Field Notes on Living

Field Notes on Living January 4, 2016

Welcome. I’m grateful for the chance to share these field notes on living. Every week, I’ll offer insights, poems, or excerpts from my travels and works in progress, as well as questions to walk with. My path is a continuous inquiry into what it means to be human, to be here, and to care for each other.

As a way to begin, let me talk about my dear father, Morris Nepo, who died three years ago at the age of ninety-three. He was at his strongest and happiest when working with wood, when building things. In his basement workshop, no one could suppress his love of life and his insatiable creativity. I learned a great deal from him. Though I can see now that there were many times he didn’t know he was teaching and I didn’t know I was learning. Mostly, he taught me by example that we’re called to make good use of the one life we’re given. He taught me that giving our all can lead to moments of fulfillment and grace. And those moments of full living can sustain us.

This reminds me of another teacher-student relationship. Kikakou was a student of Basho, the great Japanese poet of the seventeenth century. One day Kikakou brought Basho this haiku about why we need each other:

A blind child
guided by his mother,
admires the cherry blossoms.

This moment of small things opens the heart of all teaching. For we each take turns being the blind child, the guiding other, and the blossom, never really knowing which until we’ve learned what we are to learn from each other. In this, we all take turns being the teacher.

In essence, being a spirit on Earth calls us to keep listening to that Original Presence inside that doesn’t change, and to live accordingly. Of course, being human, things get in the way. We often get in our own way, repeatedly. In truth, we all struggle with these recurring life positions: being lost, being found, and being a bridge. We all experience these different senses of the journey.

This took me many years to learn and accept. But having begun innocently enough, there arose separations, and now I know that health resides in restoring direct experience. Thus, having struggled to do what has never been done, I discovered that living is the original art.

This summer, I fell into a moment of sudden aliveness. I was in a café in Boulder, Colorado. It was a glorious afternoon and all at once I felt my heart ache. I couldn’t understand why. As I leaned into this poignant ache, it led to the following poem:



how little time there is, I’m

falling in love with everything:

the stranger whose name I’ll

never know, and the crow

pecking at the half bagel

she left for him.

Now that the walls I didn’t

know were walls have come

down, I want to care for

everything. And the sun

warming in all directions

without preference is

showing me how.

Today my heart aches,

not because something is

lacking, but because the love

I’ve carried all along is bursting

through all the gates of choice.


Who would have guessed that feeling full and complete could make the heart ache as well. The lesson from the poem is that, as the sun bursts through the clouds, our love, which never stops shining, bursts through all the choices and conditions we filter it with.

I sat there in the sun and thought, I can find no other way to learn than to ask and listen. I have to say, I want to say, that it starts out simple, gets complicated and, by burning what is not real, gets simple again. This is the curriculum that never ends. No matter if we’re tired, spring comes again and some undying impulse needs to break ground. It’s the same with pain and denial, those winters of the heart. One day, if blessed, the tulip coated with soil is again a tulip, and with an urgency we thought we left behind, we must wake.

I think we could forget all the ways to study in school and just wait for this moment; knowing and believing that those who wake are the students and those who stay awake are the teachers. How we take turns.


Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers and seekers around the world with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark has been called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” “a consummate storyteller,” and “an eloquent spiritual teacher.” He has published sixteen books and recorded eleven audio projects and his work has been translated into more than twenty languages. In 2015, he was given a Life-Achievement Award by AgeNation. His latest books include Inside the Miracle (Sounds True, 2015) and The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be (Atria, 2014). Mark has appeared several times with Oprah Winfrey on her Super Soul Sunday program on OWN TV, and has also been interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. Please visit Mark at:, and

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