During my little road trip in September, I kept wanting to lock in an intention to rediscover or reclaim – or discover and claim – direction. I’m not doing it quite right – not doing life quite right. And nothing wholly meaningful arose as I hiked through Maroon Bells, drove through cold and shadowed canyons in the morning when fisherman cast their lines in roadside streams, or pit-stopped at Paonia, or trekked around Black Canyon of the Gunnison, yelled at kids throwing rocks from roofs in Montrose, or hiked through aspens in Crested Butte. I wanted something to reset or settle within that would redirect, course-correct, anchor, stabilize, guide. And when I came down to my desk this morning in the dark I wanted to succumb to my scattered mind but I opened Marginalia and discovered the following. I wonder if the meaning I was searching for on my trip isn’t right here – if the road had led here. My lesson in Death Valley was learning to trust. How do I release my anxious grip on the controls? I trust … I trust myself, I trust others, I trust the universe. A good insight that I knew was more intellectual than emotional or somatic–a planted seed that needed to take root. And in the passages below, I think there’s something about trusting that a path will open if you let yourself be happy and passionate and fall in love with living: that’s the starting point, the happiness and passion and love, and everything good will follow from there. But the tendency, at least on my part, is to start from the other side, the means, and try to work in reverse towards happiness, passion and love. And I think that tendency is rooted in fear and mistrust and anxiety that the world is indifferent at best, and hostile at worst, to my wants, and that other people are self-serving, and that my inner world is predisposed against my own best interests. But moving to Colorado was instructive because generally good things have followed from that illogical, impractical decision. Yet I keep getting lost in the effectiveness of things, of myself, the utility of my interests and desires and self rather than trusting my “gifts, perception of the needs of the world, and offering my gifts to whatever needs are within my reach.”
Parker Palmer via Marginalia:
Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.
What I really mean … is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”
Take on big jobs worth doing — jobs like the spread of love, peace, and justice. That means refusing to be seduced by our cultural obsession with being effective as measured by short-term results. We all want our work to make a difference — but if we take on the big jobs and our only measure of success is next quarter’s bottom line, we’ll end up disappointed, dropping out, and in despair.
Our heroes take on impossible jobs and stay with them for the long haul because they live by a standard that trumps effectiveness. The name of that standard, I think, is faithfulness — faithfulness to your gifts, faithfulness to your perception of the needs of the world, and faithfulness to offering your gifts to whatever needs are within your reach.
The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness the smaller the tasks we’ll take on, because they are the only ones that get short-term results… Care about being effective, of course, but care even more about being faithful … to your calling, and to the true needs of those entrusted to your care.
Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief. Everyone has a shadow… But when you are able to say, “I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,” the shadow’s power is put in service of the good. Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of your life.
The good news is that suffering can be transformed into something that brings life, not death. It happens every day. I’m 76 years old, I now know many people who’ve suffered the loss of the dearest person in their lives. At first they go into deep grief, certain that their lives will never again be worth living. But then they slowly awaken to the fact that not in spite of their loss, but because of it, they’ve become bigger, more compassionate people, with more capacity of heart to take in other people’s sorrows and joys. These are broken-hearted people, but their hearts have been broken open, rather than broken apart.
So, every day, exercise your heart by taking in life’s little pains and joys — that kind of exercise will make your heart supple, the way a runner makes a muscle supple, so that when it breaks, (and it surely will,) it will break not into a fragment grenade, but into a greater capacity for love.