Book review: The Book of the Soul by Mark Nepo
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A powerful new book of spiritual awakening from #1 New York Times bestselling author Mark Nepo
In The Book of Soul, Mark Nepo, the bestselling author of The Book of Awakening, offers a powerful guide to inhabiting an authentic and wholehearted life. After we are physically born, we must be spiritually born a second time, a process that takes place through the labor of a lifetime as we develop into more fully realized beings. The Book of Soul delves into the spiritual alchemy of that transformation in all its mystery, difficulty, and inevitability.
The book is divided into four sections that mark the passages we all face: enduring our Walk in the World, until we discover Our True Inheritance, which allows us to live in the open by Widening Our Circle, as we Help Each Other Stay Awake. The Book of Soul is a piercing guide, replete with beautiful truths and startling insight, that leads us deeply into the process of transformation.
If you haven't read any of the previous Mark Nepo books, such The Book of Awakening, never fear jumping in with his latest. The Book of Soul may be considered a sequel in a way to The Book of Awakening, but it's a beautiful read if this is your first exposure. I began this galley before the COVID-19 crisis hit the United States. Once we were quarantined, this book called to me. It felt like the right time for it even though there's always a crisis going on somewhere. Had this come out last year, I may have been worried about the Syrian refugees; or the wildfires in Australia and California; or the hottest winter on record melting the glaciers; or, or, or... literally anything. There's always something going on bigger than us and The Book of the Soul reminds us of personal journey through time.
I found myself highlighted countless passages as I did in Drinking from the River of Light. My soul was indeed touched and moved by the essays. I found the third part of the book called "Widening Our Circle" tangibly ready for me to absorb during this quarantine crisis. The previous sections were excellent preparation. Nepo -- in his poetic language -- tells readers that it's our authentic presence that gives us worth. It's not how much work we produce or whether we possess more than other people. It's being authentic and simply being, existing, connecting.
When Nepo speaks of brilliant artists and creators who succumbed to the demons of suicide, there's no romance nor blame. There's acceptance and love when he mentions Vincent Van Gogh, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath.
"These legendary figures highlight a journey we're all born into: we never stop paddling in the larger sea, while being tossed about by the tides of life."
As with his other works, Nepo sets up each chapter with a quote or two on the theme; then his essay; then a task to do on your own; ending with a task to do with someone else. Those two tasks are usually recalling a time when something about the theme happened in your life and journaling about it; and having a conversation for a friend to ask questions and offer your own experiences.
This setup for his essays with "homework" at the end of each one would be great for teachers, pastors, or team leaders to use for bringing people out of their shells or to network gently. I can remember corporate team-building days like the Six Sigma training where people were supposed to work together on silly tasks like memorization, trust falls, or the like. It was expected as a worker-bee to complain about those days; but I enjoyed them. I think if people had been able to let go of the shells around them, they would have realized that coworkers were literally on their side. Sure we worried about our jobs, but that wasn't Brad in IT's fault. Choosing who you have a connection with should be a give and take experience. The conversation prompts in this book and the others can help get you there.
The chapter on living through a crisis is vital food for thought. As I said, if it wasn't a pandemic, it would be something else like people kept in filthy detention centers at our border. Empathy should be welcomed not hindered. Nepo makes a point of saying that having empathy doesn't eliminate the need for justice and policy changes, nor does it diminish the pain when someone else is feeling joy.
"For today, you may be blessed with the comforts of a warm bed and plenty to eat, and tomorrow you may need the kindness of a stranger. We take turns on the wheel of life: falling down and getting up, or having more than we need and then in time needing more to make it through. In this we all share the same hunger and quench the same thirst."
This is the type of book you could buy for someone who may only read in short periods of time and take three years to get through the whole thing. It's also great for anyone who has a role as the person responsible for bringing community and connection together.
Rating: 5 stars