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I have been writing for forty-five years—poems, stories, journals, dreams, essays—and all of it can be reduced to this phrase: no strangers in the heart. This has led to a belief in our original nature, our endless compassion, our need to listen, and our need to stay awake.

It is only through great love and great suffering that we are exhausted of our differences until our hearts are opened to realize that we are at heart the same. This is the constant renewal of compassion that reseeds the world.

To live in a truthful way requires that we listen to life and each other. Unpredictable as life itself, the practice of listening is one of the most mysterious, luminous, and challenging art forms on Earth. Each of us is by turns a novice and a master, until the next difficulty or joy undoes us. In real ways, we are invited each day to slow down and listen. But why listen at all? Because listening stitches the world together. Because listening is the doorway to everything that matters. It enlivens the heart the way breathing enlivens the lungs. We listen to awaken our heart. We do this to stay vital and alive. This is the work of reverence: to stay vital and alive by listening deeply.

After all this way, I can affirm that each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry; an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologians call it the Soul, Jung calls it the Seat of the Unconscious, Hindu masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qalb, and Jesus calls it the Center of our Love.

To know this spot of Inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed, but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it. This is a hard lifelong task, for the nature of becoming is a constant filming over of where we begin, while the nature of being is a constant erosion of what is not essential. Each of us lives in the midst of this ongoing tension, growing tarnished or covered over, only to be worn back to that incorruptible spot of grace at our core.

When the film is worn through, we have moments of enlightenment, moments of wholeness, moments of clear living when inner meets outer, moments of full integrity of being, moments of complete Oneness. And whether the film is a veil of culture, of memory, of mental or religious training, of trauma or sophistication, the removal of that film and the restoration of that timeless spot of grace is the goal of all therapy and education.

Regardless of subject matter, this is the only thing worth teaching: how to uncover that original center and how to live there once it is restored. We call the filming over a deadening of heart, and the process of return, whether brought about through suffering or love, is how we unlearn our way back to God.

Through all of this, we humbly take turns. For those who wake are the students. And those who stay awake are the teachers. How we take turns.

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Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers and seekers all over the world with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark has been called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” “a consummate storyteller,” and “an eloquent spiritual teacher.” His work is widely accessible and used by many and his books have been translated into more than twenty languages. A bestselling author, he has published eighteen books and recorded thirteen audio projects. In 2015, he was given a Life-Achievement Award by AgeNation. And in 2016, he was named by Watkins: Mind Body Spirit as one of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People, and was also chosen as one of OWN’s SuperSoul 100, a group of inspired leaders using their gifts and voices to elevate humanity.

Recent work includes Drinking from the River of Light (Sounds True, 2019); More Together Than Alone (Atria, 2018), cited by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2018; Things that Join the Sea and the Sky, a Nautilus Book Award winner; The Way The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting (Sounds True, 2016), The One Life We’re Given (Atria, 2016), Inside the Miracle(Sounds True), selected by Spirituality & Practice Magazine as one of the top ten best books of 2015, The Endless Practice (Atria), cited by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2014, his book of poems, Reduced to Joy (Viva Editions), cited by Spirituality & Practice as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2013, a 6CD box set of teaching conversations based on the poems in Reduced to Joy (Sounds True, 2014), and Seven Thousand Ways to Listen (Atria), which won the 2012 Books for a Better Life Award.

Mark was part of Oprah Winfrey’s The Life You Want Tour in 2014 and has appeared several times with Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday program on OWN TV. He has also been interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship. He continues to offer readings, lectures, and retreats. For Mark's teaching schedule, visit here: and

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This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Was good to see and listen to you again at the WUF! Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom, for being ever so gentle and genuine… Stay blessed!

  2. My daughter gave me your meditation book for Christmas this year, I read it every night. On March 13 “float through pain”, on March I7 had surgery, and the medical team commented that I was so calm and I said “The waterfall has taken all darkness, I am floating in a beautiful pool of healing.” Thank you, Valerie McRae

  3. MAN, YOU SAY IT GOOD. I’ve never heard of you, rarely even get around to opening these emails, and have never posted anything anywhere. But your ” analysis” is the best overall description of man’s essential situation I’ve seen. A good description proceeds a good prescription. Thanks.

  4. In Spirit – a – shen! Deep gratitude for this heart felt writing. Every cell in my body resonated with love and appreciation for this sharing.

  5. Always straight to the heart my dear Mark ! Thank for sharing the beauty of your heart and soul !
    You bring such tenderness to our frenetic world and takes us where we truly live in the depths
    My love to you

  6. “Listening stitches the world together!” WOW! May we hold that phrase in our hearts and change our world for the better. Thank you!

  7. I’m reading your book “seven thousand ways to listen”. Beautiful. I just read the phrase “there are no strangers in the heart”. These words stopped me I felt them in my heart. Wishing you well on your journey. Happy New Year and Thank you

  8. Our challenge indeed – “Each of us is by turns a novice and a master, until the next difficulty or joy undoes us.” When ‘knowing’ and ‘respect’ merge we have a possibility for listening and reaching our true essence . . .our universal heart. Thank you for the beautifully awakening call, Mark Nepo!

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