An Invitation to Grow
Life is revealed not through observation, but through our willingness to live it. Mark Nepo shares how his efforts, and the generosity of a friend, helped him realize that living is the original art.
It takes years for seeds to grow into trees and the seasons shape and scar each tree into place. You could say that the journey of being a spirit on earth is the human equivalent and the years of experience shape and scar each of us into place. You could say that this is the long road to freedom—inner freedom. It is our invitation to grow.
When I was starting out I wanted so badly to become a poet that I held it in view like some hill I needed to climb to see from. But getting to the top, something was missing, and so I had to climb the next hill. Finally, I realized I didn’t need to climb any hills to become a poet—I was a poet.
The same thing happened with love. I wanted so badly to love and be loved, but climbing through relationships like hills, I realized again that I was loving and loved all along.
Then I wanted to become wise, but after much travel and study, it was during my bedridden days with cancer that I realized I was already wise. I just didn’t know the language of my wisdom.
Now I understand that all these incarnations come alive in us when we dare to live the days before us; when we dare to listen to the wind singing in our veins. We carry the love and wisdom like seeds and the days sprout us. And it’s the sprouting that’s the poetry. It’s the sprouting that’s the long road to freedom.
I once had a conversation with a very wise woman who was a mentor to me. I knew Helen Luke, a Jungian analyst, during the last two years of her life, and during what turned out to be our last conversation, she said to me, “Yours is to live it, not to reveal it.” This troubled me, for I have spent my life becoming a writer, thinking that my job has been just that—to reveal what is essential and hidden.
In the time since Helen died, I’ve come to understand her last instruction as an invitation to shed any grand purpose, no matter how devoted we may be to what we are doing. She wasn’t telling me to stop writing, but to stop striving to be important. She was inviting me to stop recording the poetry of life and to enter the poetry of life.
This applies to us all. If we devote ourselves to the life at hand, the rest will follow. For life, it seems, reveals itself through those willing to live. Anything else, no matter how beautiful, is just advertising.
This took me many years to learn and accept. 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.
“Why is the road to freedom so long?”
asked a troubled apprentice.
And the master replied,
“Because it has to go through you.”
—an old Zen story