113: Thoughts on All that we are not by Mark Nepo

Discernment is the process of letting go of what we are not.

Father Thomas Keating

I said to Painter one time, “I’ve never felt more vulnerable and it terrifies me.”

She said, “Me too.”

Perhaps that is why I hid and refused to let go of the past. I needed, like Linus, an emotional blanket. I wanted to both lose myself in my passion for Painter but also not be lost.

Seven months later – and every day of our lives before – I could look at my relationship with Painter and see what was possible if we kept chipping away at the illusion of safety and worked on bringing about the beauty released in being vulnerable.

Painter saw it too. At least that’s what I imagine.

Instead, I traded safety for vulnerability. You just cannot have both. Looking at my choices – and Painter’s actions – I can see how we’ve both tried to do things to remain safe through this experience and avoid further hurt and vulnerability.

Expecting safety results in Ugly. You just cannot be vulnerable and safe. By Brene Brown’s definition, vulnerability = (risk + uncertainty + emotional openness). By definition, safety is to be free of risk and uncertainty. They just cannot exist in the same spiritual space.


It is the difference between bragging about swimming in the river and actually getting wet. You can never drown standing on the shore. You risk nothing. Wading into the river, embracing the current, immersing yourself in the possibilities is where courage is found. Swimming is what makes you truly vulnerable. Everything else is meaningless bravado.

It is why I moved back to YoYo Town. I am vulnerable. I will swim. I will not stand on the shore. The bluster of the critics and judges don’t matter. I know who I am. I know what I did. I will show myself. I will not hide. Not because I’m trying to impress others or change anyone’s mind but because I am not defined by the limitations of my own fears or the small mind of others. I’m doing this for myself.


“More vulnerability, not less, is the way to heal a broken heart,” wrote Mark Nepo.

I’m trying.

My writing is vulnerable. It is a risk. It creates uncertainty. It is emotionally open and raw. It shows me as human with frailties, strengths, hopes, dreams, passions, powers, ambitions, failings, and longings. I’m not perfect. I never claimed to be. I never pretended to be. Yet others expect me to be, not because it is true, but because it creates the illusion of safety that allowed them to rely on me. Now that the illusion is gone I’m free of the unwanted stone trapping me.

I was bonded to Painter.

I’m still bonded to her even though she’s done things to try and break my bond, to chip away at it. Those seven years do not vanish simply because the pictures and life we created are deleted from Facebook. They were real and meaningful and true. They mattered to me. They mattered to her. Deny me all Painter wants. It breaks my heart but it cannot break my bond.

I know because I too have tried over and over and over again to break the bond and scrape it off. The bond cannot be broken. To pretend it doesn’t exist is to deny the reality of the stone. All I can do is chip away at releasing the vulnerable self-trapped in the marble and in the process reveal a deeper and more truthful connection to my own self and others.

Mark Nepo’s book elves visited again last night and wrote in my book. They don’t want me to break the bond. They simply want me to more fully reveal myself to the truths of who I am.

June 28
All That We Are Not

Mark Nepo
The Book of Awakening

I can easily over-identify with my emotions and roles, becoming what I feel: I am angry…I am divorced…I am depressed…I am a failure…I am nothing but my confusion and my sadness…

No matter how we feel in any one moment, we are not just our feelings, our roles, our traumas, our prescription of values, or our obligations or ambitions. It is so easy to define ourselves by the moment of struggle we are wrestling with. It is a very human way, to be consumed by what moves through us.

In contrast, I often think of how Michelangelo sculpted, how he saw the sculpture waiting, already complete, in the uncut stone. He would often say that his job was to carve away the excess, freeing the thing of beauty just waiting to be released.

It helps me to think of spiritual discernment in this way. Facing ourselves, uncovering the meaning in our hard experiences, the entire work of consciousness speaks to a process by which we sculpt away the excess, all that we are not; finding and releasing the gesture of soul that is already waiting, complete, within us. Self-actualization is this process applied to our life on Earth. The many ways we suffer, both inwardly and outwardly, are the chisels of God freeing the thing of beauty that we have carried within since birth.

One thought on “113: Thoughts on All that we are not by Mark Nepo

  1. Thank god for writing: “My writing is vulnerable. It is a risk. It creates uncertainty. It is emotionally open and raw. It shows me as human with frailties, strengths, hopes, dreams, passions, powers, ambitions, failings, and longings” It saves us over and over.

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