How to Have the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have

Enlightenment is the moment we realize that we are made of love. – Mark Nepo

It’s been a year when I first opened this book, read each page every morning, and reflected on Mark’s daily journal about his journey while I contemplated mine.

It was in this interview with Oprah where I first discovered Mark and learned how his dealing with cancer had opened the door to a new life that he is embarking on now.

Whatever opens us is never as important as what it opens.
What particular event in your life has opened you?x

Oooh, love that! I could listen to Mark’s poetic insights every day all year long to get a glimpse of what’s on the other side of the door. And it’s just what the book did. He showed me that poetry can be found everywhere and in everything.

The Book of Awakening is Mark’s way of opening the door for us, too. It may not be the main entrance, the kind of book that changes your life, but it will be “the book next door” as I like to call it, the book that keeps you company while you are going through the changes.

And there are many, many doors I’ve found in it. I’ve bookmarked 69 pages, the most I’ve had so far. We’re compressing by combining related passages in this article, and I wish to point you to 10 of them.

The door through which we enter is not important. What’s important is we enter it.

Live the Way

Whatever crisis we face, there is this voice of embodiment that speaks beneath our pain ever so quickly, and if we can hear it and believe it, it will show us a way to be reborn. The courage to hear and embody opens us to a startling secret, that the best chance to be whole is to love whatever gets in the way, until it ceases to be an obstacle.

Mark shares the remarkable story of Ted Shawn, who got temporarily paralyzed while studying to become a minister. And for his therapy, he was advised and guided to, of all things, dance. So, he quit the ministry and began to dance. Ironically, dancing not only healed his sickness, but it also led him to become the pioneer in the field, making him one of the fathers of modern dance.

Implied here is the message that we learn something not by studying it, but by actually experiencing it. In Ted’s case, it was God.

There is Ted in all of us, whether we consider ourselves religious or spiritual. Because we often get lost in studying God or analyzing life, we end up in analysis-paralysis – paralyzed in the situation we’re in, instead of simply going through it and learning the answers along the way.

What if the obstacle, the struggle you’re facing now, is the door that Mark refers to? What if it’s the door that leads to God?

the obstacle is the path

During my school years, I had been given the recognition of Best in Religion for 5 straight years. But it was only after graduating formal education and entering the school of living, taking life’s exams, that I had the experience of truly knowing God – the greatest recognition there is.

Become a Lake

In actuality, misery is a moment of suffering allowed to become everything. So, when feeling miserable, we must look wider than what hurts. When feeling a splinter, we must, while trying to remove it, remember there is a body that is not splinter, and a spirit that is not splinter, and a world that is not splinter.

Mark says that in truth, we don’t naturally take things for granted. We are grateful for many things and experiences in this world.

Misery sets in only when something “bad” happens, causes us pain, that it hooks our attention and suddenly, the hurt becomes everything. Mark likens it to having our toe stubbed and then we reduce the whole world to that poor little toe.

When we encounter a problem, we tend to narrow our focus and it seems a BIG problem. But, it would only seem so if we give over to our smallness.

Instead of seeing the big problem as an obstacle, we must learn to see it as an opportunity to become a BIGGER person. This starts with shifting our perspective and widening our focus. Rather than seeing the big problem, see the BIGGER picture.

You have been assigned this mountain so that you can show others it can be moved Mel Robbins

In another passage, Mark talks about a Hindu master and his young apprentice who complains about the pain he’s having. To teach the lesson, the master instructed the student to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and drink it.

When asked how it tasted, “Bitter,” spit the apprentice.

Next, the master told him to put the same handful of salt in the lake and drink from it.

“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice having no trace of bitterness.

The master then relates it to his student’s situation:

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.

Taking Turns

The gift and responsibility of relationship is to take turns doing the dishes and putting up the storm windows, giving the other the chance to dive for God without worrying about dinner. While one explores the inner, the other must tend the outer.

If lessons on relationships are soul food, this is one of the most delicious servings I’ve tasted from Mark’s platter. I’d consider it to be the higher purpose of a partnership.

First and foremost, the purpose of any relationship is to foster the spiritual growth of the souls involved (soulmates). This is even heightened in a conscious partnership between two specific individuals, especially twin flames, where there is deeper work to be accomplished.

Doing soul work, an inner job, is not easy while having to tend to ordinary ways of living. This is where being in a conscious partnership becomes highly beneficial because having a partner aware of your experience can handle the outer work while you do the inner.

Like pearl divers, conscious partners take turns. Tied together by a cord, one goes first diving for the pearl while the other waits on the surface tending the lines.

The cord that connects them depicts an essential component of a relationship – trust, which allows the person to explore fully and freely knowing that he or she is held and grounded in love.

When the work is done, the diver can come back to land, share about the pearl and other treasures found in the depths, and exchange roles with his or her partner so they, too, can go about their own inner self-exploration.

Bloom and the Bee Comes

The flower doesn’t dream of the bee. It blossoms and the bee comes.

For in blooming, we attract others; in being so thoroughly who we are, an inner fragrance is released that calls others to eat of our nectar. And we are loved, by friends and partners alike.

So, if you can, give up the want of another and be who you are, and more often than not, love will come at the precise moment you are simply loving yourself.

God, how I love these metaphors!

Okay, so, you’re looking for “the one”?

I once got deeply attracted to a woman who wears this smile, so pretty that it inspired several pieces in my poetry collection, One Whole Naked Me.

Here’s one:

You blinded me with your smile.
But the light in your heart made me see again.

For quite a while, I thought and convinced myself she is “the one.” As it turned out, she wasn’t, but it served its purpose. I realized after, that what I saw in her, more than her pretty smile, was the joy contained in it – the joy that I was looking for in myself.

Doing the inner work, the joy began blossoming in me. In the process, I bee-come the one I’m looking for. In searching for my soulmate, I found my soul.

Now, a bee can’t sip from closed-off petals. It won’t be able to find its way to it if there’s no scent, the fragrance that exudes from a flower that has blossomed.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom Anaïs Nin

That scent of love comes from you. So, bloom. Bloom fully into who you are until your heart blossoms to exude the fragrance of your soul.

Who knows, the bee could be just around the corner.

Let Go of the Rice

The truth is that food is everywhere. Though the stubborn monkey believes in its moment of hunger that there is no other food, it only has to let go for its life to unfold. Our journey to love is no different. For though we stubbornly cling, believing in our moment of hunger that there is no other possibility of love, we only have to let go of what we want so badly and our life will unfold. For love is everywhere.

There’s an ancient tale from China about how traps were set up for monkeys. A coconut is hollowed out to cut an opening that fits the size of a monkey’s open hand. Then, rice is placed inside to lure a hungry monkey. Sure enough, the monkey comes and reaches in for the rice. The catch is, holding the rice with its hand closed, the monkey’s fist won’t fit the opening. As long as it won’t let go, it will remain stuck in the coconut.

In this regard, Mark raises a question for us: “What is our rice and what is keeping us from opening our grip and letting it go?”

The answer may come easy, but the act of opening and letting go? Woooo, as a Filipino, the meal is incomplete without rice!

Any human being can relate to this, whatever that rice represents in your life. We grasp, but grasping keeps our hands closed, holding on to what satisfies our hunger, one craving to another. In so doing, our hands are hardly and rarely open, preventing us from receiving anything new to come into our experience, including the thing that could finally end our starvation.

Our hands are normally open, and so are our hearts. If what you’re holding on to is not feeding you love, let it go.

Dying to Be Me

In this way, without any intent to shape others, we simply have to be authentic, and a sense of mana, of spiritual light and warmth, will emanate from our very souls, causing others to grow—not toward us, but toward the light that moves through us. In this way, by being who we are, we not only experience life in all its vitality, but, quite innocently and without design, we help others be more thoroughly themselves.

I’m borrowing the title of Anita Moorjani’s book to point you to the next door: authenticity, which Mark brought up several times in different ways in the book.

First, he mentions “shedding.” That we are to shed whatever we have that’s no longer alive. Like a snake, we have to shed our dead skin, the covering that keeps us from evolving, from becoming who we’re meant to be in the next stage of our evolution.

This evolutionary process is more like a dying. But what’s only dying is our identity (who we think we are) and its attachments (what we think defines us). Because who and what we really are does not die. As A Course in Miracles reminds us, “Nothing real can be threatened.” So we need not be afraid of this, for we are, quite literally, dying to be ourselves.

Step into the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will only burn what you are not Mooji

From the shedding of the false self, the true self is born. As identity dies, authenticity lives.

Which brings us to another insight: Mana, or the extraordinary power or force that emanates from being real. It has a powerful, yet effortless influence on everything it touches. Effortless because it is simply being itself.

When you are simply being yourself, you become like a Sun, effortlessly shining your light and radiating your warmth because that is just the way you are.

May the force be with you!

…Oh wait, this one suits you better: May you be the force!!!

Water is Love and Life

Water in its clear softness fills whatever hole it finds. It is not skeptical or distrusting. It does not say this gully is too deep or that field is too open. Like water, the miracle of love is that it covers whatever it touches, making the touched thing grow while leaving no trace of its touch.

The quiet miracle of love is that without our interference, it, like water, accepts whatever is tossed or dropped or placed into it, embracing it completely.

In truth, the more we let love flow through, the more we have to love.

From Bruce Lee to Lao Tzu, and many other legends, the greatest teachings have often been alluded to water. And they’re not merely figurative speech. Biologically speaking, we are made up of 70% water.

It bears repeating what the water has to teach us. Mark echoes what Barbara beautifully captures in her book The Choice For Love. Similar to how it dilutes the thick and heavy concentration of pain, Mark says only love can soften our suffering, whatever makes life hard.

He reminds us that our essence is like that of water – flow. We can stop the water from flowing, but we can never stop the water from being water. It is not selective of what it touches. It doesn’t consider the smooth stone more special than the rough one. It just flows everywhere, touching everything along its path.

This is how we must learn to love: letting our love flow to everyone and everything, not just exclusively loving a “special someone,” while withholding it from everyone else. Because the essential nature of love is all-inclusive.

The same is true when speaking about life. Mark tells us that as water is H20, when we’re thirsty, we can’t just drink the hydrogen and leave the oxygen behind. They go hand in hand together. Experiencing the duality of living, happiness and sadness, and drinking from both is what will truly quench our thirst for life.

The Head and the Heart

We are so unused to emotion that we mistake any depth of feeling for sadness, any sense of the unknown for fear, and any sense of peace for boredom.

We are so schooled away from the life below that anything beneath the surface scares us.

While we set out on life curious, which is important, we’ve become so identified with thinking that we left out the other equally important aspect of our humanness – feeling. Full of curiosity, yet empty of living.

Mark compares our human exploration to that of Christopher Columbus and Carl Jung. One is an outward journey seeking to break down things and own the treasures he finds; the other is an inward journey seeking to put things together and share his discovered gem for the world to know. One proclaims, “This is mine”; the other whispers, “I belong to this.”

Being human, we are part-Columbus and part-Jung. Mark speaks of them as the masculine and feminine energies that reside in us. Thinking is the male aspect. Feeling, the female.

In self-exploration, we are asked to marry the two and harmonize them. They go hand in hand to keep the balance. We think to know what we experience and feel to experience what we know.

It’s not about deciding what is the right way, whether we take the path of Columbus or the path of Jung. It’s about choosing to love them while learning to navigate both. Because eventually, in one way or another, we are all bound to go home.

right and wrong quote mark nepo oprah super soul sunday


It is not surprising, then, that though we feel intermittently gifted, our gifts are ever-present. For if enlightenment stems from a clarity of being, then talent is no more than a clarity of doing, an embodied moment where spirit and hand are one. The chief obstacle to talent, then, is a lapse in being. It is not that people have no talent, but that we lack the clarity to uncover what it is and how it works.

Mark’s words reminded of Dan Millman’s insight along the lines of “There are no enlightened beings, only enlightened moments.”

I’d like to further refine it to: There are no enlightened humans, only enlightened moments. Because we are all enlightened beings, but having the human experience has put a veil that made us forget who we are.

Then, as we go through our human lives, there come moments of clarity, however intermittently, where we break through that forgetfulness and we remember who and what we are. This is what Mark meant by the clarity of being.

In the same way, there are no gifted humans, only gifted moments. As Mark clarifies, our gifts are ever-present. They are inherent in us. So, clarity of being also brings about clarity on our gifts, which present themselves as talents.

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy Rumi

The gift goes beyond what the talent does. It’s about what the talent offers – the moment of enlightenment, of joy, of passion – when what you do aligns with who you are.

They become what we can call “entalented moments,” moments when we meet our purpose in life. Aligned with who we are, whatever we do in any given moment becomes purposeful.

Change Nothing

Ultimately, we are small living things awakened in the stream, not gods who carve out rivers. We cannot eliminate hunger, but we can feed each other. We cannot eliminate loneliness, but we can hold each other. We cannot eliminate pain, but we can live a life of compassion.

My efforts have turned from trying to outrun suffering to trying to express it, from trying to achieve joy to trying to discover it, and from trying to shape or better the lives around me to accepting love wherever I can find it.

Whooo… tissue, please.

Mark shares a principle of Taoism, that the world is not something we can change. It is something we can only experience.

Based on the Taoist principle, Mark says we are fishes in this one stream of life. When we try all we can do to change the world, it’s like swimming against the current. We swim as hard as we can to the point of exhaustion, that we learn to finally surrender to the flow.

Acceptance, on the other hand, is meeting whatever we stumble upon as we flow. Rather than seeing it as an obstacle, something to eliminate, Mark invites us to see it as an opportunity to love.

Where there is hunger, feed it. Where there is loneliness, hold space for it. Where there is pain, allow it.

The human conditions will always be there wherever we are. They present to us those opportunities where moments of enlightenment become possible. They are conditions from which we can learn to love unconditionally.

you can't change people you can only love them quote

Our purpose in life is not to change the world, but to love it. And then maybe, just maybe, the world will change itself because of love.

Change nothing. Love everything.

This is how you awaken.

the path to awesomeness starter kit

The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have

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MARK NEPO is a poet and philosopher who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for over thirty-five years. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, he has published twenty-two books and recorded fifteen audio projects.  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.  And in 2017 Mark became a regular columnist for Spirituality & Health Magazine.

As a cancer survivor, Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship.

Visit him at

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