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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

Reflection: Mark Nepo's "Tragedy and Peace"

Updated: Jun 13

We are six weeks into a summer series using Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening as our text. This week, I am reading his passage from June 2nd entitled Tragedy and Peace. I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition he paints between our memories of the past, especially those soaked in pain, and our ability to remain fully present in the moment.

I marvel at those individuals who have the super-natural ability to remain so present in their lives—to show up so completely for this moment—and to rarely think about, much less ruminate, on the past. A year ago, I would have lamented that I don’t know how they do it. Their ability to stay so present was really elusive to me. The allure of yesterday’s pain can be so strong. I think it is our brain’s way of trying to relive and change the past, even though it is an impossibility.

Our bodies remember our pain because of the way pain is imprinted in the hippocampus of our brains. Our fundamental design was for us to survive; for our bodies to recognize harm when it was headed our way. When our bodies recognize something in our environment as harmful, it recalls the former imprint and instigates one of three instincts – fight, flight, or freeze. It’s as if our bodies know what to do in that moment to stay alive.

This is great when we were being chased by Mastodons or Saber Tooth Tigers, but that is no longer our reality. Today we are faced with all kinds of pain stemming from every imaginable trauma known to man. Some of these points of pain are truly horrific and incredibly difficult to process and move on from, but not impossible. Nepo’s main argument is that staying in trauma keeps that trauma alive. Moving from living in the trauma to living with the results of the trauma is a way of being more present in the moment. This presence is what opens space for peace in our souls to be born and thrive.

It took me years to understand the difference between living in the trauma and living with the results of trauma. When I lived in the trauma, it felt like being traumatized over and over again. There was a literal reliving of the physical and mental impacts. What resulted from trauma was more about my responses to what I had experienced – anger, resentment, betrayal, bitterness, and fear. These responses, however, can be changed. As I worked through trauma, I discovered that I also had the potential to live from a place of compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. Not what I expected. This is real freedom, and the birthplace of peace.

If I am serious about wanting more peace in my life, then living in the moment needs to become my go-to way of operating in this world. Of all the memories that surface in a given day, I have a choice of how to move through those memories—I can stay stuck in them, or I can acknowledge their existence and let them move on through me—which ultimately determines how I respond and react to the memories. Today, I choose to find compassion, kindness, and forgiveness in all my memories. Some of my memories are not so good, but today I don’t cling to those, instead, I put them back in the file cabinet and live in the results that I’m creating for myself today.



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