While most people would describe Mark Nepo, spiritual author of Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, Reduced to Joy and The Book of Awakening as a poet, he says he hopes to be more. When Oprah sat down with Nepo on "Super Soul Sunday," he explained how the labels we use for ourselves can hold us back from feeling truly alive.
"I remember you having said or written that for many years you wanted to be a great poet and now your heart's desire is to be the poem," Oprah says. "What does that mean?"
"I think it's not just for a poet, but it works that way for me," Nepo says. "I think it's for all of us. I think, understandably, we start out learning who we are, we start to become familiar with our gifts, and then we want to be accomplished.... And then we want to make a contribution, and we have such a production imprint in our culture that we want to produce something."
Nepo says his battle with cancer shifted his perspective.
"But, for me, as we've talked, as life had other ideas, I found that it wasn't helpful to try to create great poems. I needed to find true poems to help me live," he says. "And then as I was able to still be here, it was all about being the moment of life come alive. That's the poem, to stay as close to our aliveness as possible."
"And that is how each of us can live a more poetic life," Oprah says.
"Absolutely," Nepo agrees. He goes on to explain that in our culture, when someone has a talent for something, we're told to label ourselves. "If I write, someone says you should be a writer. If someone loves the land, oh, you should be a gardener. Or if someone sings, you should be a singer. However, we're being turned into a noun when the aliveness is in staying a verb."
So if you love singing -- just sing, Nepo says.
"Just sing," Oprah repeats. "You don't have to become a singer. Oh, that's good."
"You don't have to become a gardener. Just keep your hands in the earth," Nepo adds.
"Because there isn't necessarily just one thing you have to do," Oprah says.
"No," Nepo says. "And then we follow the aliveness, and so our identity evolves over time."