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The Effort to Learn

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I confess and celebrate that the only thing I've done longer than teach is to learn. And not very far along it became clear that teaching is learning with others by living into the questions that experience opens.

It was in my second year of teaching--high school, then--that this couplet of e.e. cummings appeared in my path:

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance.

I've tossed this couplet like a hieroglyph before a class, countless times, and just as often I've recited it to myself when puzzled at what to do next.

For in its construction is a telescoped wisdom, very Tao-like, that helps me re-understand our way in the world and how to find our talents of being:

I'd rather learn... than teach...
I'd rather learn from one... than teach ten thousand...

And perhaps most important of all: I'd rather learn how to... than teach how not to...

In my journey, I've been worn like a stone shaped by an unending river--from young poet to young teacher to my tumble through cancer to my life as a listener and witness of the mystery that lives below all names.

And this chunk of truth continues to be my teacher. It speaks profoundly about the deepest kind of learning and reminds me that life is a journey from no to yes, and that the classroom appears wherever we dare to imagine this life as a transformative question that we somehow awaken into together.

A Question to Walk With: If your life is a flag, what wind are you here to make visible and what is your flagpole?

Last month, Atria published my new book, The One Life We're Given: Finding the Wisdom that Waits in Your Heart. To make the most of being here, we're required to learn when to try and when to let go. This is our initiation into grace. The gift and practice of being human centers on the effort to restore what matters and, when in trouble, to make good use of our heart. No one quite knows how to do this, but learn it we must. There is no other way. By fully living the one life we're given, we're led to the wisdom that waits in our heart. The above piece is an excerpt from the book.

For more poetry for the soul, click here.

For more by Mark Nepo, click here.