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Introduction and Table of Contents ~ The Exquisite Risk ~ Daring to Live an Authentic Life ~ Mark Nepo

The Exquisite Risk

Daring to Live an Authentic Life

by Mark Nepo


"Once again, Mark Nepo draws us to the heart of what matters. He illuminates love with the light of his own understanding."

~ Marianne Williamson


Do You Dare Live Life to Its Fullest?

In the spirit of works by Deepak Chopra and Ram Dass, THE EXQUISITE RISK offers a fresh perspective on the art of being alive and provides essential insight into how we can minimize what stands between us and an authentic experience of Life.

In these fast-paced times, the exquisite risk facing each of us every day is to slow down so that we may experience life rather than simply manage it. In THE EXQUISITE RISK, poet and teacher Mark Nepo encourages readers to become quiet enough and open enough to listen to what truly matters - our own hearts, our loved ones, the wonders of nature - in order to live a life with nothing held back. In rich, lyrical prose, Nepo shares his own spiritual path, including a battle with illness that helped him understand how daring to embrace all that life has to offer can bring us to a deeper appreciation of its meaning and beauty.


“A rich and lyric reflection on what it means to live a truly authentic life.”

~ Body & Soul magazine


“Enthralling ... Nepo is a great storyteller who has much wisdom.”

~ Spirituality & Health magazine

“Mark Nepo’s words, like water on a stone, gently but firmly score a path for us to follow, a path that leads us into the place of remembering what a life is for; an invitation to tell the truth, remain close to the earth, and love well.”

Wayne Muller, author of Learning to Pray


Mark Nepo is a program officer at the Fetzer Institute and a teacher of poetry and spirituality, as well as a frequent guest speaker at seminars and workshops around the country. He has written several books, including THE BOOK OF AWAKENING, a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award.


"Every page of THE EXQUISITE RISK is alive with Mark's compassion, rich with his soulfulness. If you are looking for one of those rare books that offer companionship on the journey, you will find none better than this."

~ Parker J. Palmer, best-selling author of A Hidden Wholeness, The Courage to Teach, and Let Your Life Speak


"An inspiration ... THE EXQUISITE RISK affirms that there are essentially two responses to life - a risky opening up to love and a controlling move into success and isolation. The direct reporting of Mark Nepo's epiphanies moves and flows in a wonderful sequencing of revelations that deepen and fill out as we read....An exquisite gift."


Robert Inchausti, author of The Ignorant Perfection of Ordinary People


To My Reader

  1. For years, I've been trying to explore and understand: How can we, being forgetfully human, remember we are of one human family? How can we stay awake and authentic when our wounds make us numb and hidden? How can we minimize what stands between us and our experience of life? How can we make a practice of wearing down what thickens around our mind and heart? How can this practice of staying authentic serve and draw strength from the universal Whole while we are immersed and entangled in the moment of our lives?
  2. As a cancer survivor, I have found myself like Lazarus, awake again, in the same earthly place but different. Everything has changed and nothing has changed. This wakefulness has led me to be a student of that vibrant edge where our inner life meets the world. Being a poet and philosopher, I find myself there with a particular set of tools to search with.
  3. But we all live on this shore between the depths of being and the dangers of experience. This book has become a journal of the challenges and gifts of being a spirit in the world. It has taken three years to birth this book, and I view it as an intimate companion in exploring the intoxicating quandaries of being alive. When struggling through my illness, I was bereft at how many of the books I owned were useless. Ever since, I have been committed to finding and creating books that can help us live. It is my devout hope that this book is such a help.

"We cannot change the world by a new plan, project or idea. We cannot even change other people by our convictions, stories, advice and proposals, but we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center."

~ Henri Nouwen


"Work of seeing is done. Now practice heart-work."

~ Rilke


Opening The Gift

  1. Before stories were recorded, what happened to the living was told and retold around fires, on cliffs, and in the shade of enormous trees. And it is said that somewhere on the edge of what was known and unknown, a man and a woman paused in their struggles to survive and faced each other. One asked the other, "Is there more to this thing than hauling wood?" The older of the two sighed, "Yes ... and no."
  2. This may have been the beginning of our sense of being and our search for meaning. I imagine these two faced everything we face. For the journey is the same: how to open our pain and listen to all that matters, so we can make it through and rejoice from day to day.
  3. Like those before us, we have the chance to wake and love, the chance to welcome the gift of surprise and befriend the Whole. For beneath the life of problem-solving waits the struggle to be real, from which no one is exempt. We each are asked to make our way through the drama of our bleeding to the stripping of our will, through the tensions of our suffering to the humility of surrender where we might learn the ordinary art of living at the pace of what is real.
  4. So, is there more to this than hauling the wood of our history around? More than just replaying our patterns? Whether yesterday or five thousand years ago, there has always been the need to break our habits in the world - the need to give up what no longer works.
  5. Ultimately, there is always the need to risk being new. Yet even succeeding, to be authentic - living as close to our experience as possible - is arduous. For being human, we remember and forget. We stray and return, fall down and get up, and cling and let go again and again. But it is this straying and returning that makes life interesting, this clinging and letting go - damned as it is - that exercises the heart.
  6. They say that, after a time, the two who paused on the edge of what was known and unknown stumbled into humility. "Please tell me, is there more to this than hauling wood?" the one would ask again. And the more tired of the two replied, "No, no. It is ALL in the hauling, ALL in the wood, ALL in how we face each other around the small fires we can build."
  7. It was then that they rested, as we rest, when accepting the grace of our humanness. You see, we've always been on a journey, like it or not, aware of it or not, struggling to enter and embrace things as they are. And when we can accept our small part in the way of things, when we can build a small fire and gather, it opens us to joy. So join me on this journey we are already on. We can help each other hold nothing back. We can help each other live a sincere life. We can help each other wear down what gets in the way, waking close to the bone.
  8. Come. There are teachers everywhere: in the stories around us, in the stories within us, in the life of expression that sings where we are broken, in the kinship of gratitude that keeps reminding us that we need each other as we become the earth.


Table of Contents

Movement 1 ~ There Are Teachers Everywhere

1.1 Listening to the Voice Inside

1.2 The Practice of Being Human

1.3 The Nature of the Dance

1.4 The Exquisite Risk

1.5 The Strange Storyteller

1.6 You Must Reverse The Haiku

1.7 The Work of Love

1.8 Fame and Peace

1.9 The Drama of Our Bleeding

1.10 The Struggle to be Real

1.11 The Chance to Form Inwardly

1.12 A Sincere Life

1.13 Holding Nothing Back

1.14 Unrehearsed Living

1.15 There Are Teachers Everywhere 

Movement 2 - Steering Our Way to Center

2.1 Living With The Sacred

2.2 Steering Our Way to Center

2.3 The Mystery of Energy

2.4 The Fact of Our Oneness

2.5 We Like Cheetahs

2.6 Unfolding in the World

2.7 Giving and Getting Attention

2.8 Befriending the Whole

2.9 Passion and Desire

2.10 Practicing Change

2.11 The Net of Influences

2.12 Naked Attention

2.13 The Gift of Surprise

2.14 The Life of Expression

2.15 Falling Down and Getting Up

Movement 3 - How Can We Go There Together? 

3.1 Movement 3 - How Can We Go There Together?

3.2 The Spoked Wheel

3.3 Admitting Who We Are

3.4 The Song of Relationship

3.5 The Loss of One Brick

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