Many have argued whether the inner life or the outer life is our home; the reflective saying that the outer world is but an illusion while the pragmatic say that all the meditation you can muster won’t feed you. Each has its lineage. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And Berthold Brecht said, “Hunger is understood in any language.” Yet, in moments of great love or suffering, in moments of great crisis or wonder, there is no inner or outer—there is only one life. In moments of searing connection, there is no individual or community—there is only one life. And in the crucible of living, we have yet to learn the wisdom of that fleeting Oneness that empowers us to keep going.

The truth is that in the face of adversity, the tool is only as useful as the hand that lifts it. And the hand is only as useful as the mind and heart that guide it.

Without the inner life, we peck at each other like chickens with no eyes. Without the outer life, we grope for each other like medics with no hands. The truth is that in the face of adversity, the tool is only as useful as the hand that lifts it. And the hand is only as useful as the mind and heart that guide it. In any given moment where love becomes visible, mind and heart and hand and tool are one. How do we learn this? How do we teach this? How do we preserve this?

We’re beautifully born whole, though no one can escape the journey of trauma that undoes us. Yet, in time, we can be put back together, if given the chance to know and be known thoroughly. Putting ourselves back together, by finishing what is unfinished within us and between us, allows community to form. But each of us must find our own way to listen to what we’ve done to each other in order to make a university of our suffering. Each of us must find our own way to make public spaces intimate so we can help each other release our feelings. Each of us must find the lapse in our story and figure out what went wrong. This is work worth doing.

How do we move from playing out our unacknowledged pain on others to facing our own suffering? How do we undo our obsession with vengeance and begin to soothe each other with the music that rises from our broken places? What are the incremental steps by which we lose our humanity and the steps by which we regain it? Whether victim or perpetrator, how do we recover from our isolation enough to live together with integrity and compassion? While I have no answers, I believe that asking and listening enliven our ability to live together. The art of facing our dark side and the courage to own how we hurt others are not objects we can hold in our hand, yet they can determine whether we can truly hold anything at all.

We are at a basic crossroads between deepening the decency that comes from caring for each other and spreading the contagion of making anyone who is different into an enemy.

To find what waits underneath all our trouble and misunderstanding, we’re called in each generation to rediscover how to participate in the oneness of humanity. And if another world is possible, I believe that it’s this one remade and revealed through our efforts to find the common good that waits in the truth of our individual journey. Such important tasks begin with unstitching the knots we’ve tied along the way. Such important work begins by surfacing what we’ve been carrying within us that can help repair the world.

Now, all the things we have in common, all the endeavors of respect that we treasure, all the ways that we find strength in our kindness—all our efforts of heart—matter now more than ever. We are at a basic crossroads between deepening the decency that comes from caring for each other and spreading the contagion of making anyone who is different into an enemy. And, as history has shown through crusades, genocides, and world wars, if we don’t recognize ourselves in each other, we will consume each other.

I implore you to stay devoted to the proposition that, when filled with love, we can work as angels here on Earth, using our caring hands as wings.


Adapted from More Together than Alone by Mark Nepo (Atria Books, July 2018). Posted by kind permission of the author.


Photo: Brian Bankston

Mark Nepo is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Book of Awakening. Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark’s recent work includes More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and in the World, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living; and a book of poetry, The Way Under the Way: The Place of True. A two-time cancer survivor, Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship. For more information, please visit: MarkNepo.com  ThreeIntentions.com