Parker J. Palmer

Parker J.
Palmer
1939

American Author, Educator, and Activist, Founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage and Renewal

Author Quotes

Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed. My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.

One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person's pain without trying to "fix" it, to simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person's mystery and misery.

Self-care is never a selfish act - it is only good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.

The core message of all the great spiritual traditions is 'Be not afraid.' Rather, be confident that life is good and trustworthy. In this light, the great failure is not that of leading a full and vital active life, with all the mistakes and suffering such a life will bring (along with its joys). Instead, the failure is to withdraw fearfully from the place to which one is called, to squander the most precious of all our birthrights ? the experience of aliveness itself. . . .

The people who help us grow toward true self offer unconditional love, neither judging us to be deficient nor trying to force us to change but accepting us exactly as we are. And yet this unconditional love does not lead us to rest on our laurels. Instead, it surrounds us with a charged force field that makes us want to grow from the inside out - a force field that is safe enough to take the risks and endure the failures that growth requires.

There are times when the heart, like the canary in the coal mine, breathes in the world's toxicity and begins to die.

We are born with a seed of selfhood that contains the spiritual DNA of our uniqueness - an encoded birthright knowledge of who we are, why we are here, and how we are related to others. We may abandon that knowledge as the years go by, but it never abandons us.

We must come together in ways that respect the solitude of the soul that avoid the unconscious violence we do when we try to save each other that evoke our capacity to hold another life without dishonoring its mystery never trying to coerce the other into meeting our own needs.

When the heart is supple, it can be broken open into a greater capacity to hold our own and the world's pain: it happens every day. When we hold our suffering in a way that opens us to greater compassion, heartbreak becomes a source of healing, deepening our empathy for others who suffer and extending our ability to reach out to them.

You seem to look upon depression as the hand of an enemy trying to crush you? Do you think you could see it instead as the hand of a friend, pressing you down to the ground on which it is safe to stand?

Like many middle-class Americans, especially those who are white and male, I was raised in a subculture that insisted I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be, if I were willing to make the effort. The message was that both the universe and I were without limits, given enough energy and commitment on my part. God made things that way, and all I had to do was to get with the program. My troubles began, of course, when I started to slam into my limitations, especially in the form of failure.

One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess-the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.

Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.

The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings. If we refuse to hold them in the hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope, and love.

The politics of our time is the ?politics of the brokenhearted? ? an expression that will not be found in the analytical vocabulary of political science or in the strategic rhetoric of political organizing. Instead, it is an expression for the language of human wholeness. There are some human experiences that only the heart can comprehend and only heart-talk can convey. Among them are certain aspects of politics, by which I mean the essential and eternal human effort to craft the common life on which we all depend. This is the politics that Lincoln practiced as he led from a heart broken open to the whole of what it means to be human ? simultaneously meeting the harsh demands of political reality and nurturing the seeds of new life.

There is a tradition that the church represents, without which we wouldn't have the church, that's all about diving deep beneath the surface of the culture and finding those timeless, eternal truths that the whole Christian enterprise is rooted in. And one of those is that you don't come to God at 180 miles an hour.

We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then ? if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss ? we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.

We must judge ourselves by a higher standard than effectiveness, the standard called faithfulness.

When there is a gap between what's on the outside and what's on the inside, that's when people retreat into their foxholes because it is an unsafe situation. You don't know what you are dealing with. What you see is not what you are going to get. And that is when people start withdrawing.

Zen Judaism: For You, a Little Enlightenment.

Long into my career I harbored a secret sense that thinking and reading and writing, as much as I loved them, did not qualify as real work.

Opposing what's wrong is a halfway measure at best. A rebel must also have a vision for something better, a strategy for moving toward that vision and a capacity to rally and join with others in achieving it. If the anger that drives rebellion is not transformed into the hope that inspires movement communities, it will do more harm than good.

So it is no surprise that Jewish teaching includes frequent reminders of the importance of a broken-open heart, as in this Hasidic tale: A disciple asks the rebbe: Why does Torah tell us to ?place these words upon your hearts?? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts? The rebbe answers: It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.

The democratic experiment is endless, unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us. But so also is the heart?s alchemy that can turn suffering into community, conflict into the energy of creativity, and tension into an opening toward the common good. We can help keep the experiment alive by repairing and maintaining democracy?s neglected infrastructure? the invisible dynamics of the human heart and the visible venues of our lives in which those dynamics are formed.

The power for authentic leadership, Havel tells us, is found not in external arrangements but in the human heart.

First Name
Parker J.
Last Name
Palmer
Birth Date
1939
Bio

American Author, Educator, and Activist, Founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage and Renewal