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’s 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.
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.
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Excerpted from The One Life We’re Given by Mark Nepo (Atria Books, 2016)
Mark will be at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck NY for a 3-day retreat July 28-30.
EDITORS NOTE: Here is link for Omega registration. https://www.eomega.org/workshops/the-one-life-were-given#-workshop-description-block