Don’t misuse your mind. Don’t say there isn’t anything extraordinary here. ~ The Blue Cliff Record
We’re all here by a thread, but it’s a very strong, eternal thread. On any given day, we can be terrified that it’s only a thread and, at the same time, stunned that such a thing as vast as life is held together by this magnificent unseeable thread. If we try to run from the fragile nature of a single life within the indestructible nature of all life, we will suffer the preoccupation of avoiding terror and miss the braid of life that we can hold on to. Our challenge is not to question why this is so, but to find the thread and hold on to it. Our challenge is not to choose between the fragility and strength of life but to cultivate our wonder by holding both in our heart. Life is fragile and unbreakable. We teeter and we soar; often at the same time. Wonder helps us find the indestructible part of the thread.
When my father was dying, I was alone with him in the hospital and found myself feeding him applesauce. The moment opened and my whole being, my whole life, was suddenly concentrating on slipping the spoon with the utmost care into his mouth, waiting for him to swallow, and then sliding the spoon slowly from his lips, so as not to disturb his labored breathing. We repeated this ritual tenderly, spoonful after spoonful. And in the rare quiet of a January afternoon, wonder began to fill the room. I began to cry softly. There seemed to be a glow about us. There was no need for words. I didn’t want my life to leave this moment of feeding my father.
Through my thoroughness of care, I’d found a transparent instant in the middle of all our trouble, in the middle of his dying. And in this moment of tenderness, all of life opened. We had fallen into the center, which felt like the dot of clarity cleared in a lake by one drop of rain from which the water ripples in every direction. My father and I were in that still dot of clearness. My sadness had given way to care, which had given way to wonder. Wonder in the center of all that pain.
Wonder is the rush of life saturating us with its aliveness, the way sudden rain makes us smile, the way sudden wind opens our face.
As I slipped the spoon from his mouth one last time, I felt that I was in the moment of every child who ever fed their dying parent. I kissed his forehead and held his hand, both of us more alive than we could remember, completely covered in inexplicable wonder.
Wonder is the rush of life saturating us with its aliveness, the way sudden rain makes us smile, the way sudden wind opens our face. And while wonder can surprise us, our daily work is to cultivate wonder in ourselves and in each other. Yet we only have a few seconds to love the wonder out of those before us or they will swallow it. Seconds to warm their life-force into the air where it will reveal the kinship of things. Seconds to let the timeless resource of aliveness come into our knowing, so it can soften our fears and save us from the brutality of insisting that our way is the only way.
If, out of insecurity or pride or a need to achieve prominence, we assert our own authority over the authority of life, wonder will go into hiding like a shy animal. The authority of being that connects us to all life needs to be affirmed, not asserted. Only safety, honesty, and welcome – the servants of encouragement – can create an opening for wonder.
Wonder helps each soul awaken and discover where its foundation touches the foundation of all things. Wonder doesn’t just appear as a function of peace or joy or things draped in light. Wonder is a matter of depth, not mood.
That day with my father, I learned that a presence waits beneath our chatter and our pain that can illuminate the world. When tired, we splash water on our face. If you find me half-hearted, please, splash some wonder on my face.
Our challenge is not to choose between the fragility and strength of life but to cultivate our wonder by holding both in our heart.
Seeds to Water
• In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe your first memory of wonder and how that changed you. Were you able to speak about this experience of wonder with anyone? How did they react? Did they affect how open or closed you are to wonder?
• In your journal (or the reflection area below), explore how one small act of openness can bring more wonder into your life.
Adapted from More Together than Alone by Mark Nepo (Atria Books, July 2018). Posted by kind permission of the author.
Mark Nepo is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Book of Awakening. Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark’s recent work includes More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and in the World, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living; and a book of poetry, The Way Under the Way: The Place of True. A two-time cancer survivor, Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship. For more information, please visit: MarkNepo.com and ThreeIntentions.com
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The sweet poignancy of feeding your dying father is almost unbearable to read. I feel deep sadness that I could not be in such a receptive moment with my own mom and dad. There it is.
Mark–Heartfelt thanks for sharing your reflections on this intimate and wonder-filled moment with your father. What a gift to carry the poignant metaphor you have given us as we journey forward: Whenever we are feeling half-hearted, it’s time to splash a little wonder on our face!
I call them “magic moments “- the times in my work or life when I become aware ( feel the wonder) of the fragility and the strength that is that thread of life. I am a hospice nurse, and have had the honor and of being witness and filled with wonder regularly to this truth. The author has described this so beautifully.
Nancy, bless you in your work as a hospice nurse. Both my parents were in hospice. The caring, compassion and comfort everyone brought to my parents, me and all the family will never be forgotten. Your tenderness and caring come through in your reflection.
Peace and love, Sheila ?
Dear Mark, this essay is SO touching! What a beautiful experience you had with your dear father when he was dying. Oh, how I wish I could have experienced that with my beloved parents when they were dying. Thank-you for sharing this essay! I truly don’t don’t have words to express how deeply this touched me! Bless you, Mark.
Peace, Sheila ?
Cut-Copying Mark Nepo here,.”The authority of being that connects us to all life needs to be affirmed, not asserted. ”
“The authority of being” is a very well placed expression here. We Human beings do have the authority to “Be”. Be, as in “I AM I”. ( And strange as it may seem, I see gratitude an an authoritative action within all affirmations to life!)
For myself too much of the “spiritual” material in current circulation feels as though it is taking the “asserted”-ness” approach described as, “taking the Kingdom of Heaven by force”, said by a very wise one. So your work with words is much appreciated.
For myself, the action of affirming, is to calmly observe and re-acknowledge that the “Kingdom of Heaven” has and always will be, “here”, just as that “glow” is around every human being is, “here”, if I will stay attuned to our true inner nature and not waste my “daily bread” / etheric vitality / on “”asserted”-ness” behaviour.
Thank You Mark for this – first Monday of a new year- article. I immediately though of a Rumi poem (below) when you mentioned the “glow” of you experience with your father.
“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!” ― Rumi
Beautiful reflection, Ed! Thank-you!
Blessings, Sheila ?