We have been stopped for so many years by not being able to
follow small things.
I recently learned about the daily migration of microscopic zooplankton in the world’s water supply—trillions of them. Plankton are organisms—comparable to sea larvae and tiny jellyfish—that drift in oceans, seas, and bodies of fresh water. The word zooplankton comes from the Greek zoion, meaning animal, and planktos, meaning wanderer or drifter.
Their migration isn’t like the journey of whales or butterflies or flamingoes over thousands of miles or like caribou who circle the same arctic edge every year. The daily migration of these unseeable creatures is a persistent drift from depth to surface and back to depth. Along the way, they eat and process phytoplankton and, through their daily rite of survival, they serve as a filtering agent and so play their role in the aquatic food web. Innately, they both survive and contribute to the survival of the waters they live in.
This daily odyssey can span a few feet in small ponds or as far as five hundred yards in the open sea. Environmentalist Alan Burdick tells us that this is equivalent to a human being rowing a small boat five hundred miles every day to breakfast and back!
This is microscopic evidence that we need to work very hard to arrive where we are. The journey is inevitable—essential to our own survival and the health of the Universe we are a small part of. In fact, it’s fair to assume that every part of life has its own version of this daily migration by which it exercises its being into place.
This persistent drifting from depth to surface and back is particularly instructive for the life of the soul, and how we need to stay in the world and process our experience in order to feed and cleanse both our working spirit and the small part of the Universe we inhabit. For years, I thought I was inwardly fickle, struggling to surface when drowning in the deep, only to be battered at the surface and long for the stillness of the depth. And now these microscopic creatures present a fractal of the larger physics at work. Now I wonder about the practice of persistent drift—from depth to surface and back—and how the many aspects of being and becoming are all part of the constant cleansing action that keeps us and life healthy.
In spiritually practical ways, this book is an inquiry into the practice of persistent drift: into the cleansing action of introspection, creativity, love, friendship, and how we deal with pain; into our need to stay in the world and process our experience; into the very hard and inevitable work to arrive where we are; and into the soul’s daily migration from depth to surface and back. Relentlessly, the sea of life keeps us vital and buoyant while we in our small way serve as tiny cleansing agents of the sea of life. Mysteriously, spirit is known by its movement through the depth of the world, the way wind is known by its movement through waves and trees and prayer flags strung along the mountain’s ridge.
So still yourself briefly and picture an infinite wave of zooplankton pulsing their way up through the planet’s water and down again, cleansing it as they go. Imagine the tiniest cells of being rising within you this very moment, cleansing your thoughts and feelings. Imagine how you and I pulse our way through the days eating and processing the food of relationship, meaning, and care. All of us processing each other, drifting toward the healthiest exchange, the way plants and humans exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Despite our endless plans, we are animals of being drifting with an instinct to survive and process. Despite our endless struggles, our need to survive and process is cleansing. It’s beautiful and humbling to realize that the spirit inherent in each thing on Earth, including worms and flowers, is migrating to where it is and that this pulsation of being is the self-cleansing agent of all life-force. After all this way, it’s never been about getting to the surface or getting to the bottom, but the inborn call to inhabit the journey in between.
The daily migration is a persistent drift from depth to surface and back to depth. This is how we deal with pain and stay in the world while cleansing life itself—through introspection, creativity, love, and friendship.
A Reflective Pause
In your journal, describe one way that you move between depth and surface during your day. Where are you more comfortable, in the world or the interior? One is a native strength, the other, an aspect of your self you need to know better. Name one way you might explore whichever you are uncomfortable with, the world or the interior.
In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe your own practice of persistent drift. Choose one of the following—introspection, creativity, love, or friendship—and explore how this inner way of being helps you deal with pain and stay in the world.
Becoming Who You Were Born to Be
The Endless Practice
Becoming Who You Were Born to Be
Called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” this beloved teacher explores what it means to become our truest self through the ongoing and timeless journey of awakening to the dynamic wholeness of life, which is messy and unpredictable.
Nepo navigates some of the soul’s deepest and most ancient questions, such as: What does it mean to inhabit the world? How do we stay vital and buoyant amid the storms of life? What is the secret to coming alive? Nepo affirms that not only is the soul’s journey inevitable, it is essential to our survival. The human journey is how the force of life grows us, and no matter where we go we can’t escape this foundational truth: What’s in the way is the way. As Nepo writes, “The point of experience is not to escape life but to live it.”
Featured on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday program, Nepo’s Seven Thousand Ways to Listen has inspired millions of people to redefine themselves in the face of life’s challenges. Comforting, moving, and spiritually practical, The Endless Practice is filled with universal insights and stories woven with guidance and practice, which will bring the reader closer to living life to the fullest.