Wisdom of Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Some Prescient Quotes from a Thoughtful Mind

Parker Palmer

Parker J. Palmer is an American author, educator, and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. He has published ten books and numerous essays and poems, and is founder and Senior Partner Emeritus of the Center for Courage and Renewal. His work has been recognized with major foundation grants, several national awards, and thirteen honorary doctorates.

The True Self versus The False Self

30 anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch

The Poet Rumi “If you are here unfaithfully with us, you’re causing terrible damage”

32 the people who plant the seeds of movements make a critical decision. They decide no longer to act on the outside in a way that contradicts some truth about themselves that they hold deeply on the inside. They decide to claim authentic selfhood and act it out—and their decisions ripple out to transform the society in which they live, serving the selfhood of millions of others. E.g. Rosa Parks on the bus.

34 Courage: They have come to understand that no punishment could possibly be worse than the punishment they inflict upon themselves by conspiring in their own diminishment.

36 The pilgrimage towards true self will take time, many years and places. The world needs people with patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act. The world still waits for the truth that sets us free—my truth, your truth, our truth—the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth … is the authentic vocation of every human being.

60 The choices that lead to wholeness are not pragmatic and calculated, intended to achieve some goal, but simply and profoundly expressive of personal truth. It is a demanding path, for which no school prepares us.

66, 67 Grounded: the way to wholeness is down, down to the ground. When we live at high altitude, we can fall a long way and may kill ourselves. Instead I need to live grounded in my own truth, my own nature, with its complex mix of limits and gifts, liabilities and assets, darkness and light. 

Four ways to reach high altitude for an academic:

  1. I had been trained as an intellectual not only to think—an activity I greatly value—but also to live largely in my head, the place where the human body is farthest from the ground.
  2. I had embraced a form of Christian faith devoted less to the experience of God than to the abstractions about God. (vs the Word become flesh)
  3. My altitude had been achieved by my ego, an inflated ego that led me to think more of myself than was warranted in order to mask my fear that I was less than I should have been.
  4. It had been achieved by my ethic, a distorted ethic that led me to live by images  of who I ought to be or what I ought to do, rather than by insight into my own reality, into what was  true and possible and life-giving for me.

Thomas Merton’s idea of the true self: not the ego self that wants to inflate us (or deflate us, another form of distortion), not the intellectual self that wants to hover above the mess of life in clear but ungrounded ideas, not the ethical self that wants to live by some abstract moral code. It is the self planted in us by God who made us in God’s own image—the self that wants nothing more, or less, than for us to be who we were created to be. True self is true friend. One ignores or rejects such friendship only at one’s peril.

69 Answer the question: “What do you want?”  I want to embrace this descent into hell as a journey towards selfhood—and a journey towards God. {see Houston’s treatment}

70 Humility is Central to the Spiritual Life: one of the paradoxes of the spiritual journey is that the humiliation that brings us down—down to the ground on which it is safe to stand and fall—eventually takes us to a firmer and fuller sense of self.

71 To embrace weakness, liability and darkness as part of who I am gives that part less sway over me, because all it ever wanted was to be acknowledged as part of my whole self. At the same time, embracing one’s wholeness makes life more demanding—because once you do that, you must live your whole life. 

Deut 30:19 “I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Therefore choose life.”

73 Go far enough on the inner journey, all spiritual traditions say—go past the ego towards the true self—and you end up not lost in narcissism but returning to the world, bearing more gracefully the responsibilities that come with being human.

Must go through darkness into the light—journey towards the true self.

74  Leadership: If it is true that we are built for community, then leadership is everyone’s vocation, and it can be an evasion to insist that it is not. When we live in the close-knit ecosystem called community, everyone leads and everyone follows.

78 Consciousness, yours and mine, can form, deform or reform our world. Our complicity in world making is a source of awesome and sometimes painful responsibility—and a source of profound hope for change. It is the ground of our common call to leadership, the truth that makes leaders of us all.

78 A leader shapes the ethos in which others must live, an ethos as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A good leader is intensely aware of the interplay of inner shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good.

79 By failing to look at our shadow, we feed a dangerous delusion that leaders too often indulge: that our efforts are well intended, our power is always benign, and the problem is always in those difficult people whom we are trying to lead.

80 Annie Dillard: If we ride these monsters all the way down, we break through to something precious—to the unified field, our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, to the community we share beneath the broken surface of our lives. Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with another, people who can lead the rest of us to a place of “hidden wholeness” because they have been there and know the way. E.g Vaclav Havel.

Shadowy Monsters: Good Insights! (86-90)

1. Insecurity about identity and worth: when we are insecure about our own identities, we create settings that deprive other people of their identities as a way of buttressing our owndeprive the many of their identity so the few can enhance their own (win-lose perspective). The identity does not depend on the role we play or the power it gives us over others. It depends on the simple fact that we are the children of God, valued in and for ourselves. 

2. Belief that the universe is a battleground, hostile to human interests: make us create the conditions for war. Versus another way of doing business: consensual, cooperative, communal. The universe is working together for the good; harmony is more fundamental than warfare.

3. Functional atheism: belief that the ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. Causes pathology on every level of our lives—leading us to impose our will on others, stressing our relationships. It eventuates in burnout, depression and despair. Drives collective frenzy as well. Share the load, liberate and empower others.

4.Our fear of the natural chaos of life—try to reduce or eliminate the messiness of life: projected as rigidity of rules and procedures, creating an ethos that is imprisoning rather than empowering. But chaos is the precursor to creativity. To fear chaos may end in creating death.

5.Denial of Death Itself (a fear of failure): must keep resuscitating things no longer alive. [This can lead to depression-doing the same things over and over again without any improvement or positive change.] Science knows the benefits of death of a theory leads to the progress of knowledge. Death does not have the final word new life can emerge (resurrection).

93 Power and the Role of Fear: all the world’s wisdom traditions address the fact of fear, for all of them originated in the human struggle to overcome this ancient enemy. “Be not afraid” Key insight 94: we do not need to be the fear we have. We do not have to lead from a place of fear, thereby engendering a world where fear is multiplied. There is also trust, hope, faith. We can choose to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move towards others from a place of promise instead of anxiety…ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.

Metaphor of manufacturing versus the metaphor of cultivation or seed planting—cycle of seasons 97 We are here not only to transform the world but to be transformed. We are not fully in control of the world but have to cooperate with it.

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