The Book of Soul: 52 Paths to Living What Matters
by Mark Nepo (Reviewed by Monique CM Keffer)
How does a spiritual seeker find peace during this turbulent time in history? It helps to have a trusted resource to take spiritual seekers through examples and suggestions until step-by-step they open into that space. One such resource is Mark Nepo’s new book, The Book of Soul: 52 Paths to Living What Matters, a contemporary yet timeless text that gently guides readers toward a more spiritually fulfilling life.
Best known for his appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s programs and his best seller, The Book of Awakening, Nepo is a writer, philosopher, teacher, and spiritual adviser. His new book, The Book of Soul, is simultaneously poetic and straightforward, deftly weaving contemplative reflection, storytelling, philosophy, literature, art, history, spirituality, and science. Arranged to be read a chapter a week for a year, each section focuses on a particular theme: “Our Walk in the World,” “Our True Inheritance,” “Widening Our Circle,” and “Helping Each Other Stay Awake.” Throughout, Nepo’s prose explores and circles around soul growth as it springs forth from a poet’s heart.
In this lyrical fashion, the message of the book mirrors those communicated by the work done within spiritual direction. For example, Nepo discusses the importance of telling one’s stories, listening deeply, and reaching out to others with nonjudgment and compassion. He writes, “Such a fundamental inspiration: to give all our presence and attention in order to see and accept the heart within a stranger until the strangeness evaporates” (78). This theme is illustrated through chapter reflections, encouraging readers to share the text’s connections to their lives in conversation with a trusted other. Specific chapters furthering goals in common with spiritual direction are “Staying Possible” and those of the last section, “Helping Each Other Stay Awake,” focusing on, among other subjects, “agents of kindness” who hold a safe, compassionate space for seekers (243).
Inhabiting a centered space is crucial to life in the present challenges and suffering. In regard to this aim, Nepo’s The Book of Soul: 52 Paths to Living What Matters provides a structure and reflective process to help spiritual seekers live into their full, true selves, allowing them to offer compassion to self and others. As Nepo writes in the introduction, “I pray we can listen to what love and suffering open to us so we can drink from that well and build a better world” (xvii).