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Active Life

I am reading The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring by Parker Palmer. Parker included a number of quotes from The Way Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton, including this poem.

The poem reminds me of how I can misplace my priorities and they can overwhelm me. In the research I did for my dissertation, each teacher described how it was essential to step back from their practices and reflect. Each of them described how human relationships were at the heart of their teaching. How they each responded to their relationships was an expression of who they are as a person and teacher.

In the third stanza, Thomas Merton asked questions about people’s relationship with work. I think the first question is essential. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about weeds as essential to a gardener’s work. When we lose ourselves in activity without time to pause and reflect on what it means to care for ourselves and others as we create, we lose ourselves as the poem points out. When we are attentive and mindful, we nurture the soul, beginning with our own.

If an expert does not have some problem to vex him,
he is unhappy!
If a philosopher’s teaching is never attacked, she pines
away!
If critics have no one on whom to exercise their spite,
they are unhappy.
All such people are prisoners in the world of objects.

He who wants followers, seeks political power.
She who wants reputation, holds an office.
The strong man looks for weights to lift.
The brave woman looks for an emergency in which she
can show bravery.
The swordsman wants a battle in which he can swing
his sword.
People past their prime prefer a dignified retirement,
in which they may seem profound.
People experienced in law seek difficult cases to extend
the application of the laws.
Liturgists and musicians like festivals in which they
parade their ceremonious talents.
The benevolent, the dutiful, are always looking for
chances to display virtue.

Where would the gardener be if there were no more
weeds?
What would become of business without a market of
fools?
Where would the masses be if there were no pretext
for getting jammed together and making noise?
What would become of labor if there were no superfluous objects to
be made?

Produce! Get results! Make money! Make friends!
Make changes!
Or you will die of despair!

Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except
in activity and change–the whirring of the machine! Whenever an
occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled to act; they
cannot help themselves. They are inexorably moved, like the ma-
chine of which they are a part. Prisoners in the world of objects,
they have no choice but to submit to the demands of matter! They
are pressed down and crushed by external forces, fashion, the mar-
ket, events, public opinion. Never in a whole lifetime do they re-
cover their right mind! The active life! What a pity!”

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About ivonprefontaine

I completed a PhD at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Previously, I taught for 20 years and spent the last 14 years teaching in an incrediable hybrid school setting. My dissertation topic and research were how teachers experience becoming who teachers, as human subjects. For me, teaching is a calling and vocation that allows me to express who I am as a person. Currently, I am waiting and listening to what will call me. We have begun a small consulting and leadership firm called Rocky River Leadership & Consulting Ltd.

9 responses »

  1. Yes! It’s a great call for slowing down and making the most of relationships. Great find, Ivon.

    Reply
  2. Thank-you, Ivon, for linking to a recent post, “Pueblo Blessing”, and for unpacking it a little in the process . . . Isn’t it amazing how children are drawn to revelling in the mud, and many adults, in garden soil; and most of us unable to resist picking up a stone (or two) on the shore; and there are times when I know that I must put my palm onto this tree I’m walking past, even for just a few seconds (What will people think?!), so as to feel (its) life energy moving also in me. Our bodies understand truths of this sort; our minds, however, are often otherwise occupied, and tend to take our bodies away with them into more sterile and ‘useful’ realms. Our imaginations can become corralled and stunted very early in life . . .
    Anyway, here’s a quote that I keep nearby, for times when my contact with the dirt, the tree, the stone, the ‘moral imperatives’ in my life, the sustaining energies of community—somehow falls short:

    This is what you hold fast to yourself—the sympathy and companionship of the unseen worlds. No doubt it is best for us now that they should be unseen. It cultivates that higher perception that we call ‘faith’. But who can say that the time will not come when, even to those who live here upon the earth, the unseen worlds shall no longer be unseen?
    –Phillips Brooks

    Just a frightened mind’s attempted escape from reality? . . . Or a bringing-to-greater-completeness, indeed a healing, of reality.

    Reply
  3. I am one who seeks and needs loads of space. Quiet. I can get more work done in a day than most, but I do not thrive on busy-ness. Not at all.

    Reply
  4. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    PROFOUND VERSES BLOGGED BY A PROFUNDITY-SEEKING, GROWING IN WISDOM TEACHER!

    Reply

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