The Book Of Awakening:
Having The Life You Want By Being Present To The Life You Have



A year’s supply of inspiration everyday and the perfect gift for yourself and your friends.
Oprah Winfrey

Selected as one of Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things
#1 New York Times Besteller
Translated into Twenty Languages




This is a spiritual daybook woven from my own story, the stories of others’ struggles with their humanness, and truths from the great wisdom traditions. A series of daily reflections, it serves as a guidebook for a journey with the soul. Each entry is accompanied with a practice that helps us face the call to awaken the mind and the heart.

I was drawn to this form because as a poet, I was longing for a manner of expression that could be as useful as a spoon, and as a cancer survivor, daybooks have become inner food. In truth, over the last twenty-five years, the daybook has been answering a collective need and has become a spiritual sonnet of our age, a sturdy container for small doses of what matters.

This book is meant to be of use, to be a companion, a soul friend. It is, indeed, a book of awakenings. To write this I’ve had to live it. It’s given me a chance to gather and share the quiet teachers I’ve met throughout my life. The journey of unearthing and shaping these entries has helped me bring my inner and outer life more closely together. It has helped me know and use my heart. It has made me more whole. I hope it can be such a tool for you.


The Precious Human Birth

Of all the things that exist,
we breathe and wake and turn it into song.

There is a Buddhist precept that asks us to be mindful of how rare it is to find ourselves in human form on earth. It is really a beautiful view of life that offers us the chance to feel enormous appreciation for the fact that we are here as individual spirits filled with consciousness, drinking water and chopping wood.

It asks us to look about at the ant and antelope, at the worm and the butterfly, at the dog and the castrated bull, at the hawk and the wild lonely tiger, at the hundred year old oak and the thousand year old patch of ocean. It asks us to understand that no other life form has the consciousness of being that we are privilege to. It asks us to recognize that, of all the endless species of plant and animal and mineral that make up the earth, a very small portion of life has the wakefulness of spirit that we call being human.

That I can rise from some depth of awareness to express this to you and that you can receive me in this instant is part of our precious human birth. You could have been an ant. I could have been an ant-eater. You could have been rain. I could have been a lick of salt. But we were blessed—in this time, in this place—to be human beings, alive in rare ways we often take for granted.

All of this to say, this precious human birth is unrepeatable. So what will you do today, knowing that you are one of the rarest forms of life to ever walk the earth? How will you carry yourself? What will you do with your hands? What will you ask and of whom?

Tomorrow you could die and become an ant, and someone will be setting traps for you. But today you are precious and rare and awake. It ushers us into grateful living. It makes hesitation useless. Grateful and awake, ask what you need to know now. Say what you feel now. Love what you love now.

Sit outside, if possible, or near a window, and note the other life forms around you.
Breathe slowly and think of the ant and the blade of grass and the bluejay and what these life forms can do that you can’t.
Think of the pebble and the piece of bark and the stone bench, and center your breathing on the interior things that you can do that they can’t.
Rise slowly, feeling beautifully human, and enter your day with the conscious intent of doing one thing that only humans can do.
When the time arises, do this one thing with great reverence and gratitude.

All Fall Down

Lead us from the unreal to the real.
- a Hindu invocation

It was a snowy night and Robert was recalling the time two springs ago when he was determined to paint the family room. Up early, he was out the door, to the hardware store gathering the gallons of red, the wooden mixing sticks, the drop cloths, and the one-time brushes that always harden, no matter what you soak them in.

He mixed the paint outside and waddled to the door with a gallon in each hand, the drop cloth under his arm, and a wide brush in his mouth. He began to chuckle in telling what happened, “I teetered there for minutes, trying to open the door, not wanting to put anything down. I was so stubborn. I had the door almost open when I lost my grip, stumbled backwards, and wound up on the ground, red gallons all over me.”

At this point, he laughed at himself, as he has done many times, and we watched the snow fall in silence. I thought of his little story the whole way home. Amazingly, we all do this, whether with groceries or paint or with the stories we feel determined to share. We do this with our love, with our sense of truth, even with our pain. It’s such a simple thing, but in a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door. Time and time again, we are offered the chance to truly learn this: we cannot hold on to things and enter. We must put down what we carry, open the door, and then take up only what we need to bring inside.

It is a basic human sequence: gather, prepare, put down, enter. But failing as we do, we always have that second chance: to learn how to fall, get up, and laugh.

Meditate on some threshold you are having trouble crossing in your life. It might be at work, at home, in a relationship, or the doorway to greater peace.
Breathe steadily and look to yourself to see if you are carrying too much to open the door.
Breathe slowly and with each out-breath put the things you are carrying down.
Breathe freely now and open the door.


“We were so inspired by Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening that we gave it an award as one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2000.”
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Health Magazine (April 2005, p.76) Read the review in Spirituality & Health Magazine online.

Mark Nepo is a poet and philosopher, a life-long teacher, and a program officer for the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a nonprofit foundation devoted to wholeness of mind, body, and spirit. He is a cancer survivor who is convinced that daybooks should be seen as "a spiritual sonnet of our age, a sturdy container for small doses of what matters." Nepo is well read and able to lyrically tap into the wisdom of the world's religions as well as the depths of contemporary psychology.

Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist, has stated, "Enlightenment is intimacy with all things." Nepo agrees and this daybook is filled with his appreciation for tears, the art of shedding, friendship, the broken heart, pain, patience, and all the connections that link us together with each other.

I was impressed with the author's ethical insights. Here are a few examples: "The greedy one gathered all the cherries, while the simple one tasted all the cherries in one." Greed is self-destructive because of its excess; equally disconcerting is our narcissism: "I tried so hard to please that I never realized no one is watching." Nepo's journey toward healing contains this confession: "Hesitation, more than anything, has been the invisible hitch that has kept me from joy."

Let this spiritual daybook become a sonnet for you; it will speak directly to your heart about the beauty, the bounty, and the blessings of life.

“Mark Nepo is one of the finest spiritual guides of our time and The Book of Awakening is one of the finest fruits of his spirit. His poetic gift shows through on every page, and his own courageous journey from near-death to new life breathes truth into every word he writes. This book is a gift of love. Open the gift—and open yourself to it—and you, like I, will be filled with gratitude and graced with renewal.”
Parker J. Palmer, author of A Hidden Wholeness and The Courage to Teach

“Mark Nepo is an astonishing poet and teacher. He generously comforts us while guiding us toward the deep, quiet river of wisdom that saturates each and every day of our lives. Mark is a loving, devoted companion who helps us feel and see and listen to a breathtaking beauty that is alive and vibrant, deeper than language. He gently and patiently leads us beside still waters; wherever we follow him, we discover we have been blessed.”
Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath and How, Then, Shall We Live?

“Mark Nepo has written a beautiful book about life, informed by the shadows of death. I've been blessed and humbled by reading his words.”
Marianne Williamson, author of Enchanted Love

“Mark Nepo's work is as gentle and reliable as the tides, and as courageous as anyone I've known in looking deeply into the mysteries of the self.”
Michael J. Mahoney, author of Human Change Processes and Constructive Psychotheraphy

“Each of us is the repository of an inexhaustible wisdom, which each of us nonetheless regularly forgets. Over and over we require reminding of the many paths toward our own true home in our bodies, in our loves and friendships, and in this earth we share with others. The Book of Awakening is filled with a reminding wisdom both gathered from others and harvested from Mark Nepo’s own life. Each entry in this capacious and tender daybook widens both the eyes and the heart.”
Jane Hirshfield, author of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and After

“In The Book of Awakening, poet and philosopher Mark Nepo gives us the chance to re-examine our lives and find a depth, significance, and beauty that we may not have noticed before. A year's supply of wise and shining thoughts to be taken, one a day, like vitamins for the soul.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., author of Kitchen Table Wisdom

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