The train slammed into the station, injuring hundreds. The engineer was critically hurt. People toppled over each other, bouncing across seats and against windows. There was blood and glass everywhere. One woman shimmied her way to the platform when part of the station ceiling fell, pinning her. She thought she would die. Then the hands of fellow passengers lifted her, one to another, and she was saved. Later, she wanted to say thank you but didn’t know who to thank. Once on the mend, she retrieved a list of those who were with her that day. Now, one by one, she looks them up, asking if they had helped her. Each of them smiles and says no. Once with them, she can see what each needs, and so she helps them along. She unpacks groceries for an old woman, listens to a widower’s story, and gives a single mom her umbrella. This has gone on for weeks. She keeps trying to find those who helped her, only to help those she finds. Finally, it occurs to her that this is God’s symmetry of kindness. She will never know who helped her, so she can thank and help everyone she meets along the way.
Source: Mark Nepo,
Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living
(Sounds True, 2017) page 113
Describe a time when you were drawn into helping others and what you learned from those you helped.
A troubled widower made his way to ask a wise old woman about his troubles. The old woman received him and they walked along a stream. She could see the pain in his face. He began to tremble as he asked, “What’s the point? Is there any meaning to life?” She invited him to sit on a large stone near the stream. She took a long branch and swirled it in the water, then replied, “It all depends on what it means to you to be alive.” In his sorrow, the man dropped his shoulders and the old woman gave him the branch. “Go on,” she said, “touch the branch to the water.”
As he poked the branch in the running stream, there was something comforting about feeling the water in his hand through the branch. She touched his hand and said, “You see, that you can feel the water without putting your hand in the water, this is what meaning feels like.” The troubled man seemed puzzled. She said, “Close your eyes and feel your wife now gone. That you can feel her in your heart without being able to touch her, this is how meaning saves us.”
The widower began to cry. The old woman put her arm around him, “No one knows how to live or how to die. We only know how to love and how to lose, and how to pick up branches of meaning along the way.”
Source: Mark Nepo, The One Life We’re Given
Finding the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart
(Atria Books, 2017) page 87
A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a loved one or friend, describe a time when you experienced a branch of meaning.
An aging master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked.
“Bitter” spit the apprentice.
The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No,” said the young man.
At this, the master sat beside this serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things …. stop being a glass. Become a lake.”
Source | A Hindu parable as told by
Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening
(Conari Press, 2011) pages 17-18
“The more spacious and larger our fundamental nature, the more bearable the pains in living.” | Wayne Muller
There was a boy who knew how to make others relax by his friendly talk, and once they relaxed, he’d ask his many questions. But he always went home alone. The next day he’d talk some more, and sooner or later, he would always get to questions of love, colorful questions that would stretch and spread and fall, just like leaves.
He lived this way for many years and the deep asking opened his heart. The space of his heart grew very wide and people would come and go like birds in the orchard of questions that was his heart. But once everyone left, he was alone with all he knew.
One day there was a vibrant being who would not enter the orchard of his questions. No matter how friendly he was, she wouldn’t answer him. She simply fluttered close and held him, then waited in the world. It took the boy a long time, for he was now covered with the bark of a man, but he wanted to be held, and so, uprooting himself, he left the shade of his own heart and began to live.
Source | Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening, pages 308-309
PONDER AND CONSIDER
If you try to understand love before being held, you will never feel compassion.
- While breathing deeply, consider the ways you prepare yourself to be loved.
- With each inbreath, lift up your prerequisites to being held.
- With each outbreath, let go of all that is unnecessary.
- Breathe slowly, and begin by allowing yourself to be held by the very air.
A man was caught in a flood. First he was called and told to evacuate his home. He calmly refused, saying God would save him. The waters rushed the streets, climbing the foundations of the homes. When the streets were filled, a rescue team in a rubber raft called to him, and he again refused, saying God would save him. The power of the water deepened and the flood was crashing through the windows of his home. He was now perched on his roof. A helicopter came and he still refused, saying yet again that God would save him.
The flood did what floods do and he drowned. On the other side, he was angry and bitterly questioned God, “Why didn‘t You save me?! I kept my faith till the end!” And God, perplexed, replied, “I tried. I called and sent a raft and a helicopter. But you wouldn’t come.”
Source | Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening, pages 307-308
PONDER AND CONSIDER
Like the thought of love, God starts in everything unseeable, but comes to us plainly in the things of this world.
We don’t let go into trust until we’ve exhausted our egos. | Rob Lehman
- Close your eyes and pray for one thing you need.
- Breathe deeply until the prayer loses its words.
- Open your eyes and enter your day listening to the things around you, for they carry what you need.