Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer, Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually Awakening people. I’ve done over 500 of them now. And if this is new to you, and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to BatGap.com b a t g a p and click on the past interviews menu. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it, and we’d like to support it, even to a modest extent, you know, $5 a month or something makes a difference. Then there’s a PayPal button on every page of the site. And thank you to those who have been supporting it. My guest today is Mark Nepo. Mark has been called one of the ‘finest spiritual guides of our time, ‘ a consummate storyteller, and an eloquent spiritual teacher. And those are all in quotes. His work is widely accessible and used by many and his books have been translated into more than 20 languages. The bestselling author he has published 21 books and recorded 14 audio projects. In 2016. He was named by Watkins Mind Body Spirit as one of the 100 most spiritually influential living people, and was also chosen as one of OWNS Super Soul 100. That’s Oprah Winfrey’s network, a group of inspired leaders using their gifts and voices to elevate humanity. Mark has a regular is a regular columnist for Spiritual Reality and Health magazine. Recent books include I’m gonna hold them up here as I go. Drinking From the River of Light, More Together Than Alone. That one sighted by Spirituality and Practice is one of the best spiritual books of 2018. Things that Join Earth and Sky, the or the or the, excuse me, Things That Joined the Sea and the Sky, can’t hold up books and read at the same time. Nautilus Book Award winner, The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting, a nautilus Book Award winner. If you’d like more information about Mark, his books or events, I’ll be linking to MarkNepo.com and also a site called the ThreeIntentions.com, TheThreeIntentions.com, I’ll be linking to those from his page on BatGap. So thanks, Mark, welcome.
Mark Nepo: Thank you. It’s great to be with you. I looking forward to our conversation.
Rick Archer: Yeah, So um, as one of the finest spiritual guides of our time. I’m sure that makes you blush a little bit when people say that.
Mark Nepo: Yeah. Yeah, I appreciate it. But you know, we can just get into the work. Right. Right.
Rick Archer: Well, but in any case, millions of people do derive inspiration from your work and spiritual inspiration. But let’s start with, you know, key question, how do you define spirituality?
Mark Nepo: Well, for me, and then this will lead into sharing a little bit of my journey. I understand spirituality as the direct experience of everything that’s larger than us. Everything that’s within us. I feel like being awake as being a conduit, and a membrane, if you will. And so when I’m awake, which I you know, for me, I don’t personally believe in ah in arrived state of enlightenment. I mean, I’m not saying it can’t happen. It’s just not been my experience in my time on Earth. Maybe someone is maybe the Dalai Lama is always enlightened. But, you know, I feel like being a human being the being is infinite. And the human is very finite. And so we’re kind of like lightning in a bottle. And I love you know, medieval monks, when asked how they practice their faith would say, by falling down and getting up, and I love that and, and I experienced that a lot. And, and so I can be clear and confused and, you know, safe and afraid and awake and asleep. And, and so, you know, I read, you know, Maimonides the great, you know, Jewish rabbi and physician, he had a great image where he said, you know, wakefulness and learning. It’s like, it’s like making your way across a field with bursts of lightning at night, for a second you see everything. And then you see nothing. And every time you get a glimpse, you add a little bit to your field of vision to your map to your understanding. And then when it goes dark, you got to make your way by what you know, from when you could see. Yeah, and I think that you know, so I understand, you know, our and different traditions has different names for this. But, you know, our soul to me is the portion of Universal Spirit that we carry in the container. That’s us while we’re here. So you know, I have a bluebird house in our backyard. And you know, that little bit of air inside the bluebird house is equal to the sky, it’s the same stuff. And so I think like we carry around, you know, we are a container. And so a big question for me always is, can I be a good steward of the portion of Universal Spirit I’ve been blessed to carry while I’m here?
Rick Archer: That’s great. I really resonated with everything you said. I like the word conduit. I often like the phrase that we’re sense organs of the infinite, you know, the infinite.
Mark Nepo: I love that.
Rick Archer: Yeah, the infinite pervades everything. And we’re like, little tendrils, or little sense organs all built in billions and billions of life forms on Earth, each with our own capacity to sense you know, yeah, yeah.
Mark Nepo: You know and, and to give a little, you know, from my journey, as I’m 68, we were just talking before we went on air, but in my 30s, you know, I, I had a rare form of lymphoma, and
Rick Archer: That’s a blood disease isn’t it? Blood cancer?
Mark Nepo: No,
Rick Archer: Oh Lymph nodes, the lymph system,
Mark Nepo: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And, and so for a three year period, in my mid, mid 30s, it was the heat of it, where I almost died. And I’m blessed to be here. And so, you know, I was raised Jewish, and I feel great ties to the Jewish heritage. But through that journey, I was blessed to have people from all walks of life and faith helped me. And, and all of the beyond the normal traditions, you know, everything, including, you know, quote, scientists, and atheists and everything. And so, you know, being blessed to still be here, I was not, and still am not wise enough to know what worked and what didn’t. And I feel like from that point forward, I was called to believe in everything. And so I’ve been a student of all paths, and all my books are really kind of an effort to affirm the common center of all paths while uplifting the unique gifts of each. And then, you know, and I like to think, you know, I’m, I’m a poet and philosopher, and cancer survivor. He’s the poet and me that sees. It’s the philosopher in me that tries to make sense of what I see and feel. But it’s the cancer survivor and me that’s committed and the teacher that’s committed to, ‘it doesn’t mean anything if we can apply it’. So how do we, you know, that I’ve found like, the only thing that remains abstract are things we don’t personalize. So where does if anything we talk about is speaking to anyone who’s listening? Where does it live in your life? How does it look? You know, we were saying, and we’re a sense organs of the infinite, well, what does that feel like on a daily basis? How do you know when you’re awake? And what does that look like? Well, I can’t you know, nobody can inhabit that. Or specify that except the individual.
Rick Archer: Nice. You’re an interesting guy to talk to as you go on. There’s like, you know, every few seconds, you say something that could actually be an interesting tangent to go in conversation. But one thing is, as I was listening to you, I have all my screen savers or my background desktop pictures are pictures of galaxies and nebulae, and stuff like that. And so several different ones flashed on the screen, just as you were speaking. And I was thinking, as they often do, of the vastness of the universe, and all the life that undoubtedly lives in it, and how they’re, you know, trillions of inhabited planets by most astronomers some, you know, calculations. And my assumption is that most of the ones that have developed in intelligent life have probably had 1000s of religions in each of those religions is probably thought that it had a monopoly on the truth. So they’re just like trillions of monopolies on the truth out there and obviously they’re not monopolies on the truth it again, everyone’s the sense organ of the infinite which has its own little perspective on things. And in your what you said about just being open to everything and under, you know, how did you put it, just learning from everything being open to all perspectives.
Mark Nepo: Really being a student of all paths?
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Mark Nepo: Yeah. So you know, what a great way that helps me understand this is, is the teacher that spring is. And it’s a metaphor for me for all the different paths, you know, every spring, we have 1000s of birds and insects that each one is innately drawn to a particular nectar into a particular pollen, and to pollinate a particular fruit, shrub flower plant. And we need all of them or there’s no spring. And, you know, so if the bees suddenly said, we’re fundamentalist bees and said, we’re gonna all do it our way. Well, even if they had some way that they could enforce that, or leverage that we didn’t, we wouldn’t have spring, it wouldn’t work. And I feel like we have all the traditions, formal and informal. Because we need every one of them to have a human spring, no one is going to work. And it’s like, what might pollinate your spirit and what might pollinate mine, we could be different, probably will be different. And yet paradoxically, the same, the same source, the same source material, if you will.
Rick Archer: That’s great. Yeah, I mean, look at the diversity and the fecundity of nature, there’s just so much creativity, and, you know, just a huge explosion of, of, you know, different kinds of animals and plants and flowers and everything else. And that’s the way God rolls. So, you know, if that’s the way the intelligence that governs the universe likes to do it, why shouldn’t humans reflect that and their traditions? And, and, you know, paths to some say that there’s many paths to God as there are people on the planet, you know?
Mark Nepo: Yeah, and I think, you know, I think in the West, we often in our kind of devotion to a monotheistic version of things, you know, we misunderstand, you know, for instance, the Hindu tradition, which has so many deities and gods, and, you know, often, you know, in the West, we want a cast that as pagan, or, you know, and, and, to me, the Hindu understanding of the infinite, it’s so vast that it’s like a facets of a prism, no one approach, no one understanding no one story, no one face is going to do it. So we need many, to approach to approach it.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And Hindus, if they really understand their tradition, will tell you that all these different gods are just different expressions of the one you know, the one who is the one Brahman, the one sort of all-pervading intelligence, they just different flavors or, you know, laws of nature, impulses of intelligence, you could say, of the one vast field of intelligence.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, yeah, I believe so. I mean, I’m, I’m partial to Ganesh, the, the, the Hindu provider and remover of obstacles, and I didn’t realize that, you know, I love many people, if they’re listening or they’re not familiar, you know, Ganesh is always represented as an elephant who has four arms. And, and I, you know, I’ve always wherever I go, Oh, I see one. And I, oh, I pick it up. And then, all of a sudden, you know, my wife, Susan, in one day said, Oh, I see you’re collecting Ganeshas. And I said, Oh, I guess I am. I didn’t realize I was but I am or they’re, they’re really collecting me, I guess, facets of me.
Rick Archer: And we have one over our kitchen sink despite which the garbage disposal got clogged recently, and had to be replaced.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, but you know, I love to.
Rick Archer: Didn’t remove that obstacle.
Mark Nepo: Yeah. I love you know, in the in the West, we always seek, you know, saints and sages to get us out of trouble. But what I love about the Hindu notion of Ganesh is the provider, and remover of obstacles, and because obstacles are teachers. And so, until we learn what we’re to learn, and they’re removed, or our way of perceiving is what’s the obstacle? And we learned it wasn’t really a problem in the first place. But you know, this sense that we were talking earlier about, you know, being very alive and not in arrived state of, of enlightenment. I mean, the story about Ganesh a lot of Ganeshas, you’ll most of them, you’ll see, one of his tusks is broken in his hand. And the story the myth around that is that Ganesh himself ran into an obstacle and got so angry he broke off his own task and threw it at the moon. And the moon laughed at him and spit it back at him. So Ganesh carries his broken tusks that in humility that even the God of obstacles is not exempt from obstacles.
Rick Archer: Hmm. Well, you know, I mean, since we’re on the theme of Hinduism or the Vedic tradition, there are a couple of different models in that tradition of there being, you know, creative impulses, but also destructive ones, and that both are necessary in order for things to be counterbalanced. You can turn it to speak of in terms of the Gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas or in terms of like, you know, Brahma the Creator and Shiva, the destroyer, whatever. But it’s understood in that tradition that, you know, both aspects of, of the mechanics of creation are essential. And we see that in practice. I mean, if stars didn’t die, there wouldn’t be us, there would be no heavy, heavy elements to have formed our bodies. So it’s, it’s, you know, there’s some, you know, that Ecclesiastes verse that was popularized by the birds, you know, at a seas to everything, there is a season.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, well, I think, you know, I think the way I hold that is, you know, that there are things are always forming, and falling apart at the same time, and I’ve run across where Shiva is also known as the transformer. And, and since we’re the, you know, that we come, you know, that, like, this creative energy comes into form, whether it’s that plant behind you or us or whatever it might be. And when the form has, you know, run its course, Shiva, the transformer takes that energy back, and it recycles. But, of course, where the where the form, we say it’s destroyed, because the most likely that’s death for us, or the plant runs its course. But I think, you know, to talk about this in, I don’t think this account is for me to justify cruelty or that or destruction that we do. But the natural, you know, things that happen in life, you know, I often from my cancer journey, think that, you know, suffering is to humans, what erosion is to nature. And, and there’s enough, that happens, naturally, but one thing to apply to our current, you know, world situation, I think, globally is, things are always coming together and always falling apart. At the same time, but we in the modern global world, I feel like we’re addicted to the noise of things falling apart, that when things fall apart, they make a lot of noise. But when things come together, they’re quieter. And, and, you know, you just take the weather report when we were young, right? When we had three channels, right. It was called weather report. I turn it on now. It’s called storm watch, like, storm was only one form of weather last I knew, you know, so like, it’s always in our face this, this addictive kind of thrill to watching things break or be afraid and get it in a rush of fear that things are going to fall apart, or they have they are right now watch.
Rick Archer: Yeah, you know, the sort of the drama and excitement of it sells airtime itself. It attracts eyeballs or viewers. And that’s why they do it. I mean, that’s how, I mean, if you if you watch the amount of coverage that took place in the 2016 election, there was one particular candidate who was always kind of blowing everybody’s minds, and the media covered it, you know, because it cause drama sells.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, I think that, you know, it’s unclear, certainly, all over the globe. There’s stridency and, and fear and violence and, and it’s unclear yet to me where it’s going. This is all very real. But you know, the book ‘More Together Than Alone’, which came out last year was a book that that took very different than my other books. And it was a book that took 13 years for me to research and it’s not no means definitive. But what I was interested in looking historically and cross culturally at moments when we’ve worked well together, and simply lifting up those stories and what lessons there are, and that lineage of care and interdependence. And as I did all looked into all that, it’s just by you know, it’s not my timing that the book came out now I just happen to be done after all that time. And, but one thing is that we were they’ve been long waves The notion of time that we’ve pushed each other away, and long periods where we’ve come together and, and it’s unclear where we’re going where one of those historical turning points and, and if where we’re going into a dark time or striding time, you know, I’m reminded of the Dark Ages in Europe, which were only dark in Europe, we were kind of taught in school that the whole world was going through. Now a lot everywhere else in the world was pretty enlightened at that time. What Europe, but it during that, that period, only 10% of the European population was literate. And 10% kept literacy alive for two or 300 years. And if we are entering a modern, dark time, it’s incumbent on us, and all the work we’re doing in every way to keep the literacy of the heart alive.
Rick Archer: Before I forget, I’m going to comment and what you just said. But before I forget, tell that little story you tell about you know, the people who say get away from me yours, your we’re all Yeah, versus Oh, yours, yours, something different teach me to tell it.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, this is a chapter I mean, trying to understand this pattern we were just talking about, I kind of explored this, imagine this parable, if you will, of when the two first it’s a chapter called The Two Tribes in ‘More Together Than Alone’, where the first two people came upon each other before that they thought they were alone. So imagine one person in historic times walking out beside the front of a cave, and you see someone in there and they see each other they go, Oh, who are you? I thought I was alone. And imagine the one in the cave looks at his other and says, ‘you’re different go away’. And I think that that was the beginning of the ‘Go Away Tribe’ and depending on how much fear governs us, then there are a lot there are periods in history. And even in our modern times where members of the Go Away Tribe say well, I can’t trust you go away, I have to put your I can watch you. So I’m going to put you in a ghetto, I’m going to put you in a reservation, I’m going to put you in a refugee camp, I’m going to put you in exile, you know,
Rick Archer: In a cage.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, In a cage and then in that when fear metastasizes to such a degree, we have these horrible periods of genocide where the members of the Go Away Tribe say, I can’t even trust you’ll be where I put you, I’m going to make you go away. But if we go all the way back to that mouth of that cave, now and imagine the other person, see some looks in the cave, see someone for other for the first time and says, ‘you’re different, come teach me’. And I think that was the beginning of the Come Teach Me tribe. Thank God, you’re not me, we are more together than alone. Teach me all I don’t know; we’ll share it together. Let’s grow. And when that has been in the foreground, we’ve had great periods of enlightenment, you know, like, like the Iberian Peninsula for 750 years where were Jews, Christians and Muslims not only tolerated each other they it was an unprecedented cross pollination of every level. But this is the catch is. We belong to both tribes. And I can swear to you with all my heart, I am a member of the come teach me tribe, but we can get done with this interview. And I can go out and something can hit me or happen to me that will so trigger such fear in me that I’ll switch tribes and then I’m going to need you to remind me ‘no, no, yeah, you experienced that. But you don’t have to build a whole worldview on it’. Now we’re more together than alone. And it’s unclear right now, where this is all going.
Rick Archer: Yeah, well, I think the two tribes quite thoroughly intermingle all over the world, although they might not be. In some cases. It’s obvious. You know. I mean, the marchers in Charlotte a couple years ago with the tiki torches obviously belong to a certain tribe. But there are people all over the place. And like we were saying earlier that the noisier stuff grabs the headlines, but in the circles I travel, and I just came back from the Science and Non duality conference. It’s kind of a foregone conclusion among many people, that we’re going through huge changes, and we’ve only begun to see the turbulence that may necessitate may necessarily be there as the transition takes place. But everyone seems to feel that there is a transition, and that there will be something on the other side of that transition that will be well worth, you know, waiting for a living for but no one seems to know exact just how difficult it’s going to be in the transition. But and it just is kind of maybe it’s naive belief, there seems to be a universal consensus among people of a certain way of thinking, that kind of a new age of some sort is dawning. And that so many entrenched elements of the old age are going to just have to somehow be shaken down or routed out or something, and that that process is beginning, if not well underway already.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, I mean, for me, I, you know, like, I believe that, I mean, that all makes sense to me. And I would want to add to it, from where I’m sitting on this circle. You know, I, I think there’s this paradox between progress and incarnation, you know, on the one hand, we grow, and on the one hand, you know, I have young people in my life, and they seem to assume what I have to struggle to learn somehow. And yet on the other hand, no amount of wisdom exempts us from this incarnation. Like, it’s our turn, like everybody, every life, every generation, we got different tools, we got more complicated things, and all these computers and stuff, but, but everybody in the life journey has to go through the same passages. And, and I feel like I can get inspired and supported from wisdom and some other times, but there’s no shortcuts. There’s no shortcuts. And so there is this, for me this, this I can say this paradox between progress and incarnation, what happens, So in that way, regard, I don’t think there’s anything new and on the one level, and yet, it is our turn to shed all this and move through it, as has happened, time and again, throughout history. You know, I don’t think people in prehistoric times were primitive. I think history was, I kind of see history is where all the same six inches from heaven and from the gutter. And, you know, we, of course, we will, all cultures, we want to say progresses, climb up a mountain, and of course, where we are, is the top so far, you know, and I, you know, I remember, I mean two things that, that strike me about, you know, prehistoric, you know, I’ve always been fascinated. And this is because of a metaphor about suffering, but with, with the first flutes that were ever carved by hand, which, you know, as far as I could look into, where like 36,000- 70,000 years ago in, in, in northern Germany, and in Europe, and those are made out of mammoth bone. So when, when living was that difficult surviving, what made someone stop and carve, hole and hollow out a mammoth bone, and, yeah, that’s the person I’d like to interview, you know, and, and it says to me, I mean, what do I know, all this time later, but what it says to me is, that was as essential to living as outer survival, that music, that the inner life, that in order to survive out here, we have to thrive in here. And so forget being primitive. You know, we just had different tools.
Rick Archer: One of the main themes of one of your books, I think, maybe it’s ‘Drinking From the liver, River of Life, the liver, River of Life”. Well sounds a little gory is that, you know, we have this innate creativity, and we need to there’s a, there’s a sort of a natural urge to express it. And if that urge gets thwarted, then you know, it creates frustration. Remember Thoreau’s line of you know, most men live lives of quiet desperation. And actually, there was a great story about a here’s, here’s a quote from you, you said,” if you stop expressing, you may still walk around and buy groceries and pay the bills, but you will not be alive”. So we have this natural urge to express. And I think that relates to something we said we were talking about in the beginning of this conversation, which is that there is an all pervading intelligence which is evident if we look closely at anything, you know, a single cell or a little bug or anything, and that intelligence thoroughly pervades us and we’re all sort of instruments of that instruments a sense organs of the infinite are and not only sense organs, but organs of action through which the infinite can express itself in the world. And if the infinite is unable to do that, then there’s a sort of a bottle bottling up phenomenon which builds a pressure, and that pressure is uncomfortable. Maybe you’d like to riff on that.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, and more than uncomfortable, it’s, it’s life draining you know. So beyond, you know, one of the things that, you know, my understanding of expression and creativity changed dramatically after my cancer journey. You know, before, you know, I was, I was teaching at Albany University, I had my doctorate. And I was hoping, you know, if I devoted myself to poetry and teaching, maybe, maybe, you know, I might write one or two great poems, maybe you know, and, and then all of a sudden, you know, I’m like, in my 30s, and I’m thrown upside down, inside out, I’m in the hospital, I’ll forget writing great poems. I needed to discover true poems that would help me live. And now that I’m in my 60s, I want to be the poem. And the words are just a trail. And so this whole book, ‘Drinking From the River of Life, a life of expression’, you know, I use the analogy of breathing, you know, we’re here we have this time together, we, we have to inhale and exhale. We can’t decide for this next, I will just inhale, see how it goes. It’s like going to work. And the heart has to inhale and exhale and the way the heart inhales, is that it perceives and feels, and the way the heart exhales is it expresses, and it doesn’t really matter what form it expresses. If we don’t express, it will damage, our aliveness. And through that, inhaling and exhaling of heart, we remain an active conduit to lifeforce I believe and, and so it’s less than, you know, we’re so trained in the modern world, with a manufacturing imprint that we turn everything with, even with good intention into a product. It’s not so much about what we create, it’s how alive we are brought for that engagement. And beyond the formal arts, I mean, it could be anything that we devote our wholeheartedness to, it could be gardening, it could be stamp collecting, it could be repairing cars, it could be anything that we are wholehearted, and give ourselves over. And I think that what is not expressed is depressed. And so, you know, one of the liabilities of not expressing is we get isolated. We stopped being a sense organ for the infinite. And now we’re pinball in a pinball machine called society.
Rick Archer: Yeah, what would you say to a person who, you know, single mom working two jobs, you know, trying to survive, who, you know, just really has to sort of life is difficult. And all this talk of expressing and being creative, and all just seems like an airy fairy notion, you know, it’s just not possible, given the pressures on such a person and there are many such people in today’s society?
Mark Nepo: Well, I would, I would, you know, I would say that this is where we’re talking about, we have to personalize this. And I come back to very basic things, you know, kind of a barometer, or kind of a question I asked myself every day when I’m involved with things is, is this heartening, or is this disheartening? So for anyone who’s struggling with, we all have to survive and thrive? Everyone who ever lived has to survive and thrive. And they’re both require great skill. But if all we do is survive, without thriving, what’s the point, and plus, we won’t do it very well, very long. So we have to somehow find and so all of what we’re talking about here is what are the ways in which your heart and soul and your relationships can breathe and be heartened, enlivened, empowered, and, you know, it’s the same thing we go back to what made that prehistoric cave person stop trying to make fire in a cave and start carving a bone?
Rick Archer: To make music
Mark Nepo: Turn into a flute? Unless, it was something in that person said, this is as essential. If all I’m doing is gathering wood, and trying to stay out of the path of mountain lions and hiding in a cave, what is the point? You know, I think, I think that, you know, it’s probably the, you know, I teach a lot and I’m always convening circles, which I love and, and, and, you know, I like to say that formally or informally, this is lineage, you know, we’ve always had to stop to make sense of this, whatever ‘this is’, and I imagined that in cave times as well , probably a clan was chasing a mountain lion hoping they could, you know, get some food and all of a sudden the mountain lion chased them, you know, and they’re in the cave, and they’re all hiding in there. And there’s somebody in the back, got his head in his hand said, ‘Is this all there is? What’s the point? What are we doing?’ And I think that’s probably the first retreat, you know?
Rick Archer: That’s interesting because these days, a lot of people are talking about, well, with the way things are going with automation, and self-driving trucks and all the other stuff. There’s gonna be a lot of people with a lot of spare time, you know, we’re not just not going to need all the manpower that we now need in order to get things done. So what is everybody going to do? And, and how is the wealth going to be rearranged, so that if even if people aren’t doing very much they can support themselves? I think the obvious answer is, well, it’ll give them the freedom, hopefully, they’ll use it this way to do something creative, something evolutionary, something spiritual, something that helps other people and so on. And they won’t just sit around on their butts watching TV, although probably some will. And then go ahead.
Mark Nepo: Well, well, so here, you know, we need, you know, through progress. Yes. You know, we don’t have to, you know, we don’t, you know, 200 years ago, or 150 years ago, you know, we had to do a lot of physical work to have heat and a hearth and food and everything. And so now, you know, we all have to we don’t have, I’m glad I don’t have to do all that. And everybody has to do some kind of physical exercise, to have aerobics to compensate that we don’t have to do all that hard labor. Well, we’re also at a point where we need to do spiritual aerobics. We need to do things that you know, so for instance, you know, wonderfully, I don’t need to climb to the top of a mountain to get that view. I can, I can, you know, I don’t even have to leave my room anymore. I mean, I can Google it you know, right? So that’s, in one way, that’s great in the sense that there are places on earth I may never get to see. So that’s wonderful that I can see them. But it doesn’t replace the spiritual aerobic of actually climbing and at the end of that climb, seeing that view in person. So we need, everyone needs spiritual aerobics, to hearten their lives, to keep them connected to everything larger than them while they’re surviving. So. So this triggers a couple of things I’d like to share if it’s okay, so, yeah, so, so, so one is, let’s talk about the, the, the disc chord and the disconnection of that and I want to I want to talk about all the epidemic of mass shootings, especially in America. And yes, you know, clearly there’s way too is so obvious is way too many guns but more deeply. Okay. And I want to use a, a kind of a biological metaphor to understand this. So, you know, an aneurism is where a cell in a body, a weak cell in a body under great pressure explodes.
Rick Archer: A single cell or is it like a capillary or a little vein or something?
Mark Nepo: Well, it could be either, you know, the, so but the point is, there’s a small part that is weak. And under great, the body’s pressurize as high blood pressure, it is stressed as whatever, it explodes, it usually leads to a stroke.
Rick Archer: Right.
Mark Nepo: Well, our society is a global body. And I would offer that, that more than any other country and in the world, these individuals who are responsible for what they do, who are out of their minds, who are, you know, creating great harm, and also their social aneurisms. They are weak cells in the societal body. And so it’s not enough for me to say, that person is out of their mind and they’re responsible, yes, they’re responsible and it has nothing to do with me. No, because I am contributing, I can ask and we need to ask, why is our society so pressurized, that we have an epidemic of social aneurisms exploding? Why, what can we do to depressurize and normalize the global body so that we have less an epidemic and at the same time, these individuals are responsible for what they do. So this has to do with deeper a deeper form of education, and caring for each other. You know, so, and I don’t have any answers to it, but it seems really, really powerful to me. So the second thing with more kind of archetypally is, and this is about how do we, you know, survive and thrive. And this we look at a little fish as a teacher. Okay, so we all learned like in seventh or eighth grade that, you know, and we take it for granted. But fish are pretty miraculous, right? They’re air breathing creatures that live in water. Okay, you or I try to do that, can’t happen. So how do they do this? Well, we learn in middle school that, you know, they have this organ that’s called a gill. And what a gill does by a process of, of, of fusion dispute, or diffusion, I’m not sure which. But basically, water is made out of hydrogen and oxygen, through the gill water comes in and extracts what it needs to live, the oxygen and discharges the rest. Now, the teacher here is that our heart is our gill. Our heart is our gill. And by being authentic, wholehearted, present, awake, caring. Our heart extracts what is essential as we swim in the river of experience so that we can live and thrive and thrive. And we discharge the rest. And if we don’t, then that gill, the heart, the emotional heart, the psychological heart, just like a biological heart will get plaque and will get clogged. What does that mean in terms of emotional cycle that means assumptions and conclusions. That means wounds, that means memories. That means an obsession with worry and fear. And we stopped taking in what’s essential, it won’t get through. So, you know, I was teaching I was teaching this when I discovered this metaphor. I was talking about it and I was at a I was teaching on an island off of Canada, up off Vancouver in.
Rick Archer: Vancouver Island, Salt Spring maybe?.
Mark Nepo: Yeah. So. So at the, at the break at lunchtime, this one person who was in the group came up and said, Ah, I’m I happen to be a marine biologist. And I thought, Oh, I’ve really screwed this metaphor. Now he’s gonna tell me, you know, but now he said, Yeah, no, you’re okay. You’re it makes sense. But he helped further it. And, you know, we also learn early in school that fish need to move through water. So water will go through the gill or they’ll die. They have to keep moving on. He said that’s not true of all fish.
Rick Archer: I think it’s true of sharks.
Mark Nepo: That’s only true of sharks and skates is what he told me. And what he why is because that sharks in skates, their gills have no muscle. So they don’t have a choice. They have to rush through water. In order to breathe, get what is essential. But all the other fish have a choice because their gills have muscles so.
Rick Archer: They can see them flapping. They go in and out like yeah,
Mark Nepo: So they can tread water and pull life in and take what’s essential. So this is very helpful because this is a great shows us why we need inner practice. Doesn’t matter what, you need an inner practice so your heart starts to have muscle. Otherwise, you got to run through life, taking needless risks. This helps explain the life of addiction. We got to you know, gamble, drive fast, have dangerous sex, and you name it, like sharks and skates so that we get what’s essential. Because if we don’t have an inner practice, our heart doesn’t have any muscle. And we got to take needless risk. So all of this connects with the social aneurisms. If we get far enough out and far enough isolated, and we have no muscle on our heart, then violence becomes a last attempt to feel.
Rick Archer: Yeah, interesting point. And, you know, regarding addictions and all the other things you just mentioned, I think usually people who live that way, you know, if they if they don’t have the thing they’re addicted to or the stimulation the fast driving or whatever, they settle down and they begin to feel an inner discomfort that they haven’t attended to. And so they want to get the stimulation again to you know, obscure that inner discomfort and so it becomes this, you know, there’s kind of running away from looking inward. And yeah, and obviously, there’s a thing you have to go through where you finally at some point, do look inward, can feel that stuff and work your way through it. And then having worked your way through it, there’s a contentment that you never knew existed, it’s actually been suppressed all along, by all the surface stimulation that you’ve been in engaging in. A couple more thoughts before, in ‘Drinking From the River of Light’ you say, ‘as human beings, we are a beautiful braid of the infinite and the finite. While our being is bottomless, our humaneness has limits, that’s the curse blessing that has us looking everywhere for what’s right before us and within us’. And I thought of that quote, when you were talking about the aneurism point, and the, the, the sort of the, the school shooters and the other violent people as sort of the weak cells that that burst, I, again, ‘as human beings, we’re afraid of the infinite and the finite, our being is bottomless’, I think that being which is bottomless is we could use the phrase collective consciousness, there’s like, just like the ground and a forest that all the trees are planted in and growing, there is a sort of a shared consciousness, which has, it actually collects stuff, it collects stress and tension, for instance, you could say, and at a certain point, it’s like a cloud that’s collected too much static electricity, that it has to break out in lightning. So that stress or tension has to break out in some way, either as a war or as a, you know, some kind of violent event. And so, rather than let it get to that point, if we could do something to diminish or neutralize the stress in that collective consciousness, then those, those violent things wouldn’t have to happen. And I think that’s what spiritual practice tends to do. Because we, we attend to that field consciously. And we kind of enliven it in our own life. And in doing so, I think we enliven it in a positive way throughout the whole field, which enlivens it for everyone, which neutralizes the, the tension in it.
Mark Nepo: Yeah. So, you know, one of the couple of things that, that come up here, and one that comes up from the community book ‘More Together Than Alone’ is, you know, one of the great natural examples of communities is an aspen grove.
Rick Archer: Oh, yeah.
Mark Nepo: Because Aspens and that first time I was I was in New Mexico, in St. Outside of Santa Fe, I was in aspen grove for the first time, but the largest Aspen grove in that is known is in Utah, and it’s like 160,000 Square acres. And it’s believed to be 80,000 years old. And, and what what’s a powerful here, which kind of is an image of what you were just describing is above ground, Aspens are singular trees. But below ground, unlike a lot of other trees, they share one root system. And, and so they are an aspen grove is one of the largest single living organisms on Earth. And so yes, it so that so above ground, we look like we’re, you know, this is a great metaphor for community. And for that shared consciousness and shared being because we, we yes, we walk around, we’re individuals, you know, we have different ideas and feelings and histories. But in the invisible ground of spirit, we all share one root system and so more than just altruism. If my roots start to get diseased, you have to care because they’re your roots. And, and part of the natural healing of the, the how an aspen grove maintains it’s well being is there isn’t just like how in the body, you know, if there’s a cut, you know, blood cells will run to the side of the injury, well seem to have an aspen grove if one set you know, if a couple of trees have diseased roots or weaken roots, nutrients will go from the rest of the grove to the site of the illness. And, and so you know, this is so there’s several things that come up here that you know, so we have this natural capacity and I do believe when we’re awake, and when we’re wholehearted and when where we lean into our humanity because I believe that through my humanity, through my felt, all heartedness of my experience as a human being, I touch into that greater field. I can glimpse it mentally by going above but I don’t inhabit it unless I go through my humanity. And, and so, you know, one of the things that I have a personal example of this, which is very powerful for me was my father who’s gone now he lived to be 93. And he died three or four years ago and, and I, at the end of his life, I was my brother who live nearby and did a lot of the daily heavy lifting. And I lived about 1000 miles away, so I would come and be where I could, you know, come and stay and, and I was with him in the hospital, and, and had some wonderful time alone with him. And there I was, probably a lot of people experienced this. There are other I was all of a sudden, he had had, he had had a couple of small strokes. And I was feeding him applesauce. There was you know, and it was a bittersweet moment, it was beautiful, and sad and heartbreaking and everything and everything, all of a sudden, all of life for me was in those moments of getting that spoon in his mouth. And not disturbing his breathing and not hitting his teeth. And he was like, we’re doing this little dance, and he was kind of reaching for it, you know, and I was tearing up and, and all of a sudden, to my surprise, I was I had tripped into a moment of wonder, in this hospital, sad, beautiful, heartbreaking noise in the hall, nurses dropping things and everyone there it was. And then the as when I couldn’t have it, when I gave myself I held nothing back, gave everything I could to be in that moment, I by going to the bottom of that feeling, I tripped into the well of all feeling. And so all of a sudden, by being as thoroughly in my life as possible, I was suddenly in the moment of every adult child that ever fed a dying parent. And I was not alone. And so in a mystical, deeply spiritual way. I had suddenly, by facing what was mine to face and giving my all to it, I had tripped into that common feeling in the collective, conscious field. And I’ve started to wonder and think about and reflect on that that connection is at the heart of resilience. When I can feel whatever I’m faced with and face it as thoroughly as possible, I trip into the other moments that other human beings have been there. And that makes me as strong as I am and stronger. That makes me all of I am and more than I am.
Rick Archer: Here’s a couple of quotes from’ More Together Than Alone’ that relate to what you’re just saying. One is ‘intimacy as a catalyst for the experience of oneness’. And then you say, ‘community becomes the art and science of understanding and engaging the life force that moves through everything’. And it reminded me of a quote from the near the very end of the Rigveda says, ‘go together speak together know your minds to be functioning together from a common source in the same manner as the impulses of creative intelligence in the beginning remain together united near the source’.
Mark Nepo: So yeah, that’s wonderful. Yeah, yeah.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s all we’re all just like little you know, sprouts in or little uprisings, little plants in the forest and the ground of the forest is our deeper nature and are the individual plant that we think we are is our individual nature. Yeah, again sense organs of the infinite.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, I think you know, one of the things for me, I talk about it and ‘Drink From the River of Light’ is which I just helped me as a young poet and a young mystic, was reading Carl Jung’s passage about that he thought artists and poets were lightning rods for the unconscious. And, and that’s always felt for me, you know, true that by being as thorough and honest about my own experience, I can without design or will, I can then be available to be a lightning rod and, and you know, one of my early books ‘The Book of Awakening’, which is a spiritual day book. And that’s the one that has really, you know, probably reach more people than any of my books. And when I’m often, you know, people kindly will often say to me, you know that, oh, it’s like, I read this day, and it’s like you wrote just for me. But you know, I’m not that smart. But what is a tribute to? Is that, what we’re talking about that when I can what Jung was talking about that when I, if I look deep enough into me, I find you. And if you look deep enough, and do you find me because we meet in the center, we grow from that common center. And you know, that in the Christian, the desert, Mystic fathers of the third century had a wonderful metaphor that speaks to this and also about community. And it was of a wagon wheel. You know, like we see in westerns.
Rick Archer: Or a bicycle, for that matter
Mark Nepo: Or a bicycle wheel sure, but what they would say is that, you know, what they offered was, every spoke in that wheel is an individual soul. And in how we become our uniqueness as we go out. Every spoke holds up a different unique place on the rim, and the rim is community, and it needs every soul to hold its place. But if we go in, in our being, we will meet in the hub in the same center. And that’s God, they call it whatever you want to call it, is 1000 names. But what I love about it’s such a powerful metaphor is that you take any one part of that out, you got no wheel, Right? You take smoke out, it falls apart, you take the hub out, done, and without the rim, it’s nothing. And so this interrelationship between our, our being and our becoming, and our uniqueness and our commonness, you know?
Rick Archer: Right! Yeah, those of us who ride bicycles know that, you know, if a single spoke brakes, the wheel starts to wobble, it gets out of alignment, and it starts rubbing against the brake pads. And then you can’t ride as easily or as smoothly, you know, and that kind of reminded me of that John Donne poem, you know, no, man is an island, I just looked it up. ‘No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent a part of the main’. And I’ll just skip along here. But ‘Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee’. But we’re in this together, you know, like you were saying earlier about the birds in spring, and the bees and all the things that come around in the springtime, you know, look what we’re doing, where we were about 200 species a day go extinct or something like that these days? And we think we’re actually immune to the implications or the effects of that? No way. I mean, we’re actually we’re, you know, undercutting our own roots, or something by
Mark Nepo: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there was one thing I have a chapter in the community book about, and this speaks to the American character, both its, its gift and its shadow and, and, you know, with all the traveling, I do, and I have a passport that I use for ID, you know, when I was going into Canada, actually, and it was a long line, and I didn’t have anything to read. And I was, you know, fidgety. And so I started, I started reading the passport. I never looked at it. And every page has a quote from a president. And so there were these two, which I made, I explored this more, because I stumbled onto this. So there was a quote on one page, like it was page 19 and 20. So the first quote was by Lyndon Johnson, which basically said something like, you know, we will bend the world to our dream, if what we are dreaming doesn’t work, then get rid of it, and we will make we will bend the world, you know, real arrogant.
Rick Archer: Manifest destiny.
Mark Nepo: Uh, yeah. Right. But then on the next page was Dwight Eisenhower, who had liberated the, the, you know, some of the concentration camps. And he said, you know, the only thing in order for America to, to live out anything, we have to live it from the heart, and the heart of our values. And if you think back it made me really reflect that even in in how, how the Founding Fathers created America, all while maintaining slavery. We have always had this this tension between are we loving the world or are we bending the world? And we see that, you know, globally with climate change and how we’re bending and breaking and destroying everything, rather than loving it in so much goes back to that in a daily choice, and then a global choice between love and fear.
Rick Archer: You know, there’s a lot of, obviously, contention these days between different factions on issues like climate change, and various other things in, you say, and I guess it’s in ‘More Together Than Alone’ listening to each other’s stories changes the conversation from ‘how can you think that way to, what can we learn from each other? So, but how would you apply that teaching in a conversation with, let’s say, a climate denier? Or, you know, a much more extreme example of a white supremacist or somebody like that?
Mark Nepo: Yeah, so you know, being? I mean, this is where, you know, right? I mean, how do we, and so with everything I’ve learned, we’re doing all this research, and being a third generation American Jew. And we’ve seen, you know, why would I think that there would be Nazis in the streets of America? And what are we supposed to do with that? Right? And so, I mean, I don’t again, I don’t have answers, I can just speak to it as one person in this circle of humanity. And, and, you know, one thing that comes to me constantly is in our age right now is, every day I asked a question, how can I be visible today? What does that mean today? Because I think, I think we can’t vanish. And so the first thing for me is we can’t vanish, I can’t become the thing that that is so oppositional, but I can’t vanish either. And, and then I also think that in like all of the circles that I convene, I will welcome anyone into the circle except those intent on destroying the circle. I don’t know any other way to hold it. And, and given all this, so I don’t know, you know, because the great paradox being Jewish is that I’m not blaming anyone who, but you know, as being a student of the Holocaust, in so much of the Jewish character that is about being visible and standing for conviction and standing up and yet, you know, it was only the people who were hidden who escaped the Nazis. So what are we how are we supposed to hold that paradox, right, like, and so I almost feel as a tribute, not only to being a member of our community, but my own cultural heritage, almost as a tribute to all those who are lost in the Holocaust. I don’t know, what am I going to be visible, I don’t know what that means every day, but I’ve got to be visible and, and then in terms of like, being in conversation, you know, and this, I learned from one of my students, I have a woman whose lives are right. And, and, and she shared this with our circle, this was a group that met over a year. So we came back into each other’s lives. But she had a cousin, they grew up together as little kids and now they’re older, and a lot of the family is passed away. And the cousin who’s become one of these people who doesn’t listen, who’s a fundamentalist who’s very closed, ‘a go away, tribe member’, and he said, Well, you know, gee, wouldn’t it be great to spend time like when we were kids? And she said to the group, she said, I don’t know where it came from me. But I said to him, I’d love that only if we share our experiences and not our conclusions.
Rick Archer: Nice Line. Yeah,
Mark Nepo: I think that’s profound. And I don’t know exactly how to apply it. But I think that, so like, if, if, you know, we can argue about abortion, let’s say, and we may not see abortion the same way. But if I asked you for the experience, and stop focusing on the conclusion, it’s going to change. You know, if I say to you why I see, you feel strongly about this. Why? What’s the story? Why, why, what led you to this? Why this is so important to you. And I think that there’s something there, we may never agree. But I think it changes the ground of the conversation. Then I ran into, you know, a quote by Longfellow, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who said, If we really listen to the sufferings of our enemies, they would no longer our enemies.
Rick Archer: The feeling I get as I listened to this, is that what I’m actually experiencing as I’m listening to you, is a softening of the heart. And I think that might somehow be key to resolving what we’re talking about here. Because there’s sort of a there’s all these stories in the Bible and Vedic literature and other stories where a person is about to do something kills somebody or something, and they say, he hardened his heart. And then he did it, you know. And if this if the heart can be softened, I think we can stand by our convictions. You know, the right for Jews to live or, you know, black people or anybody else and you know, the right to have a clean environment and all that stuff. But we can with tenderness and a soft heart, have a conversation with those who feel differently. And perhaps to an extent, even if their heart hasn’t been softened. I mean, look at the way Gandhi dealt with the British.
Mark Nepo: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s wonderful, what you’re saying about softening the heart, I think it’s so it’s, it’s so important. And I think that, you know, I think there are two primary ways that human beings grow and that their hearts are softened, and that they and that’s through great love and great suffering.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I mean, Martin Luther King is another example of somebody who just refuse to resort to the violence and the hatred and all that and ended up you know, winning in the end.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, you know, I think that, that we, we can’t, ironically, I think I don’t think we can change anyone. I think we can only be present and loving and not vanish. Um, and, uh, you know, I think that we do we will we learn by shedding willfully shed shedding or being broken open.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I’m sorry, go ahead, keep going.
Mark Nepo: Don’t shed will be broken open.
Rick Archer: One way or the other. Yeah. I mean, yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s another whole thing is that, you know, if the more adamant we are, the, the more violent the breaking open is going to be, but one way or the other, it’s going to happen and, and if we can learn to just sort of soften naturally, then they won’t have to be this, you know, hard cracking of a shell. But I was just gonna say there’s this documentary, which I haven’t watched yet, I don’t think but there’s something about a black guy who goes down south and he actually sits down with Ku Klux Klan members, and eventually gets them to the point where they realize what a crazy thing they’re doing. And he collects their robes. And he has this whole collection of Ku Klux Klan robes from having had these conversations and having really befriended guys who hate his guts, you know, to begin with, it’s just one example of the kind of thing we’re talking about.
Mark Nepo: Yeah. And I think, you know, um being wholehearted, which is a quiet courage, I think that it takes it takes a quiet courage to be who we are everywhere. And, and, and again, to use a, you know, a biological metaphor. You know, that in your body or my body, if we have one more healthy cell than, than toxic, we’re considered healthy, we’d like a lot more. As long, we got one, we’re leaning in the right direction and humanity as a global body, every soul is a cell in that body. And so you know, inner work and service are inextricably linked in the health. I mean, we can do what we can do, whether it’s in a particular situation, but also, being a healthy soul is gonna help tip the scale of humanity to staying healthy today.
Rick Archer: I interviewed someone just recently, I forget who it was, I’m gonna have to look it up, but she was saying that on numerous occasions, when there has been some big event like the tsunami in Indonesia, or 911, or a number of other earth, world shaking events like that, she has known it and felt it before it became public news. It’s like, it’s kind of like Star Wars where Obi Wan Kenobi said, I feel a great disturbance in the force, you know, when the death star blew up the planet Alderaan. But there are people in this world who are so kind of attuned to or immersed in or merged with the unbounded awareness that when something happens in that rocks, that field, they feel it instantly. And a lot of such people tell me that they feel very often like washing machines where a lot of stuff gets filtered through them and they, they sit there and they just kind of resolve these things. It’s as if their individual karma or whatever has been resolved. And they they’re taking on chunks of collective karma and kind of filtering it through their nervous systems or through their consciousness and melting it away.
Mark Nepo: Well, I think, you know, I think this is, I mean, you’re talking about an, to me, an extreme, highly developed form of compassion and but you know, compassion, compassion itself, the word really means ‘to be with’. And when we can, you know, for whatever reason, I think that life has been made just difficult enough that we need each other,
Rick Archer: Sometimes more difficult.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, and I think that’s to ensure the journey of love that we are more together than alone. And that when we, when we can be there for each other, we distribute the weight. You know, I do you know, the work of Ed Tick? Oh, and he’s someone you might want to interview. Okay. Ed Tick is a he is a visionary in, in veteran in the healing of veterans. And he’s done a lifelong work. We started out as young poets together and got, you know, drawn into our particular callings, but Ed is remarkable. And he’s done research throughout, throughout cultures about how veterans have been dealt with. And one of the things he talks about, that which brought this up for me in our conversation is how, in Native American community life, you know, we have such a misunderstanding of like a war dance, we see, you know, painted feathers and dancing, and all right, and some of that some of that, you know, was in preparation, but there’s a whole other aspect of it, that was when warriors would come back, having had to do horrible things, to enable the tribe to go on for everyone. The tribe would meet in community and they would reenact what they had to do, and what they experienced, so they wouldn’t have to carry it alone. And that was the war dance afterwards, not before. And that, and that they distributed the sub like you went out and did this on our behalf led us to you don’t have to carry the horrors. Let us listen to your stories, let us have compassion, let us distribute the horror and the pain. And you know, one of the things that had, you know, talks about is that, you know, on Veterans Day, rather than having sales and, you know, closing schools, we should be opening up the schools and the town halls and the synagogues and the churches so that veterans can tell their stories and not carry those horrors alone. And at the community, they did this for receives them so they can reintegrate.
Rick Archer: No. Hmm. That was particularly tough after the Vietnam War, where the VA, the troops came home, and everybody hated them here, or at least the young people did there, which is pretty much the same age group as the troops, you know. And there was, you know, just to this day there, Vietnam War veterans who are just traumatized, and never had a chance.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, yeah, just, but just awful. But how do we open our heart, you know, I think I’ve come to understand that there were like, two ongoing forms of compassion. One is a continual, like initiation or apprentice level of compassion, which never ends. And that’s where, you know, we have something in common. So it opens my heart. You know, I talk to talk about my father, if you lost your father, oh, I, I know we have that in common and I feel drawn to be there for you. Or if you, you know, your heart is broken, my hearts been broken, we can. But I think that’s all an apprenticeship, or how we open our heart to each other, when we don’t have anything in common. And that, to me, is the maturing of compassion. And my first experience of this was years ago, where I just stumbled I was in a restaurant bar, and there was a guy turned out to be a Vietnam vet. And he was kind of agitated and kind of loud, and he was nearby, and I wound up talking to him. And it turned out, he was a medic. He had been a medic. And I’m listening. And, you know, and, and I said, Boy, I can’t imagine and he slammed his hand on the table and said, No, you can imagine. And I said, No, I can’t, but I’m here. And, and that was my first introduction. I didn’t have these language for it. But when I look back, I think that was my first introduction. Like I had no, nothing in common with this person. But every all of where I have had things in common where I could train and learn to be compassionate is like, so that I can be compassionate where I don’t have anything in common with anyone.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s where it’s most needed. I guess, you know? Yeah, I mean, It’s easy for a couple of vets to commiserate with each other. But, you know, if you’ve never been in their shoes, it’s it takes a greater capacity for compassion, you know, to
Mark Nepo: Then we grow. You know, I feel like everyone who suffers has a wisdom the rest of us need. And since we all suffer, we all have a wisdom that everybody else needs. And we often don’t, we often don’t ask of those who suffer, what do you see for where you’ve been? What are you? What are you? What have you learned that the rest of us need? You know, you have a small poem of mine that that I can recite, it goes like this,’ the mystery is that whoever shows up, when we dare to give as exactly what we need, hidden in their trouble’.
Rick Archer: Nice, for some reason, what you’re just saying, reminds me of another little Vedic saying, which is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or something like that, which is the world is my family, basically. And I think genetically, that is literally true. But it’s also true in a very real sense. And, you know, it’s like families have feuds, and obviously, you know, become estranged members become estranged from one another for years or decades at a time. And humanity has done that, too. But then families can mend. And I think the world can bend, and we were talking earlier about some big transition, we might be going through I think a time very, very well come may come, perhaps even in our lifetimes, where there’s much more familial kind of atmosphere and around the entire globe, and you see signs of it already.
Mark Nepo: Well, I think they’re I think, you know, again, I think there’s a lot actually, you know, there’s a lot of hope, in, I think, in the younger generation. And, and, and there’s a lot that’s happening, under all the noise of everything breaking apart right now. That is hopeful I actually hold on, you know, for me that I feel like everything we’re going through is like an under, you know, like, all those eight years when President Obama was in office, and globally, we were in a very kind of opening or kind of collective hearts softening space. And I don’t really view a view where we are as a change of direction as more as a collective undertow before the tide continues. Yeah. Because I feel like, like, this way of life, especially in the West of the patriarchal white, you know, male dominated, I feel like the dinosaurs, I feel like it’s coming to a close and, and they’re going ugly.
Rick Archer: I also feel that where we are, now is a time when a lot of we could say impurities that have been in the blood of collective consciousness, are coming together and expressing themselves as boils on the skin, so to speak. And the boils are oozing and popping, and you know, but it’s not a very pleasant experience. But in the process, I think a lot of stuff is that has been going on for a long time it’s being exposed and, you know, things are changing. I mean, the ‘me too’ movement is case in point.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, yeah, I agree.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I want to loop back to a couple things before we run out of time. One is just a comment you made in the very beginning, which maybe we’ll discuss in greater length, maybe not, but I’m just the idea that you talked about how you don’t know if anybody has ever completely enlightened, or if there is any such thing. And I wholeheartedly agree with that. I feel like it’s saying you saying somebody is completely enlightened this is like saying somebody is completely educated. Which means I can’t learn anything new. It’s impossible. So I think the most enlightened beings I’ve ever walked the earth are still perhaps in are able to, you know, learn more in not only in a factual or informational way, but in a spiritual way to deepen or clarify or somehow more fully embody the spiritual realization that they’re living. Yeah, I do. I do agree with you. And I feel like you know, where we’re challenged to. And I have a couple of stories that speak to this, I could share with you that we’re challenged to inhabit our lives. You know, I think one of the early when I was learning and earlier in my life, you know, in the West, we tend to view wisdom as understanding truth. The East at some of the earlier traditions. It’s, it’s experiencing truth. Exactly. Yeah.
Mark Nepo: Yeah and so there’s a big difference. And, you know, I’ve, you know, out in Boulder, Naropa University? I’ve spoken there a few times and I’m always interested like, Well, why do you call it Naropa? You know, and so I finally found someone who could share some of that Buddhist history. And it turned out and maybe you’re familiar with
Rick Archer: This ancient Buddhist university back in a long time ago?
Mark Nepo: Well, yeah. And Naropa himself in the 1100s was a like a Huston Smith of his age, he was like, a comparative scholar. And, and, and the story is, or the myth that he was walking down the street, he was pretty well known, and an old woman past him, and she stopped him and said, Aren’t you in Naropa? And he got kind of puffed up, he’s, like, ready for an autograph, you know? And he said, Well, yes, I am. You know, and, and, and she went, do you know, the heart of all those teachings, and he was kind of caught off guard. He said, Of course I do. And she, he started to walk away. And she started to walk with her cane a little further the opposite direction, and he realized he had lied. And he ran after her and got on his knees and said, be my teacher.
Rick Archer: Oh, very nice.
Mark Nepo: And so ever since then, Naropa was as a symbol of embodied wisdom, not intellectual wisdom.
Rick Archer: Very important. And there’s a real simple example. I mean, that anybody can understand which is that, like, you know, you could become an expert in mangoes that say, you could study the botany of them, and the history of them, and the husbandry of them and all kinds of things about mangoes without ever having actually eaten one. So you have a lot of knowledge, but no experience?
Mark Nepo: Oh, absolutely.
Rick Archer: You know, and then of course, you could be somebody who knows nothing about them, but enjoys eating them. But you know, it might be good to do both. Particularly if you want to raise, you know, breed them or grow them, it’s good to have some knowledge and some experience. And so that’s definitely the emphasis in the Eastern traditions perhaps well.
Mark Nepo: Let me share. Yeah, I mean, I want to share a quote from Confucius and a little, a little parable. Because Confucius, he speaks about this. And what I love is, is how he defines nature and culture. And he, but there’s no judgment, they’re just two different ways of learning. So he says, that, to arrive at understanding from being who you are is nature, to arrive at understanding from being who you are is nature and the reverse, to arrive at being who you are, from understanding his culture. And what I love about that is he doesn’t say one is better than the other. They’re just two ways of learning. And it’s like, so yeah, it’s what but there’s each way is appropriate for different things. Like yeah, you can study a mango, but if you can’t eat it, well, you know, what are like I can interview, you know, I want to fall in love, I can interview everybody I need about love. It’s not going to amount to anything until I try.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Mark Nepo: But at the same time, I can learn through understanding, you know, before I you know, if I’m, you know, lighting a fire burning leaves this time of year. Yeah, I want to ask a few people who’ve done it first. Yes, culture, that’s cultural learning, before I, you know, light myself on fire. So that the so I think that each of us, you know, we tend to think, well, you know, often what I’ll do in, you know, retreats or things so if I tell that is I’ll say which are, which is more innate in you, are you more of a natural learner or a cultural learner, which comes easier to you? And usually what we do is, well, that’s my strength, I won’t worry about ‘No, well, we, we have to give more attention to the other. So we can be balanced’. That takes two good legs to walk on a limp all the time on one. But the parable I wanted to share about embodiment is there’s a Master who sends his student to meditate, he says, I want you to sit by the river until you’ve learned all the river has to teach you. So he’s a very student. He’s a serious student. He’s got his cushion. He’s got his everything got time. Got his in his yeah, he’s got it all, you know, right. And he spends the whole half of the first day figuring out where’s the right place, said first he says the clock but the waters too noisy, it’s too close and he’s too far away, finally settles under a willow tree. And he, he’s really trying hard and he starts three days of meditation, after which he just has a terrible headache. And just at that moment, a monkey comes along and jumps in the river in front of him and it’s yapping splashing away. And it cracks the apprentice, he starts to weep. And he take gathers his things, he goes back and tells his master what happened. And his master puts his arm around and he says, ah, the monkey heard you just listen.
Rick Archer: Uh huh. Yeah.
Mark Nepo: And, you know, whatever it is the goal, we can learn a lot, by watching by learning by inquiry, but the whole goal is to get wet.
Rick Archer: Exactly. And this point may be more relevant than you think. Because I’ve run into a number of people who just have read a lot of Ramana Maharshi books, and you know, things like that. And they kind of get a little bit indoctrinated with the understanding of the oneness of life. And so and end up concluding that that understanding that they’ve acquired is the actual experience. And there is an old Tibetan saying, don’t misunderstand, don’t mistake understanding for realization. And I, and I always say, you know, if they could actually step into Ramana Maharshi, sandals and experience the world as he would it was actually experiencing it, there would be this huge contrast from, you know, the little kind of whiff of that unity, that the understanding brings to the actual full immersion in it, that the, the, the ripened experience is.
Mark Nepo: And I think this is one of the reasons, nobody looks for it. But this is, I think one of the reasons that we experience heartbreak is that it breaks, it breaks the veil of understanding. So we have to inhabit, we have to be in it. We don’t have any choice. You know, and, you know, one of the great paradoxes in you know, that every crack is an opening. And, you know, in Tibetan mythology, it’s, it said that a spiritual warrior has a crack, every spiritual warrior, not a Military Warrior, but one committed to a life of transformation has a crack in their heart, because that’s how the mysteries get in.
Rick Archer: That’s very Leonard Cohenish you know that song?
Mark Nepo: Yeah, something.
Rick Archer: The cracks are where the light get in.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, well, and in the Jewish tradition, there’s this there’s this, there’s a little thing in the Talmud, where, where there’s a saying in Deuteronomy, where you know that God puts his words like honey on the heart. And it as a precocious student, and questions as Rabbi says, Well, if God’s omnipotent, why didn’t you put it in our heart, and the rabbi says, ‘Ah Grasshopper’, you don’t get it. But you know, if God put the words in your heart, you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t know it, it’s, you wouldn’t even know it was there, but it’s on your heart, so that when your heart breaks open, God’s like, everything, and then you’ll feel it, then God’s words will coat and soothe everything that’s broken on the inside, and you’ll feel it, you’ll feel it, you just won’t know it.
Rick Archer: Nice. Well, I think this the point that this leads to or points to is that although it may not seem like it, we actually live in a compassionate universe, I feel that, that there’s in the big picture, if you could zoom out farther far enough, then everything has an evolutionary agenda, that even the most horrible things they don’t God is not capricious or cruel, or, and I keep using the word God and some people are uncomfortable with that word, because it has so many connotations that have been pounded into us. And our…
Mark Nepo: Yeah.
Rick Archer: But, but that I just mean, you know, the sort of the all-pervading field of intelligence which orchestrates the whole creation, which, which is quite evident if we look closely enough at anything, but there’s this evolutionary trajectory. That’s Brian Swimme, said, you know, leave hydrogen alone for 13 point 7 billion years, and you get opera giraffes and rose bushes. And so well, not zoomed in too far. And we think, Oh, this is horrible. How could this have happened? Zoom out bigger, and we realize, oh, in the big picture, it’s all conducive to the vast cosmic plan of evolution.
Mark Nepo: And I think I think that we do live in a compassionate universe. And you know, like Einstein had talked about that we need to continually to widen our circle of compassion.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Mark Nepo: Which goes to the to everything as a family and the Native American tradition than the worldview notion of all my relations that everything is part of that family all of existence and, and so I think that that, you know, our job is to inhabit life, more than repair it. That inhabiting it, we will repair it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, starting with repairing ourselves.
Mark Nepo: Yeah. So here’s a here’s a, here’s a story that connects the two so this is a Ramana Maharshi quote, and there’s a Native American creation story that will speak to how that inner work I mentioned earlier and service and, and our walk in the world are inextricable, and one of the Ramana Maharshi said that to try to save the world.
Rick Archer: I like this one.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, I love that quote, without liberating yourself first, yeah, is like carpeting the Earth rather than wearing sandals. Exactly. Which is just fantastic. And but so as a start, I live here in Michigan, being the Native American nation that was here is still here. But, you know, historically, it was the Ojibwe nation. And they like many indigenous cultures, they have a constellation of creation myths. So this is this one story is how the Great Spirit connected everything in existence. So he was contemplating how to do that when a little worm inched over and said, ‘I can help’. And the Great Spirit was pleased that one of his smallest creatures would offer some help. So he said ‘very well, a little worm help us’ a little worm inched over and started to spin, barely seeable silk threads from its guts. And sure enough, in enough time, it connected everything in existence, and you know, like a spider web that you might see in an old barn or something. And you might not see it fully until the light shines on it. And just like that, you couldn’t really see the threads that connected everything except when the Great Spirit, like the sun leaned over and Oh my God, there’s this golden web connecting everything. So the Great Spirit was very pleased. Thank you little worm, you have saved us, not by being great, but by being true to your own nature. I will let you live forever.
Mark Nepo: Well, a little worm was taken aback. And the Great Spirit saw this and said, ‘Don’t, don’t you want to live forever. And a little worm said, Oh, Father, I fear so many years if I can’t grow. So the little Great Spirit, even one of his little worms has some wisdom here. He said, very well, little worm, I will give you this ability to spin these barely seeable threads around yourself. And when you can be still enough and stop squirming and inching and weaving, you will be still enough long enough, you will know the lightness of being that I know. Go and a little worm inch to the nearest leaf and began to spin the very first cocoon, and in time became the very first butterfly.
Rick Archer: Beautiful stories
Mark Nepo: I love that anonymous ancient I love those. And what it says to me why I tell it is that the threads that connect everything come out of our guts. And that when we do authentic inner work, we are also doing the work that holds the world together.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Mark Nepo: One in the same.
Rick Archer: Have you ever heard of Indra’s Net?
Mark Nepo: Oh, yes, yes.
Rick Archer: And there’s a Well, the idea that there’s sort of an infinite correlation between every point in creation and every other point in creation. And I’ve heard physicists explain how this is actually the case, I can’t really do justice to their explanation, but that every iota of creation, every little bit, is correlated with every other little bit at a certain very fundamental level, there’s a complete inter correlation, which speaks to the unity of everything at its deepest level.
Mark Nepo: Yeah, that’s beautiful. That’s amazing.
Rick Archer: Yeah. One final wrap up point. And this is not necessarily a smooth segue way. But we were talking earlier about, you know, how, with automation and so on, there may be less for people to do and what are they gonna do with their spare time? And you were, you gave a nice answer to that. And I was reminded of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And, you know, whereas certain fundamental things are taken care of, we rise to the next level on the pyramid, and we want to address ‘that’ thing. And then, you know, eventually the peak of the pyramid is self-actualization. And I think this is kind of natural, I think that naturally as people are able to be less enslaved by the sort of basic necessities of life because these things are being taken care of more and more, presuming that society can organize itself in such a way that all the wealth is, is available, more universally, so that, you know, so people don’t have to struggle that there’ll be a kind of greater flourishing of art and creativity and spirit It’s particularly spirituality, because it’s a fundamental human need. And people just kind of think, Okay, what am I gonna do myself? Well, you know, maybe I should study this book, maybe I should learn to meditate, maybe I should, you know, engage in learn tai chi or something like that. It’ll, it’ll be conducive to really more of a golden age in society?
Mark Nepo: Well, I think, you know, I think that makes a lot of sense to me. And I also think that there are many different, like Maslow’s thing makes sense to me. And I think there are other corollaries that are all working at the same time
Rick Archer: Other models.
Mark Nepo: Yeah. And so I think that, I think that that’s true. I, you know, I going back to my cancer journey, I mean, by believing in everything, I do believe that all things are true. And our job is to figure out or feel how, in the, in the logic of spirit. And so I think that, that there’s, you know, DH Winnicott was a child psychologist who really developed this whole notion of healthy attachment and belonging that that comes first even before Maslow’s needs. And so I thought, you know, I throw that in. And I also throw in my, that in where we are now, it’s important to tend what matters first. And just a very personal kind of example, in, you know, somewhere along the way, I realized that no one taught me this. But, you know, I started saving what matters, I put it at the end of my list, like I do all the tedious stuff first and save it as a reward or something like, well, when I’m all done, then I’ll like, I’ll read this book, or I’ll med, or I’ll meditate or all those do that what I love. And you know, and then I realized that backwards, because I need to tend what matters first, because that cleans my ears, my eyes, my heart, and it makes everything that I do that I do with more care, and it makes the tedious bearable.
Rick Archer: Good point
Mark Nepo:. And so I think where we are, so both are true, I think when we do have more time, and we are in a golden age, that will, but right now, we can help ourselves by doing what matters first, you know, so again, being very specific, I would invite anyone who’s listening to create their own one or two rituals, simple rituals by which they start their day. Example, for me, this is just what I do. I do three things every day to start today, I open the blinds to let light in. So I start my day by letting light in. I take care of our dog. So I’m caring for someone living. And my wife is a night person. I’m a morning person, so I make coffee for her when she gets up. So I’m letting the light in, I’m caring for something living, and I’m doing something for someone I love. And then whatever I have to deal with. If it’s all I already have a different lens on.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s good. One of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s favorite phrases was highest first. And what he meant by that was, you know, there’s any number of things that you could do or need to do or whatever, and you’re never going to get to do a mall. But do kind of prioritize them in terms of okay, what’s the highest? If I do that first, then maybe I’ll have time to take care of the other things, but at least that will be done. And well.
Mark Nepo: I’m sorry. Go ahead. No,
Rick Archer: I’m finished. You go.
Mark Nepo: Yeah. And well, another one way that that affects me and this is, you know, I have a lot of learnings that are not through wisdom on my part, but just because of what happened to me through almost dying and still being here. And one is that, you know, I look forward to things look forward to our call, which has been planned for a while. But, but every day I’m aware of, of it doesn’t have to be this way. And that this day could be the last.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Mark Nepo: And so. So you know, I make a list, like a lot of people have all the things I want or need to do today. And then I sit down I make the list and then I sit down each morning with a cup of coffee and I go if this is my last day, what stays on the list.
Rick Archer: Good point.
Mark Nepo: And, and but I still make the list. Like I think both, you know are needed.
Rick Archer: Which doesn’t mean you can’t watch a movie or you know, do something some frivolous thing, you know, perhaps play game cards or something like that. But I mean, you don’t have to get too serious about it. You know, beat yourself up over doing silly little things. But yeah, but in the bigger picture, it is good to prioritize and realize that in any breath could be our last and you know, make hay while the sun shines. Well, Mark, this has been great. I should let you go. I know you have to get going. Is there any little concluding thoughts or remarks you’d like to make before we wrap it up?
Mark Nepo: Absolutely. First off, thank you for letting me be a part of your good work. Amazing, you’ve done over 500 of these, that’s such a, that’s a, I think, an amazing contribution to, to the root system of the human aspen grove. And, yeah, I you know, I just really, I so believe in, in humanity, you know, and I believe that every everyone has, has a deep innate teacher in them. And, you know, we can listen through our love and our suffering. So I would just want to maybe leave a short with a short poem of mine, which is called’ Freefall’. If you have one hour of air, and many hours to go, you must breathe slowly. If you have one arm’s length, and many things to care for, you must give freely. If you have one chance to know God and many doubts, you must set your heart on fire. We are blessed. Each day is a chance. We have two arms. Fear wastes air.
Rick Archer: Beautiful. That’s great. Well, thank you so much. Those who have been listening to this who aren’t familiar with Mark might want to get familiar. His books are really enjoyable to read. And there’s a lot of talks and things online that you can listen to also, I will, of course, be linking to his website and his books from his page on BatGap.com. And so whenever you’re listening to this, you know, it could be five years from now or whatever, go there and hop right over to his website. And you can go right to links to Amazon to get his books. So in any case, I am really honored to have had this conversation. It’s very enriching for me to do this and to speak to such wonderful people as you every week. It’s just a blessing. And it’s not work. I mean, you refer to it as work. It’s definitely not work. It’s just something really, that kind of very grateful for in my life, as I’m sure you are for what you get to do you know,
Mark Nepo: Oh my God, it’s all. Absolutely, absolutely. Well, thank. Thank you very much, Rick. It’s a joy to journey like this together.
Rick Archer: Thank you. Thank you, Mark. We’ll be in touch. All right. All right. You
Mark Nepo: take care, okay. Yes.
Rick Archer: Thank you. Take care. Okay. Bye bye bye.