What I’m Reading: Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo

Mark Nepo’s Seven Thousand Ways to Listen (Free Press 2012) is an amazing compendium of vignettes on living through listening. It provides reflections upon adult evolution through various kinds of listening, whether from his own experiences or stories from others. Snapshots of insightful prose are followed by various prompts for mediation, journal writing, and discussion, if you wish to practice with it or expand what’s explored into your own life.

While this book cannot be summed up, Nepo writes on p. 134, “While the soul’s calling helps us discovery our life’s work, the call of the soul is a continual call to aliveness.” One can see this phrase as a call to move forward. Of course, it also taps into the general theme of the book, listening, to be listening for this “aliveness.” The listening leads to the “continual call” to entering into listening rather than plans.

Nepo also wrote this book later in life and after several books and real world success. So, the above quote can be viewed as well through the lens of transition, from getting to where you want to be into a next stage. In fact, he directly addresses this topic in the middle of his book. This second stage of life after ‘striving’ also is covered well in the more analytical, essay-formatted book by social economist Arthur C. Brooks, called From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life (Portfolio 2022), which I am finishing too and highly recommend.

Digression aside, I am in the midst of reading Nepo on listening. It is my third book by him. His listening book proceeds as very short vignettes, in sections of 1-4 pages or so, followed by prompts for practice. So, it can sipped and savored, used and shared.

It also made me notice a tendency to wish to “finish” a “book.” But why? Much of what he discusses cannot really be finished, like the Nepo quote above, but rather is for refreshment and practice. Further, there is so much here I can easily see me rereading it in 2023 – after I finish it – which hasn’t happened yet.

I think it was late 2020 when I read Mark Nepo’s also amazing The Endless Practice (2014), which features more detailed essays. Seven Thousand Ways to Listen (Free Press 2012) is more like a day book of gems. It offers equal emphasis on prose reflections as prompts for a reader’s use. Highly recommended for inspiration and exploration.

G. H. Mosson