Mark Nepo reflects on his spiritual journey, our polarized country, and how being open-hearted can change the world.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, which has sold more than a million copies worldwide, been translated into more than 20 languages, and is now in its 56th printing.
Nepo began writing the spiritual daybook about a year after completing his cancer journey. He likens it to a “spiritual first aid kit” and says the book is meant to be a tool, “a companion, a soul friend.”
It has served as a blueprint for spiritual practice for many, and Nepo says that he continues to learn from it even today.
“All of the books I’ve written are really my teachers; I write about what I need to know more than what I already know. If I only wrote about what I knew, I would have written so little,” he says. “For me—and I talk about this in my work—writing is the way that I sing in conversation with life.”
In terms of his own daily spiritual practice, Nepo has established a simple morning routine that enables him to mindfully set his intentions for the day. The first thing he does when he wakes up is open the blinds. Next he cares for his dog, and then he makes a cup of coffee for his wife for when she wakes up.
“So, I’m letting light in, I’m caring for something living, and I’m doing something for someone I love. And when I do that with consciousness, I’m fully aware and I don’t rush through it. That sets my open-heartedness for the day. I invite people to think of one or two things that they can do to open their heart for the day. Because when our heart is open, we see, hear, and feel differently, and therefore we make different decisions.”
Nepo draws from many different spiritual traditions to help keep him balanced throughout the day. “On the other side of almost dying, I was blessed to have so many people from different paths and traditions help me. Ever since, I’ve been a student of all paths, so to fast-forward to my practice today, I’m very conscious about having an integrated practice. If I need to stop, if I’m really troubled or confused or agitated and I need to stop and really meditate, I will.”
Nepo says that The Book of Awakening has served as a “welcoming doorway” that has enabled him to connect deeply with people whose lives have been touched by his work. “It’s wonderful when I meet these amazing people and they tell me about the positive impact the book has had on them. When I reach into the depths of me, I find you,” he says. “And so, it’s a tribute to that beautiful spiritual truth that we are, at heart, the same. Only through being honest and truthful about our own experiences do we find that common well. The book points to and affirms this unknowable mystery of how we come together and how we become resilience for each other.”
According to Nepo, this is essential right now, when our country is so polarized. Being open-hearted, he says, will help us choose love over fear. “We go back to the age-old choice that every person has to make every day between love and fear. And so, of the things that we can do, the first is that each one of us should remain visible and listening. It was Longfellow who said that if we truly listened to the sufferings of our enemies, they would no longer be our enemies.”
His latest book, The Book of Soul: 52 Paths to Living What Matters, due to be published in May, incorporates many of Nepo’s spiritual learnings over the years. “I wrote this for my own growth as well as my readers’. It asks, how can we be good stewards of the portion of universal spirit that we’re blessed to carry while we’re here on earth? In other words, how do we care for our soul? How do we bring air into the world? How do we bring more closely together who we are and what we do?”