Book Review: Surviving Storms by Mark Nepo
Surviving Storms: Finding the Strength to Meet Adversity
by Mark Nepo
St. Martin's Press pub date: 06-September-2022
This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley.
In Surviving Storms, bestselling author and spiritual teacher Mark Nepo explores the art and practice of meeting adversity by using the timeless teachings of the heart.
We live in a turbulent time. Storms are everywhere, of every size and shape. And like every generation before us, we must learn the art of surviving them, so we can help each other endure.
In order to stand firm against life’s unavoidable storms, we need to know our true self, deepening our roots and solidifying our connection to all Spirit and all life. Then we, like a firmly rooted tree, can endure the force of trials and heartbreak.
A profoundly timely resource, Surviving Storms describes the heart’s process of renewal and connection with insight and accuracy. Though we must each map the territories of our souls for ourselves, this spiritually practical book is an indispensable guide, bringing us to common passages and paths and urging us forward on the journey. Once the rubble clears, we, like those before us, are inevitably called to build the world one more time, admitting that we need each other.
Mark Nepo's book, Surviving Storms is for readers familiar with his work and newcomers. This book is set up in a similar way to his past books.
Notably sentence or two
Questions to ask yourself
Discussion topic with others
One thing about his books is that they are best enjoyed leisurely, maybe a chapter a day, but don't rush through them. Surviving Storms is best digested at a slower pace. Nepo even describes a day when he was running late, rushing to an appointment, and stricken by the beauty of a pigeon. He saw it as a sign and perfect opportunity to slow down. Hopefully if anyone is in that situation, they too can slow down and not cause disruption in a chain of events (missing a train, not making it to a doctor's appointment, unable to get medicine prescription, etc.).
*Keep in mind my review is based on an advanced copy so quotes may not reflect the released publication.
As with other books by this author, I found myself highlighting a lot of passages. Most because I like the insightful thinking and philosophizing brought to the surface; other highlights are things I wanted to remember to call out for their white male privilege thoughts. Nonetheless, there are plenty of good passages in Surviving Storms that are worth sharing. If you get the chance to read it, you may even find yourself using his end of chapter discussion topics to introduce conversations. It might be awkward to do that sort of thing randomly, but if you need to lead a discussion in a classroom, yoga studio, study group, therapy group, or retreat circle, there are a lot of nuggets you can pluck from this book.
To be honest and fair, I'd say half of the book was useful. And as a fellow writer, that's not a terrible rating. I've watched TV shows with seven or more years of content and if I can still say, "The first four seasons were so good!" I think that's decent. I'll rewatch those parts I enjoyed hundreds of times.
Some moments where Surviving Storms blossoms into material that is beyond poetic words and quotes of dead, white, male philosophers (although Confucius is brought up once):
Nepo opens the book by addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. "There is no way back to life before the coronavirus. We have no choice but to accept the truth of what is and love our way forward, discovering the new life unlived ahead of us."
As someone living in an area the government immediately declared a hot zone (New Jersey with Newark Airport and ocean ports), there are still people out here who protest every Saturday claiming that making children wear masks is child abuse. They don't even care that the mask mandates were lifted months ago. They want to scream about something. Each sign they hold is about a different social issue or too generic to even be debated.
The fact that Mark Nepo uses his power and influence as a best selling author to address the plague we faced and lost millions of lives to is important. He could be the kind of granola-crunching hippie to believe CBD oil and organic rosemary planted around the edge of his house would be enough to keep the virus at bay. Thankfully, he is one-hundred-percent willing to stand up for humanity rather than claiming we went overboard or that the virus was a hoax or that vaccines won't help. Nepo is a man who owes his life to science and the medical community on his treatment teams. By writing books on a regular basis, he proves that a person in today's suffering world can be heartfelt, compassionate, poetic, and a philosopher while still going to annual checkups.
The first part of Surviving Storms addresses our relationships to technology and entertainment as means of escaping the real world (even when watching things about the real world). He sees people as unable to separate the fact from fiction or semi-fiction when used for the sake of entertainment. People are lost in fantasy and dreams. He has no love for social media.
In part two, Nepo talks about stamina and resilience. He opens up about days when his body and mind were depleted. The kind of days when exhaustion seems to be winning, but he has one hit point left on his life bar and finds manna to fuel him enough to do his job teaching others. (The gaming terminology might have lost some of you, but I think you catch my drift). Nepo asks us how we keep our individual candles burning inside and still do what needs to be done to care for others.
"The more insecure we are, the more we need to impose our views on everything and everyone. The more secure we are, the more room we make for other views of life."
My favorite chapter is titled Uncharted Waters. It's the kind of chapter that has an illuminating message and gives readers something to ponder. All the chapters do, but this one touched my sense of personal exploration. It invites readers to do the work on themselves in a less erudite approach. This chapter is the reason I know I'll be using Surviving Storms as a reference in my classes. For other readers, they may not feel connected to this chapter at all. It's that kind of book.
Near the end is the chapter The Blessing of the Ordinary. This chapter felt the most like a guru or a monk speaking directly to the reader. It's about being fully present through the practices of meditation, love, awareness, and connection. He calls it the Oneness connecting all things. (*side note: there was a Bob's Burgers episode about this too, so sometimes, entertaining fiction/fantasy can be just as valuable of a teaching tool).
There is a lot of privilege in being a best selling author and since this book is both autobiographical and instructional, it would have been important to include notes on that privilege. Like in the example above where he was running late -- for other people that could have caused them to lose their job or something else unfortunate. As a reader, it seems like Nepo is grounded to Mother Nature but not always to the real world. He repeatedly brings up the worst part of his life which was being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatments. It's great that he survived and then thrived. I don't think most people get the same opportunities he did though.
How many people get cancer and won't seek treatment because of the expense? How many people bankrupt their families with medical bills? How many people turn to crowdfunding just to see a doctor? Look at GoFundMe.com where there is a specific category for medical bills because of the American healthcare system. Mark Nepo would call that upheaval something like a challenge or a storm. Others would be less hesitant to call something serious catastrophic. Do we move through storms or do storms move through us? Nepo has a tendency to easily let go of the controls and come out fine. Not only fine, but encouraging others to do so as well.
Letting go is an important practice. Whether you're atheist or have a specific religion there are colloquialisms like "give it up to God" or "let Jesus take the wheel." In Yoga, letting go is aparigraha. That's one area where Nepo does have the ability to be accessible -- faith. He words his sentences in ways that may refer to Christianity or Islam or Judaism, but he'll add an "or" such-and-such for anyone not identified. It's done politely.
His whiteness and colonialism also show through when he consistently refers to indigenous practices as ancient when people of those cultures have survived. Talk about a storm. Many of indigenous people faced genocide. Loss of numbers; loss of home; loss of their own faiths or forced into occult practice; loss of their languages. The list goes on about how white colonizers tried their hardest to make those so-called ancient ways merely history. Thankfully, those who are still around speak out. If you're not noticing, you haven't been paying attention. Nepo's references to shamanism sound like primitive history. They are not.
This thing that Nepo does is called spiritual bypassing. It's when a white person (usually) coming from a place of privilege wants to feel less guilty about their history and ancestry. Saying things along the lines of, "we're all immigrants" or "we all come from Africa anyway," are ignorant ways that don't open arms of compassion but rather shut the door in the faces of people today. Just because your great-great-grandparents came over from Ireland and had a rough time does not mean that you can equate your present day life with an undocumented migrant worker fearing for their life every single day. Nor can millions of years of evolution allow you to put yourself in the shoes of someone black who still has to live with racist systems: getting pulled over and mistreated by law enforcement; getting turned down for mortgages; not seeing themselves in anyone else during a school day or working day. Spiritual bypassing, whether or not you believe in reincarnation, is harmful. Your past life as a Blackfoot protector against invading white people does not give you -- in your current life -- a pass to being anything other than part of an oppressive system.
I judged this book harshly because by this point in his career, Mark Nepo should be awakened enough to know better about certain social issues like racism and colonialism. I cut a star for that. If it was his debut, I'd probably look past that while awaiting growth in the next book.
Rating: 4 stars