Exquisite Risk

A guest message by Mark Nepo. An excerpt from his book, ‘The Exquisite Risk: Daring to Live an Authentic Life’

finding joyRecently, I had an old tooth go bad. It was abscessed and this pressured ache kept building from some elusive spot inside my head. It felt like my deepest moments of doubt. As I waited inside the specialist’s office, I was growing more and more anxious. It’s such a strange journey to be spirit in a body. The Sufis compare it to an invisible bird carried for years within a body of a bird. But the longer I am alive, the harder it is to discern between the two, and the more grateful I am for both.

So there I was, fighting off the memories of my cancer journey, trying to breathe through the pain, and falling into the fear that feeds on poor waiting. In an effort to distract myself, I paged through a book of nature photographs and came upon a full-page color still of a meadowlark. This delicate songbird had climbed the tallest stalk in a wildflower patch, its small talons gripping the stalk tightly in the midst of sudden wind. While its talons were clinging sideways, its body was leaning upright and its head was singing full to the sky.

I realized that the meadowlark holds on, in the smallest storm, in order to sing. Isn’t this what we do — hold on and sing? Isn’t this the art of suffering our way into joy? And if we only hold, don’t we miss the point of our existence? This tiny bird was a teaching from God.

It was then that the doctor’s assistant called my name. Feeling tiny myself, I closed the book, knowing that this was a piece of truth given just in time. For the next three hours they extracted the dying nerve from my mouth, and I held on like a meadowlark, my body slightly twisted as I tried to let my spirit sing. And from that in-between space, floating softly within my pain, I saw how kind this man was who was tending me. Though his eyes were intent on the thin canals inside my tooth, I saw behind his focus to his soft place. It was there that we’d known each other deeply, though we’d never met.

Suddenly, with a rubber gauze covering my mouth, I understood how cautious we are on the surface, and how kind and willing underneath. It is often when in need — when too sad to keep the mask in place, too tired to keep the wall propped up, too wounded to lift the sword — often it is then that we glimpse each other as we really are, stripped of all the things we think we need to protect ourselves. Ironically, once flushed out in the open, it is from the soft place that we guard and hide that kindness seeks kindness, and we are just thankful to be helped along.

Published by Harmony Books, Random House, New York, February 2005. | In The Exquisite Risk, poet and teacher Mark Nepo encourages readers to become quiet enough and open enough to listen to what truly matters—our own hearts, our loved ones, the wonders of nature—in order to live a life with nothing held back. | http://www.marknepo.com/books/theexquisite.htm

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