Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Wayne Muller

American Minister, Therapist, Community Advocate, Consultant, Public Speaker and Author, Founder of Bread for the Journey, Senior Scholar for the Fetzer Institute

"A single word of gratefulness can transform a moment of sorrow into a moment of peace."

"Acceptance of death is acceptance of freedom – freedom to live each day with clarity and courage… If we know we are going to die, all danger disappears. There is less fear about what can go wrong, because the worst that can possibly go wrong – our own death – is completely assured. All there is left to do is live, and live well."

"Four simple questions have shaped the spiritual journeys of pilgrims and seekers for thousands of years. These questions enable us to gently awaken the four fundamental realms of inner life: Identity, Love, Daily Practice, and Kindness. (1) Who am I? We have within us an essential nature that is whole and unbroken. (2) What do I love? (3) How shall I live, knowing I will die? Every moment of life is a precious gift. (4) What is my gift to the family of the earth?"

"Acknowledging our sorrow need not diminish our gratefulness."

"Gratitude invites a sense of sufficiency."

"Loving kindness, sympathetic joy, compassion, mercy: These are the unmistakable footprints of our spiritual life."

"If we follow what we love, if we live deeply and attentively in this moment, we will not feel bound by regret at the moment of our death. We will live with reverence for all things and a deep gratefulness for the gift of a single day upon the earth."

"Gratefulness arises naturally from this fertile balance of honoring both our sorrow and our joy. We name our sorrows so that we can bring care and attention to our wounds, so that we may heal. And at the same time we give thanks for the innumerable gifts and blessings bestowed upon us daily, lest we forget how rich we are."

"People who know they will die live very carefully. Not careful as in fearful; careful as in full of care. Every word, every act, every relationship holds the possibility of giving birth to something filled with great care. And that thing need not be showy or dramatic, for the most potent spiritual acts are often acts of breathtaking simplicity: a simple prayer, a sip of wine and a piece of bread, a single breath in meditation, a sprinkling of water on the forehead, an exchange of rings, a kind word, a hand on the cheek, a blessing."

"Stories are the maps of the geography of a human life, showing us where to find the important things. Stories remind us what to look for when we are frightened or lost… To have someone know the story of how we came to be here, how we came to be this way… no single story is ever large enough to hold us. After we have told our story once, twice, or ten times… it ceases to be a practice of awakening; it becomes a performance. While it may elicit certain levels of sympathy and support, it does not move us along the path of healing, and it does not open our eyes. In fact, it closes our eyes to anything that does not fit into our story."

"People who are dying simply see more clearly what has always been true: We are in the perpetual care of others. They are grateful for any and all kindnesses, and they do not take the generosity of others for granted."

"Our life is not a problem to be solved, it is a gift to be opened… If we are preoccupied with what is missing and what is broken and wrong, we lose the miraculous harvest of all these tiny gifts, piled on upon the other, that accumulate without our acknowledging them. If we listen more carefully for the infinite blessings of a single day, this will not discount or obliterate our sorrows. But it will help us remember how strong and rich we can be, even in the midst of suffering."

"Proximity to death wakes us up. Death dispels the most potent illusion about life – that it belongs to us, and that we have all the time to we need to arrange it the way we want. But in many ways it is a gift that our life is limited, impermanent. We hold it more dear because this is so."

"Right action is its own reward."

"We become what we love. When we do what we love, again and again, our life comes to hold the fragrance of that thing… What we love galvanizes our attention. It frames our lives… What we choose to love is very important, for what we love leads our eyes, ears, and hearts on a pilgrimage that shapes the texture of our lives."

"To live a day, to care for a single day, is to shape a life. Each day is an opportunity to choose where to place our care. What shall we do today? What simple acts of remembrance will we use to punctuate our time and enrich our walk upon the earth this single day?"

"Rather than attend to those things we love, we give the bulk of our attention instead to things that bring us harm."

"Bless strangers quietly, secretly. Offer it to people you notice on the street, in the market, on the bus. "May you be happy. May you be at peace." Feel the blessing move through your body as you offer it. Notice how you both receive some benefit from the blessing. Gently, almost without effort, each and every blessing becomes a Sabbath."

"All life requires a rhythm of rest."

"And so we are given a commandment: Remember the Sabbath. Rest is an essential enzyme of life, as necessary as air. Without rest, we cannot sustain the energy needed to have life. We refuse to rest at our peril—and yet in a world where overwork is seen as a professional virtue, many of us feel we can legitimately be stopped only by physical illness or collapse."

"All life has emptiness at its core it is the quiet hollow reed through which the wind of God blows and makes the music that is our life."

"Equanimity is the ability to experience the changes in our lives, circumstances, and feelings and still remain calm, centered and unmoved. The image most often used to illustrate the quality of equanimity is that of a mountain. The mountain sits there as the sun shines on it, the rain drenches it, it is covered with snow and struck by lightning. Through it all, through all the changing conditions, the mountain remains unwavering. As we cultivate equanimity within ourselves, we learn to be more like the mountain, finding that place of strength and courage within ourselves that enables us to withstand the slings and arrows of being human without feeling overwhelmed by fear."

"Emptiness is the pregnant void out of which all creation springs. But many of us fear emptiness. We prefer to remain...surrounded by things...we imagine are subject to our control."

"Even in the middle of a hurricane, the bottom of the sea is calm. As the storm rages and the winds howl, the deep waters sway in gentle rhythm, a light movement of fish and plant life. Below there is no storm."

"Gratefulness slows time. For those close to death, there is little time to waste. When we give thanks for each moment, when we say a silent “thank you” for every meal, every touch, every morning, then we truly feel the richness and breadth of our lives, and things do not go by quite so fast."

"In that inevitable, excruciatingly human moment, we are offered a powerful choice. This choice is perhaps one of the most vitally important choices we will ever make, and it determines the course of our lives from that moment forward. The choice is this: Will we interpret this loss as so unjust, unfair, and devastating that we feel punished, angry, forever and fatally wounded-- or, as our heart, torn apart, bleeds its anguish of sheer, wordless grief, will we somehow feel this loss as an opportunity to become more tender, more open, more passionately alive, more grateful for what remains?"

"If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time – effortless, nourishing rest – can invite a healing of this violence. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us."

"If we believe that this particular pain is the one that will push the baby out of the womb and into our arms, we somehow try to make a place for that pain in our heart. Pain is still there: excruciating, terrible pain. But at the moment of birth, we rarely feel betrayal or rage; we somehow feel that this is simply pain that has come with life."

"Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center."

"Just because we are working hard does not mean we are making anything happen."

"In this light the Sabbath prescription is a loving reminder to take full advantage of a condition that already exists. At rest, our souls are restored. This is the only commandment that begins with the word “remember,” as if it refers to something we already know, but have forgotten. It is good. It is whole. It is beautiful. In our hurry and worry and acquiring and working, we forget. Rest, take delight in the goodness of creation, and remember how good it is."

"Perhaps the greatest wealth you possess, the most precious, valuable gift you can ever hope to offer any human being, is this one, simple, true thing: You. Your presence. Showing up. Being in the company of another, undistracted, unhurried, with an open heart, gentle hands, and a patient soul. Willing and able to listen, do something or do nothing, willing to be surprised by whatever emerges in the soil of your present, loving company with another human being."

"Sabbath requires surrender. If we only stop when we are finished with all our work, we will never stop, because our work is never completely done. With every accomplishment there arises a new responsibility... Sabbath dissolves the artificial urgency of our days, because it liberates us from the need to be finished."

"Some of us have a hard time believing that we are actually able to face our own pain. We have convinced ourselves that our pain is too deep, too frightening, something to avoid at all costs. Yet if we finally allow ourselves to feel the depth of that sadness and gently let it break our hearts, we may come to feel a great freedom, a genuine sense of release and peace, because we have finally stopped running away from ourselves and from the pain that lives within us."

"Our civilization canonizes desire as the engine that drives our monetary system, which is sad because desire, by definition, is based on dissatisfaction. When you're satisfied, your desires melt away. When you have a nice meal, your desire to eat more disappears. When you have a relationship with someone you love, the desire to run off and meet somebody else naturally falls away. Whenever we're satisfied with what we have, desire dissolves of its own accord. We place desire on the altar of our civilization."

"The greatest barrier to own healing is not the pain, sorrow or violence inflicted upon us as children. Our greatest hindrance is our ongoing capacity to judge, to criticize, and to bring tremendous harm to ourselves. If we can harden our heart against ourselves and meet our most tender feelings with anger and condemnation, we simultaneously armor our heart against the possibility of gentleness, love and healing."

"The ancient rabbis teach that on the seventh day, God created menuha—tranquility, peace, and repose—rest, in the deeper possible sense of fertile, healing stillness. Until the Sabbath, creation was unfinished. Only after the birth of menuha, only with tranquility and rest, was the circle of creation made full and complete."

"The more spacious and larger our fundamental nature, the more bearable the pains in living."

"There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. There is a tidal rhythm, a deep, eternal conversation between the land and the great sea."

"The Sabbath isn't a responsibility, it's a gift, and if we don't take that gift, we all suffer."

"We don't have the wisdom required to hear what is truly necessary to hear right action, right understanding, right livelihood. We inadvertently break things even as we try to fix them. Our busy-ness becomes a kind of violence because it destroys the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. On one level, suffering comes because we inadvertently bring harm to the world that we're trying to help whether we're raising money to pay the bills, serving the homeless, or feeding the hungry. Having been in non-profit worlds for twenty-five years, I can say that the faster we go, the more we unintentionally mishandle the ones we love. They become an object of our ambition rather than the subject of our heart's attention, which requires a certain amount of time and company as well as money."

"What is at the center of your life? Carefully examine where you spend your attention, your time. Look at your appointment book, your daily schedule…. This is what receives your care and attention--an by definition, your love."

"When we come close to those things that break us down, we touch those things that also break us open. And in that breaking open, we uncover our true nature."

"We are called to be strong companions and clear mirrors to one another, to seek those who reflect with compassion and a keen eye how we are doing, whether we seem centered or off course ... we need the nourishing company of others to create the circle needed for growth, freedom and healing."

"When we live without listening to the timing of things, when we live and work in twenty-four-hour shifts without rest – we are on war time, mobilized for battle. Yes, we are strong and capable people, we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember: No living thing lives like this. There are greater rhythms, seasons and hormonal cycles and sunsets and moonrises and great movements of seas and stars. We are part of the creation story, subject to all its laws and rhythms."

"What if the healing of the world utterly depends on the ten-thousand invisible kindnesses we offer simply and quietly throughout the pilgrimage of each human life?"

"Within sorrow is grace. When we come close to those things that break us down, we touch those things that also break us open. And in that breaking open, we uncover our true nature."

"Your life is not a problem to be solved but a gift to be opened."