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Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What Is Sacred

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by Kathryn Drury Wagner

By Mark Nepo

By the time he was in his late 20s, Beethoven was going deaf. Terrified and despondent, he contemplated suicide. Luckily for humanity he chose to persevere, going on to create some of his greatest compositions, including the Ninth Symphony, without being able to hear a note. Mark Nepo’s luminous Seven Thousand Ways to Listen explains this seeming impossibility, revealing that listening has less to do with one’s inner ear than it does with one’s inner journey. A poet, philosopher, cancer survivor, and author of 13 books, Nepo teaches us that listening is not a passive skill but rather a way of deeply witnessing each other and ourselves. His writing is honest, even raw, as when he writes about his recurring worry that his cancer might return: “I was already drowning in what-ifs, and the fear began to circle like a raven gliding near my heart, waiting for an opening to tear its piece.” Yet the book is also comforting, sharing exercises we can do, alone or in groups, to reflect and grow. Listening, it turns out, is the work of being vulnerable and not holding on too tightly. As we unclench, Nepo counsels, we can hear something as simple as the contented sigh of a dog, or as profound as “the wind announcing the stars.”

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