drinking from the river of light: the life of expression by Mark Nepo
Welcome to week 1. In case you missed it, here’s the link to watch the hello Zoom from last week. It’s certainly not a requirement, but you’ll meet some of your fellow book clubbers and hear me explain the process. If you’re feeling confused about anything, I suggest checking it out.
CLICK HERE for video. Password: 73rtJ+3n The video will stay active for 5 days.
A note about spirituality/religion
Each of us will have our own take on the spiritual/religious aspects of Mark’s work. All points of view are welcome to be discussed related to the material. Please refrain from proselytizing.
Okay! HERE WE GO!!!!!!!!!!!!
But where, even, to begin?
One thing I loved about these first few vignettes is how Mark shines a light on the act of creativity itself, and why it is so important to life. I speak, far less eloquently, in my art journaling classes about the joy of creating, how most of us cherished writing, drawing, singing, dancing, when we were young, but then we grew up. Somewhere along the line we heard and believed the lie that creating is a waste of time, or something to be done only after all the other commitments of day to day life are complete. Or, we may have been told that our art sucks. Asked why we colored our precious tree purple instead of brown and green, “like it’s supposed to be.” An authority figure criticized our artistry and launched an arrow straight into heart, igniting the need for self-protection.
Often, students who come into class and face those fears, grabbing paint and spreading it across the paper, cry.
This is a step towards reclaiming what was lost along the way. I view the journey we’ll be taking together over the next several months as an extension of this same process. We’ll be brave together, taking risks and dismantling a few more layers of self-protection. How? By expressing.
So then, as basic human truths go, prioritizing creative acts is lifesaving, which means we already have permission to organize our daily, weekly, or monthly schedules to give creativity equal weight with other tasks. This feels liberating, and scary!
Who are we if we stop buying into the lies we’ve been sold about what’s required to be “okay” or “worthy” in this society?
Many of you know the basics of my story, the spine of my memoir. My daughter–at 13 years old–experienced a significant mental health crisis. In addition to fearing for her life, I was overwhelmed with feelings of responsibility. I did everything I could to try to make her get better. Instead, she got sicker. Our lives spiraled out of control into chaos. In the middle of the night, on a gurney in an Emergency Room, snuggled next to my wounded and hurting girl, I was gutted by the realization that saving her was beyond my control. She was on her journey, and I was on mine. I would do what I could, but the rest was not up to me. Later still, I realized that the path to acceptance would be paved by my healing work.
(She is doing great now, just fyi!)
It would take a while, but eventually I could identify and embrace the gift in our suffering, find the “cinder of life-force.” Two primary tools I used to wake up were connecting to mindful spirituality and developing my creative art journaling practice.
Using these tools, on a few rare occasions, during meditation and art journaling, I was able to access, inside myself, the “unencumbered spot” Mark references. This is how I know what he shares is real, not theoretical rhetoric.
To know this spot of inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed, but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it.Mark Nepo
I know…it’s like, “Huh?”
But this is the true “us,” the “real” us. This is who we are underneath the falsehoods of ego. This is where we are all the same–the seat of our common humanity. We don’t need to do anything or be anything to become worthy or to earn our place in the world. From this spot inside issues a wellspring of peace.
I journaled during the worst of my daughter’s illness. Throughout those pages I pined for peace, for me and for her. Where would I find it? It was “out there” somewhere, and I wasn’t going to give up until I knew where to go or what to do to have it. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it wasn’t “out there,” and never had been. I was looking in the wrong place!
The final vignette of my assignment is What It Means to See. I love the layers of this section, the way Mark writes about actual sight and then our interpretation of what we see, and how we distract ourselves when we see what we hope for instead of what is actually there. If you’ve ever been in therapy (and trust me friends, I’ve sat on a very long line of couches), you learned that you look at life through a pair of goggles that are uniquely yours, that are designed and built based on your life experiences.
Every interaction we have filters through our goggles, and our responses are colored by that filtering. This is partly a gift and partly a curse because our goggles are bolted into place. Similar to the way that pure spot inside of us gets buried under layers of dirt and grime, so too, over time, do our goggles fog up. An important function of therapy is getting help to defrost our goggles and clarify our view. A shocking amount of time, we see what our goggles want us to see instead of what is really there.
Waking up to my blurry version of reality was an important early step in healing. I noticed how much I was judging myself and, by extension, other people. Sometimes I knew I was doing it, but other times I didn’t, especially in regard to people I love, especially in regard to my daughter. I’d fallen into the trap of expectations. She’d be “normal,” whatever the fuck that meant, healthy, smart, and accomplished. She’d grow up, graduate, get married, and start a family of her own. Of course she’d do all these things. They’re what people do.
But did she have a say in the matter? What of neurodivergence that might have rendered some of these achievements impossible? And what of the pain caused–mine and hers–by perceived failures? Writing was a critical component of finding and letting go of what wasn’t serving my or her best interests.
All of this is to say that I’ve had personal experience with some of what Mark writes, and I’ve learned a bunch of lessons the hard way. I’m excited to dive into this opportunity to explore more of my blind spots and open my heart to invitations that will be appear in the coming months. Through seeing–what each of us writes and how we respond–we’ll receive insight and wisdom greater than the sum of its parts. And that’s what community building is about.
What struck you about these early pages?
Schedule reminder to date:
- Week #2 The Origins through What it Means to Perceive, Sue Schwartz Sept. 9
- Week #3 To See One Thing in Another through As a Tuning Fork, Maria Rodgers O’Rourke Sept. 16
- Week #4 The Inner Experience of Truth through Feelings Are Paints, Tammi Scott, Sept. 23
- Week #5 <<<Break>>> pause, breathe, and catch up, Sept. 30
I will make the next round of assignments by random selection and announce them soon. (See below for the spearheading guidance.)
Art prompts (optional): If you were able to identify a thread, can you in some way depict it? Or, can you use images to depict the essence of your “spot of inwardness” on one piece of paper and then, on another piece, images of what, for you, tarnishes that spot?
P.S. It’s Self-Care September!
If you’ve been here before, you know I’m a huge advocate for making self-care a lifestyle rather than a to-do list item. Today is 9/2. The beginning of Self-Care September. I borrowed this calendar from actionforhappiness.org. I hope you’ll check it out, download it, review it.
We probably won’t be able to do each day’s suggestion, but how will we feel by the end of the month when we do even a few?
Self-care. It isn’t selfish!
One last time, here’s the guidance on spearheading. If you need it, you can return to this first post for review.
1. If you are spearheading the chapter for the week, you must email your comments to me at email@example.com by Wednesday morning. As far as length goes, if you’re a writing type person, try to keep your post under 1,000 words. If you’re not a writing type person that means up to about 3-4 pages, double spaced. To find out how many words your post contains, look in the lower left hand corner of the document. Microsoft Word keeps track there of word count.
2. Here are some things to keep in mind, when your turn comes, if you feel stuck. (You do NOT have to use these questions. They are suggestions to help you get started.)
Does the passage resonate related to your life? How so?
Pick a specific passage to discuss that struck you as significant or interesting. What was memorable, or confusing, about it and why?
What have you learned from a particular section? How has it broadened your perspective and how do you plan to incorporate into your life? Do you see something new in the ordinary?
How does what Mark writes in this section coincide with how you were raised or what you were taught? What does this section teach you about “the life of expression?”
3. I know it can be scary. Remember not to share anything too personal and think how good you’ll feel when you try something new! Every one of us will have nerves about our post. You’re not alone!