Field Notes on Living


No one wants to admit it, but moving through trouble is what leads us to joy. As a guitar or violin is hollow in order to make music, we are hollowed by experience. So avoiding trouble is impossible. This doesn’t mean we have to seek out suffering or pray to our pain. We simply have to find the resilience to face what we’re given and ask for help along the way. From the beginning of time, human beings have tried to get out of here, only to be humbled to find that Heaven waits inside what we wake in. Ultimately, we’re asked to navigate trouble, not to seek it or eliminate it. Like beavers, we gather and build a dam in which to live, only to block the flow of life’s river. Then trouble comes along to break the dam down, so we can be baptized again in the river. We can’t keep each other from this process. We can only hold each other up when the dam breaks and keep each other from drowning when the river of life sweeps us under. 


Stopping the Noise

When there is silence, one finds the anchor of the Universe within oneself. —Lao Tzu

Often we’re cast about by the noise of the world and the noise in our heads. Often we’re mesmerized by the stunning cacophony that masks itself as excitement. And though there’s much to be gained for being in the world, we can’t make sense of it till we stop the noise, till we go below the noise, till we go below the habit of our own thoughts. But it’s impossible to be still and quiet all the time. As a whale or dolphin must break surface, only to dive back down, only to break surface again, each of us must break surface into the noise of the world, only to rest our way back into the depth of stillness, where we can know ourselves and life more deeply, until we have to break surface again. No one is ever done with this crossover between noise and stillness. Not even those committed to a contemplative life. Not even those who are blind or mute. For the noise of the mind never dies. It can only be put in perspective, quieted until we can hear the more ancient voices that give us life. At every turn, we need to stop the noise, our own and everyone else’s, not to retreat from the world but to live more fully in it.


We Try, We Try

Everyone seeks the lightness of the future and fears the weight of the past. Everyone tumbles through the struggle of being here, playing it out on each other, because it feels too hard to face the life we’re given. So often we try to flee or silence the tension of being fully here, which resisted is torment, but once accepted awakens us to a long and nameless dance. At best, we try to love our way through the struggle of being human. At worst, we try to sex or drug or own our way out of it. When that fails, we turn to violence. If blessed, the struggle enables us to build, create, and serve. This is why we’re here, to be shaped by time into a tool.

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When we can open our hearts and work with what we’re given, loving what’s before us, life stays possible. Then, through effort and grace, we do what we can with what we have. And when exhausted by all that’s in the way, we’re faced with the chance to accept and love what’s left, which is everything. This is how we discover Heaven is on Earth.   

Excerpted from Mark Nepo’s 19th book, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living.

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Mark will be at NY Open Center to celebrate the publication of Things That Join the Sea and the Sky on Friday, November 17th .  To get info on the workshop or to register, please click here!

If you’d like to find how where else Mark is teaching or check out his other books and videos, please visit one of his websites: or



About Author

Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. His recent work includes a new book of poetry, The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting (Sounds True, November 2016) and the upcoming Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living (Sounds True, November 2017).

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