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Tag Archives: Parker Palmer

Silver Star

When I looked for a poem, this one by William Stafford found me. Mountains appear to be immovable and unchangeable, yet as people do they do so without immediate notice. Yet, when we revisit them, we realize the changes that occurred.

In the case of teachers, Parker Palmer speaks about asking the question “who is the self who teaches?” We are each teachers in our own particular ways, so asking this question is essential. We often overlook this question in pursuit of easier to answer questions about the what, when, where, why, and how.

When we ask who we are, we explore the values that anchor us in living life. In times of crisis, those values guide us and help us through those tough times. Attending to them in mindful ways each day as a gardener would her/his garden grounds us in them in times of real need. They have spiritual meaning that come to life in living and expressing them daily through who we are as a human being.

If we serve our values well, “we will hear the world say, ‘Well done.'” The patience of living a good life, which in Aristotle‘s terms, is indefinable will be the reward. Like a mountain guiding us on our journey, the values we live and express guide us and others on a shared journey.

To be a mountain you have to climb alone

and accept all that rain and snow. You have to look

far away, when evening comes. If a forest

grows, you care; you stand there leaning against

the wind, waiting for someone with faith enough

to ask you to move. Great stones will tumble

against each other and gouge your sides. A storm

will live somewhere in your canyons hoarding its lightning.

If you are lucky, people will give you a dignified

name and bring crowds to admire how sturdy you are,

how long you can hold still for the camera. And some time,

they say, if you last long enough you will hear God;

a voice will roll down from the sky and all your patience

will be rewarded. The whole world will hear it: “Well done.”

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Breath, You Invisible Poem

Rainer Maria Rilke compared a poem to living and who we are each becoming as a person. We each experience continuous and invisible interchange between who we are and the world beyond our seeing.

Parker Palmer compared this interchange to a Möbius strip and, when we place our fingers on the strip, we slide them in and out without lifting them. There is a rhythm to this movement, like a tide moving in and out from the beach continuously shifting the sands.

Each of our place in the cosmos is small, but I think essential to the cosmos. It is in the mindful interchange with the cosmos, being present to one another, imprinting ourself on the cosmos in a unique way that makes us each irreplaceable. We cannot see what that will mean, only experiencing it by being present and attentive to each breath we take.

Breath, you invisible poem!

A constant interchange between our clear being

and the world space beyond our seeing

in which I rhythmically become.

Solitary wave whose

gradual sea I am.

Of all possible seas you are parsimonious,

winning the cosmos, with me one gram

in it. How many realms of space have been

inside me already! The multiple wind

is like my son.

Air, do you know me? You are full of places

once mine. A uniquely smooth rind,

a leaf of my words among roundnesses.

The Archer’s Need to Win

To just be in the moment and be present to what one is doing takes us beyond the need to win and not lose. In the last line of this poem, Chuang Tzu reminds us that the need to win or not to lose drains the archer of his power.

Several years ago, we visited our son and his family. At the time, our grandson was about 5 months old. We went for dinner our last evening and, after I finished eating, I took him. I was in front of a mirrored wall. When he noticed there was a little boy in the mirror, our grandson played with that little boy for about 5-10 minutes, until he became tired. He had no other goal than to play and just be in that moment.

We lose that childlike way and those purely phenomenological moments of just being in the world. Remembering is being mindful and calling something to mind. When we do so, Parker Palmer wrote that to re-member is to make and keep one’s self whole.

When an archer is shooting for fun
He has all his skill.

If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.

If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind

Or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind.

His skill has not changed,
But the prize divides him.

He cares
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

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!”

Our Devotion to Transformation

In this poem, Alice Walker counselled us to think of life as a transforming event. Parker Palmer referred to the inner and outer movement as similar to a Möbius Strip with one side that is continuous.

We have to pause and be mindful, but it is not like we are separate from the world. We live in it and it lives in us. We act on it as it acts on us.

Living is about going beyond who we are. Trans means to go beyond. We are continuously moving beyond who we are at any given moment. It is inevitable and poetic. Living is poetry. We are always creating someone and something new, despite ourselves.

Poetry is leading us.

It never cares how we will

be held by lovers

or drive fast

or look good in the moment;

we are committed to movement

both inner and outer;

and devoted to transformation

and to change.

We Stand at the Edge of a True Wilderness

While I was on my sabbatical, I attended a retreat. One of the highlights was meeting Parker Palmer. The people from the Centre Courage and Renewal who organized the retreat use Parker’s teachings as the foundation for these retreats.

Like Parker’s written work, the retreat focused on rich conversation, reflecting and writing, and poetry. Some poets I was familiar with, but others I did not recall hearing before. One of the poets who fell into the latter category was Barbara Rohde.

This poem reminds me my life is a continuous entering wilderness. No one entered my wilderness before. I don’t have a path or map to show me the way. I walk alone in a sense, but I am not alone.

The etymology of companion is to break bread and share a meal with others we meet on a journey. As we meet each other and hear our music, we can sing it back to each other and share it like the bread we break together. It is in sharing we can overcome fear and anxiety that comes from feeling a sense of loneliness in our lives.

We can encourage and place courage in one another. Emmanuel Levinas capitalized Other to signify an unconditional responsiblity for others. It reminds me of the line in Spartacus where others stand and say, “I am Spartacus!” What would it mean to say “I am Muslim! I am Hispanic?” We look toward that great openness in awe of the freedom and responsbility before us.

We stand at the edge of a true wilderness.No one has entered it, nor worn a path for us.  There are no maps.

We look toward that great openness in awe of the freedom and possibility before us.  Yet there is also something in us that causes us to face the unknown territory cautiously and anxiously.

Now, in this place, we take time out of time to look back, to see where we have been and what we have been, to reflect on what we have learned thus far on our journey.

We gather together to remind each other to see our True north, and to encourage–to place courage in–one another.

When we leave this place, we must each find our true path.  We must walk alone.

But now and then we may meet.

When we meet, may we offer each other the bread of our being.

And oh, my brothers, and oh, my sisters, if you hear me plunging wildly, despairingly, through the thicket, call out to me.  Calm me.

And if you find me sleeping in the snow, awaken me, lest my heart to turn ice.

And if you hear my music, praising the mornings of the world, then in that other time, in the blackness of my night, sing it back to me.

I Am the Tree

Where do the boundaries between the subjective and objective worlds end and begin? Is there a boundary between our inner and outer worlds?

Etta Blum writes a poem that asks those questions. There is a continuous moving between the inner and outer worlds. Parker Palmer uses the metaphor of a Möbius strip with an inner ant outer edge. When we run our fingers along the edge, we can do so seamlessly without lifting our fingers.

We are like a tree with a bird at the top. Each of us is part of the world we each live in and, if there is a boundary between each of us and it, it is thin and permeable as to appear non-existent. In a sense, we are the world and it is each of us. Like the bird in that tree, we have a niche where we thrive and live most fully. We return there to feel that sense of being and purpose.

I am the tree ascending.
At the topmost branch
I’ve become the bird,
starting from tip to
climb into above.
After-
ward, cloud.
Why not?
My purposes are clear.

 

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