Poet, author Mark Nepo to highlight ‘miracle of being alive’

Everyone struggles with something; whether it’s physically, mentally or spiritually, there’s always going to be that looming, anxiety-inducing challenge of how to love one another.

Week Six of the Interfaith Lecture Series, “Embracing the Dark: Fertile Soul Time,” focuses on “Dark Night of the Soul,” a 16th–century poem by Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross. 

Mark Nepo, poet and bestselling author of The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want By Being Present in the Life You Have, will present his lecture titled, “Heartwork: Being a Spirit in the World,” at 2 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1 in the Hall of Philosophy to start off this week’s theme.

“I plan on talking a little bit about where we are in this very difficult time after the pandemic, and there’s so much stridency and polarization in the world,” Nepo said. “The challenge (is), ‘How do we love each other forward?’ The old world is gone, and like it or not, we have to work together and respect each other in order to move into the new world.”

Planning to place this idea in context generationally, Nepo wants to focus on how details are different, but people still experience unanticipated challenges.

He said he wants to highlight “re-remembering what a gift it is to be here and that we need each other, and that we’re more together than alone.”

From an early age, everyone creates their own unique way they relate to life, he said. As a child, he remembers relating to the physical world before he knew what poetry or metaphors were. But now, he said he always sees the world as “a metaphor in images.”

In his early 30s, Nepo was diagnosed with — and almost died from — a rare form of lymphoma. He said the journey turned him “inside out and upside down.” Ever since then, he has referred to himself as a “student of all hats,” in his personal work and with others.

“Lifting up the unique gifts of each (hat), but the common call of all them has been at the heart of all of my books and all my teachings,” Nepo said.

In Chinese medicine, the word “spiritual” refers to anything that is life-giving. Nepo said he likes this, as it moves away from orthodox traditions, and encourages one to pay as much attention to the inner world as the outer world.

Tradition and family influence everyone. The challenge of being in the modern world, he said, is how to uncover how “beautiful and powerful” the worlds are when aligned.

The most rewarding part of his work is looking at the spiritual traditions inhabiting people’s lives. Nepo said he likes to recognize that everyone is human, and that being alive is a miracle.

“Despite all the ways we can record and playback, this is all unrepeatable. This is all right now,” Nepo said. “The challenge is ‘How do we put down our fear? How do we undo a lot of the patterns?’ ”

An avid lover of metaphors, Nepo considers the spirit moving through people similar to electrical wires. 

“Spirit can move through us and between us. It’s the way electricity runs through wires,” Nepo said. “Unless you turn on the switch, it’s just wired. Living a spiritual life, which means being open-hearted, being receptive and giving, that’s how we turn on the switch.”

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The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.