let them sigh
and admit that they don’t know either. Then
you can begin with nothing in the way. Go
on. Admit to the throb you carry in your
heart. And let the journey begin.


Journal Question: A Steadying Structure

Describe one way you want to grow and change. Then, imagine a steadying structure you can create in your days that will serve as a trellis or temporary rule you can grow alongside until the new behavior or way of being is strong enough in you to grow on its own. It might be taping a reminder on your mirror or setting aside a certain time every day to journal or meditate. What steps can you take in creating this trellis in your daily life?