Kalamazoo writer Mark Nepo is best known for The Book of Awakening, which was on the New York Times best seller list last year. Nepo's new book is called Seven Thousand Ways to Listen.
“I write to learn how to better live,” he says. Nepo’s writing has been praised by other authors and philosophers and he has been called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time.”
He responds to that praise by saying, “Any help that my work might be is a byproduct of my own really humble search. I don’t set out to be a guide or a help. If I in my own struggles can be honest enough, then more often than not, I will stumble on things, because we’re all at heart the same, that are meaningful and maybe useful to everyone. Because when we all look inside we look into the same center.”
Nepo’s book Seven Thousand Ways To Listen was released by publisher Simon and Schuster early last month. He recalls one night, several years ago now, when he learned that there are seven thousand living languages in the world.
"In this obvious kind of profundity I thought if there are seven thousand ways to speak there must be at least seven thousand ways to listen. That kind of gave me the frame. So the book really explores, or is framed through three eternal relationships that we all have. It’s framed around the work of being, which is our relationship to everything larger than us, that conversation, that friendship…how do we listen to life? And secondly, the work of being human, which is our conversation with our own experience. Every experience we have is another word in our own language of wisdom, that we don’t really get to translate or understand until we live it. And the third is the work of love, which is the relationship and conversation with each other. And, how we listen to each other which is at the heart of intimacy, true intimacy.”
Ironically, as Nepo started writing this book, he began experiencing hearing loss. Decades ago, he underwent chemotherapy, which damaged his hearing.
“So it was interesting that I was being asked to listen with other than my ears…to listen with my heart, to listen with my touch, to listen into silence, to listen outside of my own frame of reference… to other people’s experience, to other people’s pain,” he says.
Nepo says that listening is one of the most mysterious and challenging arts forms on Earth. He says by listening we can stay close to the “aliveness we are each born with”.
“I think whenever we are moved by someone, whether it be a teacher or a musician or a thinker or an artist or a great statesperson. I think regardless of the gifts and talents, under that what I’m coming to understand is that what we really see is someone being completely who they are, completely awake. And when we experience that, like when we see a bird with its wings spread, it awakens in us our own possibility of flying, our own possibility of being who we are.”
Kalamazoo writer Mark Nepo’s newest book is called Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred. He’ll do a reading November 13 at 7 p.m. in Stetson Chapel at Kalamazoo College.