This is one of those feel-good episodes that will expand your heart. In it I sit with prolific writer Mark Nepo (author of the Book of Awakening) to discuss how we can lead with our intuition, rather than our fear. He shares his wisdom for those seeking to live their purpose and incredible stories to drive home spiritual stories. Mark’s writing was extremely helpful for me when I was 23-year-old living in Bali and I was so excited to pull out my 7-year-old journal to ask him about some of the quotes I wrote of his years ago. You will be touched by his wisdom in this episode.
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Episode 377: Choosing Intuition Over Fear with Mark Nepo
By Sahara Rose
Namaste, it’s Sahara Rose and welcome back to The Highest Self Podcast, a place where we discuss what makes You, Your Soul’s Highest Evolvement.
I hope you are having an incredible start to your summer! I feel like this is a really important summer for us because we kind of did not have one last year, this is the chance that we finally get to have those beach days or camping nights or visit friends, family, and all of the things that we had taken for granted before 2020, we now, finally, have the chance to do.
So, I know for me, I really want to spend a lot of time with friends, play games, charades, dance, craft, make candles, all of the fun things. I literally am pretending like I’m in summer camp and doing all the things that I used to love as a child. And it’s just amazing how the things that you loved doing as a kid never leave you. We think that we’re adults and we outgrow them, and maybe when we were young teenagers, we were like “I don’t like to play with dolls anymore, I don’t like to do that” and then you go back to it and like “Wait, that was really fun!”
So, I’ve just been feeding my inner child and doing really crafty, artsy things that feel really good. And another thing that I actually love is listening to a podcast or an audio book while painting or doing something with my hands like macramé or weaving dreamcatchers. I actually feel like I retain the information better when I am simultaneously doing something with my hand (so, little quick tip for you guys there). And also just on You Tube, I’ve been finding so many cool crafts, I actually painted the Northern Lights. And I am not a painter but I just followed a You Tube video and I’m like “Oh my Goddess, here I am, Mona Lisa up in this!” Not quite there yet, but it’s been really fun, gratifying and joyful! And that has really been the theme of this year for me, is how to cultivate more joy in my life, in my every day, in my every moment, and how to actually create, not from a place of need or feel like I’m going to fall behind or feeling like I should or autopilot, but actually creating from a place of fun, which was what last week’s Solocast was all about. So, if you have not gotten a chance to listen to that yet, be sure to listen to last week’s Solocast, which was me riffing on fun and the week before that, which was me riffing on joy and why joy is so needed right now.
So, be sure to tune into those.
Now, today’s Episode is one of my favorite conversations! And I really love every conversation that I have, but this is someone whose work has actually impacted my life in a time that I needed it the most.
So, when I was 23 years old, I bought a one-way ticket to Bali, from India, where I was living, and I did not know anyone in Bali and I did not know this but I was kind of going on my own heroes journey at the time, of looking at all of my beliefs and childhood upbringing and really letting go of all the things that were not in alignment with my truth. And this was really the time that the seed of my Dharma was planted and I, more than anything, just wanted to write a book on Ayurveda but I had no idea how to kind of write a book, how to get it out there. And it was, really, the most transformative period of my life. It was really these months of just excavating my thoughts and my patterns and traumas and all of these things and it was so powerful. And, at the time, I would go to this yoga class every single day at this place called Yoga Barn, that some of you may know in Ubud, Bali, and I remember the teacher, her name was Becks, and she, at the end of the class, would always read this really beautiful poetry. And this poetry was by someone names Mark Nebo. And just the words were so powerful and I would just leave the class and go to my journal and write all of these notes from this person’s poetry. I had no idea who it was, I thought it was her friend or someone, but the words just spoke to me in such a powerful way. And to this day I have kept this journal, now, 7 years ago, and when I was preparing for this I just opened it up and I found all of these notes and all these quotes and ways I was trying to understand and bring his information to my life, and it was hitting so hard as well as questioning all these things that I thought I knew. And in this Episode I got to share it with him, so, the things that I had written those notes about which I didn’t even totally remember but it was powerful enough in my life for me to write it down, and we got to talk about it.
So, this is just one of those spiritual conversations that make you happy to be human. We just dive in, it’s just such – you’re going to feel like you’re sitting on a porch with us in rocking chairs on a hot summer’s day, watching the sunset, having some nice ice tea, talking about the meaning of life. That is the vibe of this conversation!
So, of course, I ask him what his advice is for people who are living their Dharma. By the way, if you don’t know who Mark Nebo is, he’s an extremely famous and prolific author who has written so many books, most notably “The Book of Awakening”, which was a number 1 New York Time’s Best-Seller. He’s published 12 books, recorded 6 audio projects and is 70 years old and still just so relevant to the needs of today’s people.
So, we talk about how to align with your Purpose; how we can follow our intuition vs. our fear, how can we tell the difference; how can we choose more joy; what does it mean to be awake and mindful of our lives. We talk about the ego and many, just, beautiful stories that he weaves into all of these lessons to bring it to life.
So, my heart just feels so full after this conversation and I know it will have the same resonance for you.
So, without further ado, let’s welcome Mark Nebo to The Highest Self Podcast.
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Welcome Mark to The Highest Self Podcast, it’s so great to have you here!
Wonderful to be with you, thanks for having me!
The first question I’d love to ask you is what makes you your highest self?
Well, I think that, you know, when I think of ‘high’ and when we talk about these things, there are lots of names and I think as fullest, whole vs. partial self vs. high/low and I know that’s not what you mean when you say higher self.
But I think for me, it’s being authentic and returning to my full humanity. You know, we are as human beings, we are this living paradox; the human is very finite and limited and flawed, and the being is infinite and limitless. So, we kind of walk around like lightening in a bottle, so a lot of the things that’s very important for me, that I’ve learned over the years, and anything that we share – what I’m sharing are examples, not instructions. I think everyone has this deep wisdom within them and it’s being together like this that releases that wisdom, that introduces each other through real authentic contact to our own gifts.
So, one of the things that I always come back to is – I don’t believe, or I haven’t experienced myself, a state of permanent enlightenment or clarity. I mean, maybe somebody experiences that, I’m not precluding it, but that hasn’t been my experience. And so, being a human, being a spirit in a body, in time on Earth, I think we’re all challenged to develop and inhabit a very personal practice of return. When I fall down, how do I get up? When I am numb, how do I get sensitive? When I am confused, how do I get clear?
So, we might have some wonderful (I’m sure we will) conversation and moments here and then I can get off this to take the garbage out, trip, spill it, swear, forget everything we talked about and I have to then get up and find my way back.
So, for everyone listening, a personal practice is, what are the inner and relational tools in your toolbox (personally) that you turn to when you’re off center? When you’re afraid, how do you find safety again? When you’re anxious, how do you find calm? And those tools differ for everybody. Some are common but it’s really incumbent on everyone to trial and error. And we can compare “Oh, you do this”, “I do that”, “Maybe I’ll try this next time and see what works.”
Medieval monks, when asked how they practiced their faith, they would say “By falling down and getting up” and I love that, I love that.
I love that so much! And we have more of these minor hick-ups throughout our day like falling down and the trash spilling out, and then we have these larger ones that it almost feels like if we don’t address this deeper thing, this will be an ongoing question that our minds will continue to come back to. And I know for a lot of listeners, it’s the sense of Purpose, of “What is my Purpose”, “Do I have a Purpose”.
So, you words really helped me – I was 23 years old, in Bali, and I was at the Yoga Barn in Ubud, and the teacher, her name was Becks, and at the end of the yoga classes she would read your words from, I believe it was “The Book of Awakening” but also from others, and I have the exact journal that I originally wrote it in, almost 8 years ago. And at this point in my life, I was very confused if I had a Purpose, because my mother was a refugee, my dad was an immigrant, so it was very about survival and doing the thing that would keep you safe, but here I was, desiring more.
So, one of the words that you said, that I wrote, was “No one can live your life but you. All we can do is compare notes”. Can you share a little bit more about this?
Yes! So, I think that what when I was – and thank you, that’s wonderful to hear how that all happened. But every person, every person, has their own particular set of gifts, and while the light is the same, you know, like candles, no two candles are the same but once they’re lit, the light is the same. And so, we, each, are on a journey to discover what our gifts are and where to best apply them.
So, this is a wonderful thing to talk about, let’s really dig into this for a few minutes. And, there was a medieval mystic, a female mystic, and I say female because there weren’t too many that were acknowledged back then, a German mystic Mekhtil, and Mekhtil said “A bird doesn’t fall from the sky; a fish doesn’t drown in water. Each creature must find their own God-given nature”. So, it’s easy for a bird and a fish because their make-up is pretty direct, but as human beings, we are so beautifully, at once, simple and complex facets to a prism. We can go in so many directions that the first part of the journey is often to discover that element, like what air is to a bird and what water is to a fish. So, for a human being it’s, what is the environment that allows our soul to breathe? What is that environment that allows our soul to breathe? And once we do that, once we kind of find the greenhouse for our soul, then we start to grow. And then when we grow, we can start to see how is it that we can relate to others; be of use to others.
You know, we learn to open our eyes in order to see. If you don’t look, once your eyes open, what was the point of opening your eyes? And we learn to open our heart in order to love and care, and if we don’t do that, what’s the purpose there?
And so, one of the things that I have come to believe, our greatest purpose, like the Sun – the Sun’s purpose is to emanate light and warmth, in all directions, without preference. What a great teacher! And our heart is our Sun! Our initial purpose – whenever it gets complicated, I try to come back to the simple – my job is to emanate love and light in all directions, without preference. Then, when I walk in the day, oh, then, it gets complicated, and how do I do that and where do I do that and who do I trust? And those are all human decisions but I never lose sight of the fact that I have to emanate from my heart in all directions, at once.
So, two other things about Purpose here and gifts, and then maybe a story, is that I have to come to feel that there is nothing wrong with working for what we want, but in my life, repeatedly I learned that, often, working for what I want has been apprenticeship for working with what I’m given. And often, it’s working with what I’m given, where my deepest gifts show themselves.
We all know, a wooden match, we all know in the tip of that match, that phosphorous tip, the light is waiting until you strike it again to surface. Well, that’s like our gifts, our gifts are waiting until their light and warmth won’t show themselves until we strike our gifts against the needs of the world – and then boom; and then boom!
So, here’s a story about working with what we’re given and this comes from the 1700s. There was a Japanese monk named Tet Sugan, and his call, his Purpose from an early age, he so wanted to translate the talks of Buddha into Japanese (it hadn’t been done yet), and so this was his vision, he thought “I’m supposed to do this!” He had an artist friend and said “Look, you make these beautiful wood blocks to go along with it and I’ll translate them, and meanwhile, we’ll beg arms so we’ll have enough money to publish the Holy Text”. And they, excitedly, they were young and went off to do this. Years went by and after about 9 years or so, all of a sudden, in North-West Japan, where Tet Sugan was from, there was a flood like Katrina or Irma, these massive floods, so he gave all the money away to help the people where he grew up, and went out and started all over. Kept translating, his artist friend kept doing the wooden blocks, and another 9-10 years later, in another part of Japan there was a famine, and Tet Sugan’s heart had been open and he said “Well, I didn’t grow up with these people but what’s the difference” and he gave the money away all again. And then after 25 years, he finally published the Talks of Buddha in Japanese, with the beautiful wood blocks. And today, in Kyoto, there is an original edition, under glass, and the plaque reads “In his lifetime, Tet Sugan published three versions of the Holy Text. Only one is visible.” And so, he was able to do both, what he could see was his Purpose, but the purpose he couldn’t see was the way that he was supposed to translate Buddha’s talks was by living them.
So, we never know – we work for what we can see so that we can discover where we’re supposed to give and where we’re supposed to help and be of service.
I love that “We work with what we can see so we can discover what we can give”. And it really allows it to be something so much greater than us and our excuses become so finite when we realize that story I have, that limiting belief, is holding me back of being of service to humanity, and what a travesty that would be.
I feel like so many of us, we face pressures from our family, and you also said this quote which I have in my journal: “To appease her mother, she went back to the river and put her old skin on”.
Yeah. Now, this is a very powerful story that also is an anonymous story and this is worth sharing too. So, on the one hand, we’re always trying to uncover our true gifts, and on the other hand, we’re always trying to make sure that we aren’t muffled by false coverings. Doesn’t matter how much you learn, how wise you are, we all, every day, want to uncover and be true and make sure that we’re not covered by false things, by noise, by the noise of the mind, by struggles, by wounds, by memories.
So, this is a story that comes from the New Hebrides, and this was an indigenous story. Early on, in the history of the world, in indigenous cultures, it was believed, mythically, that human beings were immortal. And the way that they could stay immortal was the same way the snakes and crabs shed their shin, that human beings could do this.
So, this story, that that quote comes from, is the story of how human beings lost the ability to be immortal. So, Alta Marama, was the chieftess of this tribe, and her name means ‘change skin of the world’. And one day she noticed, in a reflection, that oh, she was getting old again and she said “Oh, it’s time to go to the river and change my skin, as she had done many times to stay immortal, and she would look young again, even though her soul was continuing to age and grow wise. So, she went to the river, she took off her old skin, and as she started to go back to the village to where her children and her husband and her family were, just as she was leaving the river, she noticed that the old skin caught on a piece of driftwood by the shore, she didn’t think anything of it, so she came back, she’s approaching the village and there is her teenage daughter, sees her coming, and she waves and she says “Oh, hi”, and her daughter doesn’t recognize her because she’s young, she looks like her, and her daughter gets anxious and says “Who are you”, she’s “It’s me, your mother, I just changed my skin, you’ll see, in time I’ll take you to the river and I’ll show you how”, she said “Get away from me, you’re not my mother, I want my mother!” And she said “No, but you don’t understand, listen, listen”, she gets very angry, she’s almost revolted, she says “No! Leave me alone, I don’t want to have anything to do with you, you’re not my mother!” And Alta Marama, to appease the anxiety and anger of her daughter, goes back to the river and puts her old skin on. And from that day forward, human beings lost the ability to be immortal.
Now, who among us hasn’t done this? I’ve done; we all do this; we all do this. This is one of the ways that we get covered, that we have to uncover, that out of heartache or wanting to please or meaning to do well, we put on an old way of seeing, feeling, being, thinking – to appease the conflict, the anger, the agitation, or fear of a loved one, robbing them of their own growth.
So, this doesn’t mean that we truly live forever, but what it does mean is that, I think, when we put on an old, dead way of being, seeing, feeling, thinking, we lose our access to what is eternal. That’s the danger; that’s the danger!
And so, the challenge, one of the ways that we need to find courage is to let that loved one deal with their anxiety. That’s one thing to, if you’re going to the dentist and you’re afraid and you’re anxious, well then I try to soothe you, but if you’re anxious because of your lack of understanding and your position in the Universe, then I have to support you to withstand that, until you can find your center.
Yeah, and I think, often, people become anxious about who we’re becoming. We are changing into someone that they don’t recognize or they don’t want us to become. And then it’s this feeling of “Am I meant to be of service, right here, to this person, to my family, or to this greater calling in my soul that I also don’t know where it’s taking me?”
Well, and I think that this gets us to the nature of healthy relationship, whether it be partner, friends, family. And that is the fact that nothing in life stands still, we all grow. And so, a healthy relationship is to allow each other to grow and to keep checking in and saying – you know, like, my wife Susan, who’s a potter, she’s in her studio, behind our house, right now. She and I have been together, I think, 27 years (28 years), I know her so well, I could finish her sentences, but I don’t. Not just because she would be upset, but because what we’re talking about is my challenge to be a healthy partner is to say “I know you that well, but who are you today?” Who are you today to give her the freedom? Maybe you’ve changed her mind; maybe you’ve grown; maybe you see things differently. And to give that loved one the opportunity to be like Adam and Eve all over again, “Yeah, this is how I felt, this is my beliefs, and then you know what? Something happened, and today it’s all new, it’s all different. Oh, tell me!” Not “What happened to you, I don’t recognize you”, like Alta Marama’s daughter “I don’t recognize you, go away”.
This brings us to, and I think that this is something that is very prevalent, has been throughout history, but it’s very prevalent in our age right now and how it’s showing itself. And I came to this through the book that I did on community “More Together Than Alone”, that so much, and all the traditions speak of it, goes back to the choice between fear and love, which, every day, we get a chance to make that choice again.
And so, looking at all the discord today, I try to understand the history, where does that come from? And in truth, every generation has its version of it, and it’s our turn to be as loving as possible, this time. But if we go all the way back, I imagine, I try to imagine – so, let’s go all the way back to pre-historic times.
Imagine the first two people who discovered they weren’t alone. So, one person is kind of walking around and they look in the mouth of a cave and there’s another person, and they go “Whoa, who are you”, and imagine the one in the cave points at this other and says “You’re different, go away!” And I think that was the beginning of the ‘go away’ tribe. And depending on how much fear takes over in our being, clouds our soul and heart and that sun. Then, there are times in history where people, who are part of the ‘go away’ tribe say “I don’t trust you that you’re going to away, I’m going to put you where I can watch you. We’re going to put you in a refugee camp; in a ghetto; in a reservation; in a detention center. And there have been these horrible times in history when fear has metastasized so deeply, that the ‘go away’ tribe says “Well, I can’t even trust that you’re there, I’m going to make you go away.” And we have these horrible periods of genocide.
But, if we go all the way back to the cave and the person at the mouth of the cave, he or she sees this other and says “Oh, you’re different, come teach me”, and that was the beginning of the ‘come teach me’ tribe. And when that takes precedence in our being, when love leads the way, then we go “Oh, thank God you’re not me, teach me all I don’t know. Together, we’re more together than alone, thank God!” And when that has stepped forward, we’ve had the greatest periods of enlightenment in history, but the catch is, we belong to both tribes. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, I am committed to the ‘come teach me’ tribe but again, we can get off our talk here and something might frighten me and all of a sudden I’ll switch tribes and then I need you to remind me “No, no, no, it’s ok, you got frightened, you don’t have to make it a way of life. Come back, come back!”
And right now, in our world, we have a big struggle between these two tribes but, and then I’ll pause. But one more thought here that is so important, is, in a physical body, we are considered healthy as long as we have one more healthy cell than toxic – “I want a lot more, but if i only got one, I’m leaning in the right direction.”
Humanity is like a global body and every soul is a cell in that body. And when you do the work with your Podcast and we have conversations like this, we are all trying to add to the healthy souls in humanity so that humanity can stay healthy.
Absolutely! And it’s so needed right now! And it’s often a call to further love when we see how much fear and how strong that ‘go away’ tribe is. Not strong in numbers but in the terms of the violence and harm that just one person of that tribe can create and the ripple effects it has on so many people no longer feeling safe. So, it’s up to us to be even louder with our love.
And you had this other quote: “When we put on a dead way of thinking, we lose access to what is internal. We can turn it around by opening our heart”.
Yeah. We are always, I think, all of us, in the practice of opening our heart. And life – things happen and there is a natural rhythm opening and closing. As we’re talking, our eyes are eyes are opening and closing, our lungs are opening and closing, I’m talking with my hands, they’re opening and closing. So, it’s not that we will never be closed, but that our commitment to always open one more time than we close.
And so, we’re going back to our toolbox of return – our commitment to always, with the times we need to open are when we’re closed; and when we open our heart, that’s when we can recognize that we are each other; that we are each other.
So, you know, one of the things that’s very difficult through this whole last year (everywhere on Earth) is, our rhythms of fear and pain and agitation are so greater because of the pandemic. And so, our need to be gentle and patient – and I want to share – this is an old Hindu teaching story about pain and fear; how to meet pain and fear. And in this story, there is a master and an apprentice (there’s always a master and an apprentice), and the truth is, the master finds the apprentice very annoying because he’s constantly complaining about life, about everything, nothing’s ever right. So, the master says to the apprentice “I want you to get a handful of salt, put it in a glass of water and bring it to me, quietly.” So, the apprentice does and the master says “Drink”, so he sips it from the glass and he spits it out. The master says “What’s the matter”, he says “It’s bitter”, the master says “I want you to get the same exact amount of salt and follow me, quietly.” So, he gets the same amount of salt and he follows the master, who leads him to a lake, and he says “Put the salt in the lake”, he does, and the master says “Drink”, so he kneels down, drinks, tripling down his chin and the master says “Well”, and he says “Oh, it’s fresh”. And the master points at him and says “Stop being a glass, become a lake; stop being a glass, become a lake!”
This is an anonymous teaching story from India. I remember sharing this at a – I was teaching at a medical school and there was a resident, a woman who was from India, and I remember I told this and she said “My grandmother told me that story when I was a little girl”, just warmed my heart.
But the great wisdom in this story, that’s been passed down for generations, and very helpful now, is – you know, you might hear this and say “Well, okay, I’m never going to be a glass”, well, yes we will because we’re human. So, the key is, when we’re faced with pain or fear, everyone gets their hand full of salt. Some of us get it all at once, some of us get it a grain at a time, nobody gets through this life without getting your hand full of salt. So, when faced with pain or fear, the only thing we can do is enlarge our sense of things. Stop being a glass, become a lake! How do we do that? That’s the toolbox! Maybe it’s, I call you up and we talk, maybe I listen to music that opens my heart, maybe I draw, maybe I journal, maybe I garden, maybe I go out and do something for someone I love or for a stranger, but I start to learn what are the givings that enlarge my sense of things because it’s not by accident that kindness and kinship have the same root word. So, one of the rewards when we are kind, our relationship deepens but I get access to oneness and to the Universe for being kind. So, we will never eliminate pain and fear but we can right-size it, when we not make ourselves bigger, but enlarge our sense of things.
So, for my writing, many, many years ago, over 30 years ago now, but I almost died from a rare form of lymphoma. And I experienced, oh my God, I was terrified at everything. I had never been through anything really serious so I was afraid of everything. And one of the great learnings was that I had to be true to my experience, but also realize that life was still going on around me. And when I could do that, that enlarge my sense of things, it didn’t eliminate my fear but it calmed me down. I had a moment, where I really learned this, I had had a terrible first chemo treatment and I was outside of New York City, getting very sick in a Holiday Inn with loved ones, not sure when to go to the emergency room and two weeks earlier I had had my rib removed from my back, through surgery, so I was terrified, didn’t know what was going to happen next, I was in pain and finally, it was getting toward dawn (was coming), it was early 4-5 AM and we did eventually go to the emergency room. But as I was on the floor with my hands on my knees, exhausted, as the sun came up, I think because I was exhausted not through wisdom on my part, I couldn’t keep the rest of life out, and so, all of a sudden I realized this is true for me but somewhere nearby a baby is being born; somewhere nearby a couple are making love for the first time; somewhere an estranged parent and child are sitting down and talking for the first time in years. So, a lot of times we play cease ball with that, like, “Oh well, if that’s happening, then what I’m going through is insignificant”, or, more often, we tend to make what we’re going through, the whole world. And what I learned is to be broken is no reason to see all things as broken, that in fact, while I need, when I’m afraid, I need the company of those who knows what it means to be afraid, that I need everything safe to heal; when I’m broken I need the company of someone who knows what it’s like to be broken, but I need everything not broken to heal. And this has been a big, big teacher for me.
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I love that so much! And I heard someone once say it’s not that the situation is stressful, it’s that you are stressful. And you know, sometimes I catch myself, if I am in a stressful mood, everything is stressful and overwhelming and I am a very, very small cup in that moment. And then, in other times, that you zoom out and you become that lake, those very same situations, they don’t stifle you. I think, what we often struggle with is to know “When am I supposed to feel my feelings and be with the experience and let myself go into the tears and the fear and not bypass this moment I’m in” vs. “When that’s enough and when do we find our way to that other side.”
Yeah, and I think this is a very human, on-going practice, is – I believe in the life of feelings. Feelings is how we become intimate with spirit and life here on earth. And we’re taught, a lot of the time, to be afraid of feelings. And I think, in doing that, we don’t stay with feelings and not, so that they can be teachers.
So, you all know if you have a hose (a garden hose) and it’s tangled or kinked, then, when you open it, there’s a lot of pressure, but if it’s all not kinked and it’s not tangled, and Ehen you open it, it’s flowing, and that’s a lot like the life of feeling. If I’m all tangled and I run away from feeling, well then, when I first feel, there’s going to be a lot of pressure, like in that hose. And what we tend to do is go “Oh, boy, if it’s going to be like that all the time, forget it!” When we need to allow that pressure to release until we find what’s the natural flow? “Oh, this isn’t so bad” and in fact, this is not only not so bad, this is helpful and tis is helpful. So, I think, one of the things – Rilke, who was this Great German poet, Raymond Maria, Rilke, he had an insight where he said “Let everything happen, beauty and terror, no one feeling is final. Keep going”. You know, because we’re so sensitive, we can, in a moment, become the feeling that’s moving through us, but we’re not. And our challenge is not to drown in our feelings, to let our feelings live in us and not we in our feelings.
And let’s go back to fear – fear, you can’t get rid of fear, the legitimate purpose of fear is to alert us to legitimate danger, “I touch the stove and I burn myself.” But what do we do? What we tend to do to then is, we go “Oh, well, I know if I get close to that stove, I start to feel afraid again”. And then I say to myself “Well, to be sure, I’m going to add an extra foot, and if I come within that, I’ll start to feel afraid.” That’s not real, that’s inaccurate, and now we treat that ring of fear as if it’s legitimate, when the actual, it’s only a few inches from the stove that I need to be concerned about. And we do this with love, we do this with relationships and we’re always challenged. So, to use the stove analogy again – so, I can burn myself on the stove and I can better learn how to use the stove or I can make this “Stoves are bad and you don’t want to mess with stoves”. And if I never deal with it, I have children, and now I’m telling children “Stoves are evil, you’ll see, you’ll learn!” And just replace that with love; relationships. I get burned by love, I can better learn. It’s not love that the problem, it’s my humanness and the patterns of relationship that we need to learn better, but I can tell myself “Well, no, you can’t trust love; you’ll learn; watch, it’ll happen to you”, and now we’re in the ‘go away’ tribe vs. “Oh, come teach me”, “I got burned”, but it’s not a condition of all love. How do I learn from this experience?
So beautifully said! And I think it also relates to many people who’ve maybe tried to live their purpose, and they’ve tried one attempt, maybe a second attempt and it didn’t work out, so “Don’t follow your purpose, it’s a bunch of hocus-pocus, it’s never really going to happen” and it becomes this fear of failure. And then we have the proof and evidence of all of the people around us who are also living lives that they are not fully satisfied with, but we think “Life’s tough, get a helmet, that’s just what it should be like and I should get used to it”.
The true purpose, I believe, that the soul has on earth, is for us to be as alive as possible and I don’t think that the soul or spirit cares how we do that. The same way that a fire, you put wood on the fire, the fire doesn’t care whether you put pine or oak or elm on it, it’ll take any wood you put on it. And I believe that the soul, like the wood, for the soul is care. If we put care onto the fire of the soul, the soul will shine bright. And it doesn’t matter what you care for, as long as you care. And therefore, I feel, I say often that our soul’s awakening is our career; where that happens is our occupation. That can change!
I’ve been blessed to be a writer and a teacher my whole adult conscious life and when I explore changes – and I have a dear friend who helped me. He was in that Holiday Inn with me (30 some more years ago) and he has always been some, he has done different things to pay the rent and make a living. I can remember, when we were in our late 20s, he has this urge to create an art gallery. He wasn’t an artist himself but he wanted to create it, and he created an art gallery. We lived in Albany, New York, at the time, and for 10 years he devoted to it, it was amazing! And then, it wasn’t successful, but what was feeding his heart, changed, and he said “Well, I’m going to sell the art gallery because I need to follow something else”. And all the while he was doing something else, always doing something else to pay bills, and then he got into Sumi painting (Japanese Sumi painting), and then, years later, he decided that he – he apprenticed at being a foreign car mechanic. And I’ve always admired my dear friend Paul because he followed whatever illuminated his heart, and then that would unfold.
And this is one of the things that, in our modern age is – sometimes, what we need to do to survive, to pay the rent, and what we need to do to thrive, to ignite our soul – sometimes they’re the same thing. I’m blessed, at this time in my life, that it’s the same thing. And in other times it’s not, and that doesn’t mean we’re a failure. These are the rhythms of life because we all have to survive and thrive, everyone. And we have to find, for now, and we all have to discover what combination lets our soul awake and keeps our feet on the ground. Everyone who has ever lived has to do this. But we have been taught, so strongly, that we are what we do, that if we don’t get to do what we love, 100% of the time we’re a failure, when we get to do to survive, often teaches us how to better do what we love. And I think – so, there’s an openness, so here’s a small story about a Purpose:
There’s a cyclist, a professional cyclist like Lance Armstrong kind of cyclist. He’s preparing for a race like the Tour De France and he’s serious, he has all state of the art equipment, he shaves all the hair off his body so there’s no resistance, and finally the day of the race comes and the first day is through the hills. And he is, after about a few hours, he is so far ahead that as he comes over a hill, briefly, for seconds upon seconds, as he’s coasting down the hill, you can’t see the other racers and as he’s coming down the hill, coasting, out of nowhere, a great blue heron, with its wings spread swoops down over his handlebars. He’s stunned, it literally stops him, he stops and straddles his bike because the heron had opened something he’d been chasing. The other racers are catching up, he’s straddling his bike, stunned at what all just happened, and now we cut to years later, and he’s standing on his back porch, looking into the woods behind his home, and once in a while, if you ask him “What cost you the race”, once in a while he’ll say “I didn’t lose the race, I left it.”
Now, we could say, someone could say “Well, that’s all very poetic and nice, but he did lose the race, he didn’t come in first”. And I hold the teaching of that story differently, I think he trained to meet the heron, but if you told him he was training to meet the heron, he never would’ve trained, he would’ve said “That’s crazy!” The heron changed his life.
So, back to, we can train for what we can see because it will often lead us to what we can’t see.
Those very things that we are seeking, I believe, are fueled from this deeper desire that, exactly as you said, we’re not even aware of. And sometimes, as humans, we can be so goal-focused of “I just need to write this book or get this job”, or whatever the things is, but the deeper reasoning behind it was so much different that our conscious mind could’ve ever comprehended.
So, how do you advise people who, maybe, do have this desire right now, to live a life of purpose but they’re not really sure what that passion is for them, they don’t know where to direct their energy, they’re not even on a specific race so they sort of feel like “Should I wait until something, a heron hits me, and then follow that direction or should I start going different directions?”
My feeling is to start very specific and right where you are. Mother Theresa had talked about courage being doing small things with love; and Gandhi, he named his autobiography “My Experiments with Truth”.
And so, I think each of us, I would encourage each of those people who are with us or listening, is to use your own life as the teaching tool; as the case study.
I would invite you to start a journal so that you can track your learning and then I would invite you to ask yourself, every day, as you are doing things, and meeting people, and learning things, and trying things, to ask this question – Is this heartening or is this disheartening?
If it’s disheartening, stop doing it; if it’s heartening, keep doing it! And journal about what you learn when your heart comes alive. And the more you do that, the lessons, your heart will start to be your teacher, and will lead you to what is heartening, and then, it will become clear where you can strike the gifts, your gifts, like a match, against the needs of the world.
You know, there’s an old story, but I’ll modernize it here – a parabola about a young person, a good heart, wants to be a philanthropist. But they don’t have any money so they work for a Foundation so they can help people. So, they do all this stuff and they have a resume and they get an interview, and on the way to the first interview, he’s going there (he or she), this old woman falls in front of him, her groceries fall over the parking lot, and she scraped up her knee; of course, helps her and she’s not seriously hurt but she’s scraped up and bleeding, so he takes her to urgent care, he misses his interview, so he reschedules the interview. And the next time, the interview, he’s on the way, and all of a sudden, before he goes into the building, this young, 6-7 year-old girl is chasing a loose dog. The dog’s running out in traffic, the girl started running in traffic, he stops, he goes to help and he misses the second interview. By this time, the Foundation, they think he’s a slacker and they don’t give him any more interviews, and all the time he thinks he’s a failure. And all of his dreams of being a philanthropist are interrupted by all the opportunities for him to do good deeds – he’s already a philanthropist.
So, when we can follow what is heartening, what our dreams, and what we want, often take shapes we didn’t imagine. They show up in ways to be open, that they don’t just show up in the way we first looked for them. Because the truth is, and I’ve felt this in my life, that, often, our dreams don’t come true, they change or they unfold differently, but when we give our all to what our dreams are, sometimes we come true, and that’s more important.
That story hits so close to home because I literally went to school in D.C. to study International Human Rights Law, always wanting to be the person who saves the world and the philanthropist, and then I suffered from really bad health issues which caused me to have to redirect. And how can I heal the world when I first need to heal myself? And then brought me on this journey, so I really resonate with that.
And I know, so many of us, we want to be of service and there’s so many calls for being of service to humanity, and it’s that constant dance of being of service where you are right now and also not forgetting all of the people who we aren’t seeing, who could also use our help. And even just your story, it reminded me of that essence that I had, going to college to save the world and to also not lose touch with that side of it either, of having both parts of you be alive – the micro and the macro.
Yeah, I think that we cast ahead of us our dreams and plans. And, at least, I have found that’s only helpful so that as I start to live them, I’m open to how life will then teach me what’s next.
Too often we’re taught, which is really kind of an infantile definition, but, if I get what I want, that’s success and if I don’t, that’s failure. And if I follow what’s touching me and what I want, it will lead me, like the cyclist, to the heron, it will lead me to discover things I couldn’t have imagined.
And I think that’s so important because right now, manifestation is such a buzz word in the spiritual community, especially in the social media space, and it’s really so focused on “I want to make this much money, or get this accolade or this, often, material possession, or partner”, or whatever else it is, and “If I can manifest that thing, that will be the thing that shows my spiritual abilities back to me”. And it’s really, more, opening up your heart to, as you say, allow that journey to guide vs. basing your success based off of – in fact, how miserable would our lives be if all of our goals actually happened? If we were limited to only those things, we wouldn’t have even been aware of the so many beautiful mysteries of our lives that have unfolded and will continue to.
Well, and as frustrating as it is, what’s in the way is the way. That’s how we grow, that’s how we are taught and how life teaches us.
Do you think that we could ever live a life that’s fully easy?
No, no! Struggle, and this is why we have to love the engagement of life, because struggle is always a part of it; struggle isn’t a bad thing. I think effort is a wonderful thing! I believe in effort and grace but I always put in effort because I never know when grace will show up.
And sometimes I think effort is grace in slow motion, that it does take time. We work; I’ve worked years on books and only to be surprised at how things unfolded, that if I hadn’t been patient, I never would have discovered, never, never!
So beautifully said! And I think it’s such a great reminder for us, in this digital space, where things are so fast, and if you’re not putting out content all the time and growing and escalating, then you’re falling behind; and to allow ourselves to be patient with the process.
Well, I think yes and I really want to offer this to all young people which is always, it’s always a challenge is that, especially in our age, that things are instantaneous, with all this media and everything, and things are recordable and re-playable. And, one of the age-old truths, there’s like a Law of Spirit, like a Law of Physics, (like Gravity), is that things that matter still take time; things that matter take time. And that if we rush prematurely, we will miss the teaching.
So, I wouldn’t want to give up all these tools, but the tools are not a world view, they’re just tools.
Such a beautiful reminder, yes!
The speed with which things happen is not a way of life, it’s just a tool.
Absolutely! So many of the greatest, like Charles Darwin’s Theory, took him 30 years to write and now “30 years? You’re a failure! You haven’t posted on Instagram in 4 days!” We wouldn’t have allowed such of the greatest insights to occur.
So, if anyone’s listening to this and is putting a lot of pressure on themselves of “Why don’t I know my Purpose yet? Why is everyone else thriving and I’m behind? And maybe this lifetime just isn’t it for me to be patient with that.”
Well, you know, and the other thing that I would share is that, which is so humbling and amazing about all creativity, I feel, is that when we devote ourselves to any engagement, regardless of what we create, we are being created by that engagement. Our life is the work of art that life itself is shaping, and we don’t get shaped until we show up; until we show up.
John Ruskin, who was, in the 1700s, he was an English critic and watercolor painter, and he said this beautiful thing, he said “A person’s toil, the reward, is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”
So, patience in the process of creativity, not “I’m going to sit here and keep scrolling on social media and hoping something’s just going to hit me”, though that may happen. Some people have those complete redirects, but to be patient in the process of writing, of dancing, of painting, of contemplating.
And this goes back to paying attention to what is heartening for you. Because then, when you start to become more intimate with your own nature and you know what brings you alive, not only will that lead you to your Purpose, but it will also help you with those moments we started with in the toolbox, when you’re thrown off and you’re hurt, and you’re afraid, and you’re anxious, then you can turn to what is heartening to enlarge your sense of things, to right-size the pain and fear and agitation, that no one can avoid.
Such a beautiful reminder! Well, thank you so much for all of your wisdom and your eloquent words and for being a living reflection of living your Dharma.
Can you share with listeners how they can get your books?
Yeah, sure, thank you. Well, it was a joy to be in this conversation together.
So, my website is marknepo.com but my books are there and they’re on Amazon, they’re everywhere.
Beautiful! I will have that link in the show notes. Well, thank you again so much for your wisdom, we are so grateful for you.
Well thank you, a joy to be with you, thank you.
[1:03:55] End of Interview
How incredible was that conversation! Let’s just breathe it all in together for a second. Inhale in, and exhale out, receiving in all those codes, the transmissions, the inquiry, the awareness, the awakening.
Sometimes we can be so quick, after we listen to a podcast or listen to an audio book, we go on and we do the next thing.
So, I invite you to just take a moment right now to just jot down any notes, any ideas that showed up for you, just take a moment to reflect on that conversation. Maybe you go back, you listen to some parts because there are a lot of juicy nuggets in there. And if we really spend a lifetime just really contemplating what we already know, but applying it, embodying it, we will get so much further than just acquiring and acquiring more information. We don’t need more information, we need more embodiment.
I also think it’s so powerful to learn from elders, it’s something that I, on the Podcast, have really been more mindful of. I am always looking for elders to have on and we have a lot more elders to come. And to me, it’s so important to learn from people who’ve walked through paths of lives that we have not yet, because we may be able to relate on a certain level – maybe you’re also a millennial or in another generation, but I also love to learn from people who have grown up in a completely different time – without this technology, without the comparison and the social media, and who have really gotten through life and are now in the crone phase, because there’s so much wisdom there.
So, thank you so much to Mark Nepo for being on the Episode and thank you so much to our Podcast sponsors.
If you want to dive deeper into spirituality and me and many experts, come join me in my membership community Rose Gold Goddesses.
You can head over to rosegoldgoddesses.com to learn more information, the doors are going to be opening back up in August. And we’re only going to be opening two times a year, moving forward. So this is your chance, in August, to join. You can head over to the website, join the wait list so you’ll be emailed as soon as we open the doors.
Thank you so much for being here today. Namaste!
Episode 377: Choosing Intuition Over Fear with Mark Nepo
By Sahara Rose