I appreciate Mark’s intense fidelity to some key values — life as a process and a practice which is all about learning, without end; felt experience and inquiry (as contrasted to solutions and answers); and a compassionate relationship to the ordeal of being human. Another is his poetry — his eloquent, evocative, vulnerable and candid sharing of his own deep experience in ways that so often resonate.
In his thirties, Mark was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, and his struggle of healing helped to deepen his soul and shape his commitment to experiencing life fully while staying in relationship to an unknowable future. It also opened him to accept healing from all spiritual approaches and today he calls himself a “student of all paths,” studying both the common threads and the unique gifts that each school has to offer.
I asked Mark to share his way of practicing with the daily news in this “best of times and worst of times,” within the context of Beyond Awakening’s animating question: how can higher consciousness enable humanity to rise to the challenge of our world’s increasingly urgent, complex and intractable crises?
Mark pointed to the perennial wisdom of Aristotle: “We have a right to censor a work of art or information if it makes us experience pity or terror without an inner necessity to do so.” Part of the best of these times is that we have instantaneous access to information and images from around the world. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but when catastrophic events such as 9/11 are replayed over and over, the effect on us can be numbing, paralyzing and destructive.
He also noted that it is always the “best of times and worst of times,” and the nature of the universe is for things to come together and fall apart. However, things that fall apart make the most noise. Things that come together, usually do so quietly. Everything is coming together and falling apart as it always has, but our media’s negativity bias has us transfixed by the misleading constant ruckus of things falling apart.
I thought it was important to acknowledge that while the nature of the universe is for things to come together and fall apart, there does seem to be a greater scale of crises at hand than we’ve ever faced. So I asked Mark to press a little deeper into the idea of being moved by the “experience of pity or terror” into compassion or action, rather than shut down.
Mark agreed with the necessity of action, and then spoke about residing in a balanced view of reality. One of the first practices he learned from Buddhism was the notion of seeing things as they are. This means seeing what is coming together as well as what is coming apart, neither through rose-colored glasses nor through the cloud of fear and anxiety. Until then, we don’t have the eyes to see what right action might be.
One of the richest parts of our conversation was when I asked Mark about the fact that he never seems to offer techniques or solutions as a part of his teachings. He points not so much to outcomes or ideals, but to ways of being with experience.
Mark explained this approach by saying that the most mysterious, amazing thing about being human is that no one knows how to do it, despite all the great literature and teachings. Therefore if we are humbly, fully “here,” we can start an honest friendship by admitting to each other that we don’t know, that in fact we don’t have a clue. But we can share our experience, when our heart broke, or we lost someone, or we stepped into wonder.
He quoted the mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg, “A fish cannot drown in water, A bird does not fall in air.” For human beings, whose gifts are so mysterious and varied, part of our journey is to discover what our “element” is. When we discover this, our gifts will manifest.
In the meantime, our dreams are there to exercise the heart and inspire it to inhabit its aliveness.
I invite you to the listen in to the full recording here.