Productive Flourishing
Productive Flourishing
Mark Nepo: Drinking from the River of Light (Episode 209)

Mark Nepo: Drinking from the River of Light (Episode 209)

Mark Nepo returns to the show as today’s guest to talk about his new book, Drinking From the River of Light: The Life of Expression. Charlie and Mark talk about why it’s so important that we express ourselves, the tensions we live in as we seek to express ourselves as creative people, how we are more likely to be Renaissance souls, and what thrashing inner work is really telling us. Both Mark and Charlie share some of their creative process, to hopefully inspire your own.

Key Takeaways:

[0:05] - Charlie’s new book, Start Finishing: How to Go From Idea to Done will be released on September 24th, 2019. Productivity is how we become our best selves in the world. The book covers tools, practices, and mindsets that will help you finish the stuff your soul is yearning to do. There are contributions from Charlie’s friends, colleagues, and teachers.

[5:30] - The inspiration for Mark’s new book actually came from a workshop he created. The book explores the deeper need that we all have to develop a personal form of expression. He likens it to the heart needing to breathe. There is an inhalation, and our exhalation is some sort of creative expression that can be any passion project.

[8:15] - Mark had the outline of the workshop around while finishing up some other books, and began to combine this outline with the stories and materials he had from other artists and teachers. The key to getting everything together was listening to the material, rather than imposing his will upon it. This compliments Elizabeth Gilbert’s thoughts on how ideas find people, and if they are ready for the idea, it sticks around. If not, ideas move on to something else.

[13:05] - Mark shares how his experience with cancer in his 30’s changed his understanding of art and expression. Everyone has their own wisdom, but we often create from a space of what we need to learn.

[15:50] - Mark and Charlie talk about the dichotomies of success and failure in creative work, and how it compares to other environments, like sports. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves in our creative expression, expecting to be able to hit it every time. Unless we open up to those vulnerabilities, there’s no growing.

[18:58] - The spiritual life, the philosophical life, and the creative life are all about sitting in tension with two contradictory truths at the same time. We can’t be stuck in the mindset of hit or miss while creating our work, but when we’re finished, this is often the first thing we evaluate. We need to have dreams, goals, and ambitions; we need these things to get us to what we can’t even foresee.

[24:05] - A theme for Mark and Charlie is that as they create, they are being created. The tension lies in not knowing what will manifest until it manifests, even if we think we know. Charlie would write down anything that came up, in case it was blocking something else that needed to come out. Mark talks about some of his own creative process, and how research on a topic can lead to the creation of a whole new book or story.

[28:45] - We often discover material rather invent it. This requires us to surrender some control and open ourselves up to allow that discovery. Virtue is our tendency toward unity, and the creative process is about discovering the connections that are always present even when we are unaware of it. The reward for this is that we then become one and can achieve unity.

[34:45] - In his new book, Mark utilizes poetry as a tool for expression. For him, poetry is the unexpected utterance of the soul, rather than a manipulation of words. Everyone can be a poet; discover your own vibrant link to the truth of what it is to be here.

[38:23] - Mark talks about poet/artist William Blake, and the connection between his poems and his visual art. Expression can come to us in many ways, and some artists’ most important work can be classified as an unexpected medium from what we usually think.

[40:55] - Everybody has the same starting point and access to gifts. Everyone is a Renaissance soul; outside pressures generally dictate that we need to become a specialist at any given craft. Everyone’s aliveness is connected to their attendant spirit.

[44:05] - The value of our consciousness is that we can gain insight and wisdom so we don’t have to relearn or re-invent tasks. It can create assumptions and conclusions, but expression allows for us to release those assumptions and conclusions so our consciousness is fresh. What comes through during this process is the unexpected utterance of the soul.

[47:40] - In his book, Charlie talks about the pain of not creating or finishing what matters as creative constipation. If you’re experiencing frustration because you can’t achieve this clarity, there may just be some things you need to get out in order to allow that. Writer’s block often indicates that we need need to clear things out to be present again, rather than not having anything to say. In these times, Mark seeks out an experience of something new.

[50:43] - What oftens stops us up is the legion of preferences we accumulate in our minds. This can close us off from experiencing new things. The shadow of consciousness is self-consciousness; seek out the prompts that are heartening and avoid those that are disheartening.

[53:40] - It’s important to notice our behavior and trace it back. In his book Charlie talks about thrashing, and how we begin to recognize our behavior when we’re thrashing, and how we can catch and correct it. Sometimes when things seem too easy, it may be an indication that we are stuck, much like salmon swimming upstream.

[58:20] - Mark talks about his process of working on multiple books at one time. Leaving the subject matter of one and researching the other can sometimes form ideas for the original book. Thrashing is a sign that we are doing something that matters.

[1:00:55] - Mark celebrates the end of a project usually in a quiet, reflective state. Having now written over 20 books, Mark knows his tendencies. For him, one of the most transformative moments in the life of a work is the retrieval of the first draft. The joy in expression comes when we’re in the verb, as opposed to the noun.

[1:06:25] - Mark has two invitations for listeners. The first is for listeners to come on a journey with him - visit the website linked below for information on the different opportunities Mark will be offering in the coming year. His second invitation, whether you feel you’re an artist or not, is to try to practice in the next week a way that you perceive you inhale with your heart, and exhale with your expression. What does that look like in your life?

Mentioned in This Episode:

Productive Flourishing

Start Finishing, by Charlie Gilkey

Mark’s Website

Drinking from the River of Light: The Light of Expression, by Mark Nepo

Productive Flourishing Episode 201: Mark Nepo: More Together Than Alone

Sounds True - Waking Up The World

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert


Productive Flourishing
Productive Flourishing
Productive Flourishing (formerly the Creative Giant Show) explores how to do the work that matters to become your best self in the world. Host Charlie Gilkey and occasional co-host Angela Wheeler take listeners on a deep dive into the lives of leaders, changemakers, creatives, and entrepreneurs who are thriving in life and business by doing work that matters. Listen in to see how they cultivate meaning, success, and happiness as well as their approach to productivity, business, health, and the challenges (yes, even the deep, dark ones) that show up in their lives.