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Parker Palmer: An Elder's Look Back at Healing Our Divided Selves and Worlds



Guest: Parker Palmer
Host: Pavi Mehta
Moderator: Preeta Bansal

Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that that by changing ourselves, we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us.
Pavi: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening!. My name is Pavi Mehta and I am really excited to be your host for our weekly, global Awakin Call -- welcome, and thank you for joining us! The purpose of these calls is to share stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life -- speakers who inspire us to live in a more service-oriented way. And behind each of these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers, whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Today, our special guest speaker is Parker Palmer. Thank you again for joining today's call! Let us start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space.
Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call -- today, in conversation with Parker Palmer. As an all-volunteer offering, each Awakin Call is a conversational space that is co-created by all participants on the call, and we invite your active involvement in the conversation. In a few minutes, our moderator Preeta Bansal, will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker and by the top of hour we'll roll into Q&A and circle of sharing -- where we invite all your reflections and questions. I've opened up the queue right now, so at any point, you can hit *6 on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us ask@servicespace.org or submit a comment or question via the webcast form, if you are listening online via the webcast. We invite your active co-creation of this space through your shared reflections and direct engagement with our guest.
Our moderator today is Preeta Bansal. Preeta is the guiding light behind these Awakin Calls and an immensely gifted lawyer, senior policy advisor, lecturer and more. After an illustrious career working in some of the most powerful offices in the country, she is now steadily channeling her energy towards heart-centered approaches to social change, that are rooted in community circles and the transformation of consciousness. It's a privilege to have her facilitating this conversation. Preeta, over to you to get us started.
Preeta: Thank you so much, Pavi. It's such an incredible privilege to be here today, in conversation this morning, with a wide thinker whose books, circle processes, and speeches have helped people integrate their deepest spiritual values into their lives and work. Parker Palmer is an American treasure. An iconic writer, teacher and activist who for more than 50 years has deeply addressed subjects, from social change to teaching, to education, to the inner life, to public life and from contemplation to community. He encourages and embodies and designs processes for vulnerability and an accessing of our deeper self, in community with others, that makes possible the bridging of what he calls the tragic gap between the inner self and the outer world, so they merge into a mobius strip where the inner becomes the outer and vice versa.
He's the founder and senior partner emeritus of the Center for Courage and Renewal. He was named in 1998 via a national survey of 10,000 Educators as one of the 30 most influential senior leaders in higher education. In 2010, he received the William Rainey Harper award whose previous recipients include Margaret Mead and Elie Wiesel. In 2011, the Utne Reader named him as one of the ‘25 Visionaries who are changing your world’ -- people who don't just think out loud, but who walk their talk on a daily basis. He's had a book of essays inspired by his life in which university presidents, scientists, physicians and people of all walks of life bear witness to the depth, to the breadth and the reach of his work, and his courage and determination to live a life that's congruent with his ideas and principles. Such a pleasure to welcome the man who has spent a lifetime creating transformative life-giving structures for our world, by helping us become transformed and life-giving people. Thank you so much! It's a pleasure to have a conversation with you today, Mr. Parker Palmer.
Parker: Thank you, Preeta. I'm just delighted to be with you and all the wonderful folks associated with Awakin and my thanks to Pavi too. Very very glad to be here.
Preeta: Wonderful. So I wonder if we can just start a little bit about your influences in your early life. You've spoken eloquently about the call in people to integrate their deepest spiritual values into their lives and work. Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing from both lenses, from the inner spiritual lens as well as the external lens, in terms of how you conceived your work in the world?
Parker: Hmm. Well, I'm one of the lucky people who can say this -- my father was I think the first, and maybe still, the most significant influence on my life. Dad grew up in a blue-collar family in Waterloo, Iowa. His father made parts for John Deere tractors. And at age 19, Dad came to Chicago with a high school degree, which is as far as he ever got in formal education. And to make a very long story short, in the middle of the Depression, he took a temporary job as a bookkeeper for a company, and 60 years later had risen to owner and chair of the board. And the hallmark of Dad's life was being an ethical business man who understood that he and his company owed a debt to the society. He felt very strongly that that this country had given him a chance to realize his opportunities, or his dreams and visions.
And so he didn't always hire the best and the brightest, as they say. Instead, he hired people who had potential but who had limitations in their backgrounds. And because Dad was a great teacher in his own way, he taught them what they needed to know to become successful in their own line of work, for everything, from driving a truck to selling the goods -- the chinaware and silverware that his company sold to restaurants and hotels and railroads and then airlines. And so growing up with a with a father like that, you know, it was a tremendous blessing.
It also -- I was the first person in my family to go to college. Excuse me (clears throat). So I didn't have what I sometimes think of as the burden that comes with growing up in a highly educated environment, from a highly educated family, where there are expectations laid upon you at an early age. My dad was very content for me to simply become whatever it was I was going to become. And the academic life or the life of the mind, the life of a public intellectual or whatever you want to call it, sort of snuck up on me. And to tell the truth, I always felt like an outlier or an outlander, even sometimes an imposter, at places like Carleton College where I did my undergraduate work, or Union Seminary, where I experimented for a year with the possibility of ministry, and then eventually at the University of California, Berkeley where I did a PhD. I never felt like I belonged.
And you know, looking back, I'm about to turn 80, so I have a long way to look back, but looking back, I think that sense of being an outsider gave me a perspective on what was happening in the academic institutions and other settings, where I worked. And on myself. That sort of launched me on an independent path, and it often took me to the margins, rather than the center. In fact, I think because of my sense of not belonging, I consciously chose not to go to the center of anything, but to work the margins. So that, for example, when I got my PhD, I did not accept major university offers to become a professor. I became a community organizer in Washington DC wanting to use my sociology in the streets rather than in the classroom.
So it's a kind of a complicated story to tell, but up until that point, just to pick up one more piece of your question, up until the point when I became a community organizer, the inner life was not a phrase that had great meaning for me. The inner life developed for me, kind of, in desperation. Because in the late 60s, when I became a community organizer, the cities were burning, my heroes had been assassinated, Vietnam was raging etc. Community organizing was hard work and you took your licks, and burnout was widespread. And I started to realize that, you know, that I needed more than an external set of skills and the kind of objective knowledge and techniques that I had learned along the way. I needed to cultivate my inner landscape, as much as I needed to engage the external world. And that was the point at which I fortuitously discovered the work of Thomas Merton, but I'll just end the narrative there for a moment and see where you'd like to take this.
Preeta: Wow. What a remarkable path. I love the way you talk about the life of the mind creeping up on you. I'm curious -- on the spiritual side, you kind of mentioned in there that you started in ministry, then you left to do graduate work. I'm curious about your spiritual upbringing and your turn to ministry and your turn away from ministry?
Parker: You know, I grew up in a very Mainline Protestant denomination, the Methodist Church, which was sort of centrist in both physiological and social terms. Maybe my church was socially just a little bit to the left of center, but I wasn't burdened with, you know, a lot of dogmatic belief, and I was certainly encouraged to keep my eyes open to the world. Although the real eye-opening experiences to the world came when I went to New York and I spent that year at Union Theological Seminary and was given a field work assignment to work with young people from Spanish Harlem.
Well, for a guy who grew up in Wilmette, Illinois and who never really knew a person of color in any depth, working with junior high kids from Spanish Harlem was, you know, it's a mild way, it's very mild to say it was a real education. It was a crucifying kind of experience because I thought I knew what these kids needed. And of course, I was dead wrong. They knew so much more about the world than I did. And there was a famous moment there, with my sixth or seventh time of meeting with them on this long weekend program that we had, with them continuing to totally flout my agenda for their lives -- they were very gifted at guerrilla warfare, you know, much more than I -- I broke down and wept in public for the first time in my life, in front of these Junior High kids.
And one of the great lessons of my life was that, once I got off my arrogant perch of thinking that they had everything to learn from me and I had nothing to learn from them, once they saw that I was emotionally vulnerable, they became my friends and allies. They started saying, “Oh, he hurts too!” And I started becoming more open to what they had to teach me and things really got a lot better. So you know, it's moments like that, that really opened my inner life -- that's when I started thinking about the power of vulnerability. That's when I started realizing that my life would shrink to the point of diminishing returns if I couldn't open my mind and heart to all kinds of things that seemed alien to me, or that I wasn't even taking very seriously because they weren't part of my experience.
So I had that experience as a young seminarian in 61-62 and then, as I like to say, God told me that she didn't want me to have anything to do with her church ever, so she sent me to Berkeley in the 60s, which in my book has always been evidence of the existence of God. That I got sent to Berkeley in the 60s! And of course, there, with all that was going on, my eyes were opened even further, and I became more deeply engaged in social change.
But it really wasn't until, in my work as a community organizer, after Berkeley, from ‘69 to ‘74 in Washington DC, working on racial justice and reconciliation, that I discovered a genuine source of inner life, in both the classical and modern sense, I discovered the contemplative tradition, in the life and work of Thomas Merton. I never met the man but because of the quality of his writing I've always regarded him as a companion on my journey. And so many doors opened for me through Merton, who, of course, was not only this great Christian monastic contemplative, he was also engaged with all kinds of folks in the civil rights movement, in the peace movement. And he was very open and engaged to, and engaged with leading figures in the Islamic world, and in the world of Asian religion, and on and on. So he was a house with many doors for me, that every time I opened, I discovered something new and amazing to pursue.
Preeta: Yeah, there's so much in there. You know, I'm curious -- you mentioned working with the kids in Spanish Harlem, while you were at Union Theological Seminary and then your turn to, kind of away from the Seminary and towards sociology at Berkeley. I'm just curious about that turn from the seminary to -- what led you to Berkeley? You kind of humorously said God led you there? And I'm sure that was also the case, but what was happening inside?
Parker: Well, yes, and I was very lucky as an undergraduate to get something that doesn't exist anymore, which was called the Danforth Graduate Fellowship. And the one of the qualities, one of the amazing amazing features of that fellowship was that if your academic interests included religion, which mine did. I was very interested in the sociology of religion. I had a wonderful professor at Carleton College for whom that was a specialty, and I got fascinated with the sociological dynamics of religion itself, as a legitimate historical political social phenomenon worthy of study. In fact, I've always been baffled as to why so many universities seem to think it's not worthy of study, when it's clearly, religion is clearly one of the major factors, for better or for worse driving world history, up to this very day. So the Danforth Fellowship said: well, if you have an academic subject, a PhD subject like the sociology of religion and you would like to go deeper into the theological side of it, then a seminary education is yours for the asking. Well, after a year, I found a year was enough and I really wanted to get on with my doctoral work. And that the parish ministry wasn't my calling.
That I was called, at the time, I thought, to teaching in the university. And so the PhD was the ticket to do that and I went out to Berkeley for that reason. Of course, I had no idea what I was going to find out there. Nobody really did in nineteen sixty one or two. And also eventually had the chance to work with a quite remarkable sociologist of religion named Robert Bellah, whom some of your listeners may know, famous for writing a book about ‘Habits of the heart.’ And for coining the notion we call ‘civil religion’. And and that was a great opportunity in my life to have. He was one of many great teachers who've touched my life and he was at Berkeley and so that was another drawing card for me.
But I have to say that in the 60s, in Berkeley, the education that was going on in the streets was just as important to me and sometimes more important than the education I was getting in the classroom. Again because it was so eye-opening, heart-opening, mind-opening, for a guy whose experience had been very quiet, very homogeneous, very privileged, who was packed with White privilege, without even knowing it. And who was raised in a family that was very congenial and open to otherness. I always learned lessons of tolerance, for example, in my home and in my church. But I had to cross a divide of some sort, of a range of mountains of some sort, to realize, to come to a pretty simple realization, and that is -- that it's never thrilled me to the bone when someone has said I'm willing to tolerate you. Tolerance, as good as it sounds, is a pretty thin virtue. And that the idea really is to come into a deep appreciation of otherness and to realize that you are other to others. From that starting point, to ask yourself the question: what kind of larger life can we construct together by employing these multiple viewpoints and trying as much as possible to stand in each other's shoes?
And so part of the draw of Merton's version of the contemplative life for me was that, and those who know Merton's story will recognize this, his version of contemplation was not escapism. His version of contemplation took him more deeply into the world of "the other" that was true of a lot of activists on the front line. And that's why Merton was regarded as a great teacher and guide by people deeply involved in the Black Liberation movement and in the peace movement of his time. He also got into a whole lot of trouble with the Catholic church because of his, what they saw as his radical views, and he saw it simply as an extension of fundamental Christian principles and convictions.
Preeta: Yeah. Well, Merton also obviously spent a lot of time in a monastic kind of situation. And I know you spent more than a decade or so in a Quaker community, and I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about that?
Parker: Right. Yeah, and I think Merton was an inspiration in that. So let me just fold in that -- while I went through a period of wanting to become a monk, I woke up one morning and realized: Oh, wait a minute, I'm not Catholic. I'm married and I raising two kids at the time, eventually three. So I don't think I'm really qualified to become a monk.
So after five years of community organizing, I burned up. The rigors of that job that I was talking about earlier, it got to me. I realized I needed a year of sabbatical and I thought one of my problems is as a community organizer, I'm trying to lead people towards something that I've never really fully experienced myself, and that's community. Pretty simple realization, but some of us are slow learners. So my wife and I thought okay let's take a sabbatical year, not in an academic institution, but in a community of some sort, an intentional community. But it has to be a place where my wife could have a meaningful role, where I could have a meaningful role and where my kids, our kids would be welcome.
So we eventually found this Quaker Community called Pendle Hill (https://pendlehill.org) near Philadelphia, which was about 80 people living daily round of life, eating meals together, making decisions together, doing physical work together, and studying together as well as worshiping together, Quaker style. Starting each morning with the Quaker unprogrammed meeting or silent meeting. This brand of Christianity or church life that has no pastors, but a lot of communal structures to replace, to let the authority of the community replace what might otherwise be the authority of this pastor or the priest. It just drew me, you know, that kind of radical equality. And we went there as adults students because it was a community whose cash crop was adult education. During our year there as adult students, this job opened up as Dean of Studies. I was invited to apply. I ended up getting the job. So we stayed another 10 years, so 11 years all together.
And one of the most important pieces of that decade is that -- and this sometimes seems to people like really? Was it that important to you, that you want to talk about this rather than the meeting for worship and the silence and spiritual, more overtly spiritual stuff ? -- and yes, I do. What I want to talk about is the fact that, for ten years at Pendle Hill, I lived in a community that practiced radical economic equality. Everybody on the staff, and there were about 25 of us, out of that 80, made the same base salary and got raises at the same time and at the same rate. So I had a PhD from Berkeley and I was serving as Dean of Studies. But I was making the exact same money that an 18 year old, fresh out of high school who didn't know where to go from here, made when he or she came to Pendle Hill, to work in the kitchen, or in the garden, or on the maintenance crew. The exact same base salary, the only difference in what my wife and I made, she ended up teaching crafts at Pendle Hill, the only difference in what we made was that, because we had three kids, we got a small annual increment for each of those kids. So I started as Dean of Studies in 1975 at $2400 a year plus room and board, and for each of the three kids, we got an additional supplement of $600 a year. So for a decade, I've lived in a place where -- well, Merton once said the only place where communism has ever really been tried is the monastery -- and I would add to that Pendle Hill.
And here's what it did, to put it in a nutshell. I think it's impossible for a person like me -- white, male, well-educated, raised in an affluent community -- I think it's impossible for a person like me ever to fully get rid of that sense of entitlement, that kind of gets baked into you. So I'm not going to claim that that's totally gone. But I am going to say that 10 years of realizing the benefits of living in a radically equal economic universe, ground my sense of entitlement down very significantly. And what that means is that I opened up to the fact that the value of a human being has nothing to do with how much money they make. The meaning of what they have to say in a business meeting, for example, has nothing to do with salary or position or status. It has everything to do with who they are and what they're saying and whether they walk their talk.
And for me a decade at Pendle Hill was fundamentally transformative, not simply because of the daily hours spent in Quaker Meetings for worship, which was powerful, or all that I learned about nonviolent social change, which was powerful, or the great diversity of people I had a chance to interact with, which was powerful. But the value of Pendle Hill for me had a lot to do with living in this communal model in which the Quaker principles of equality etc. were really put into practice to a greater extent than any organization I've ever worked in.
Preeta: That's amazing. You've beautifully popularized or talked about in your writings the notion of the divided life that, in many ways each of us live, and what you've described as the tragic gap between the world as it is and the world as it could be. And I'm wondering where in this really rich journey did you come upon the insight that your own life might have felt divided? And how did that manifest?
Parker: Well, you know, I think I'll loop back very briefly to this to this notion that I was the first person in my family to go to college, and even though I succeeded in academic settings -- I didn't succeed in high school; I graduated two hundred and eightieth out of the class of 500, I think -- so it took a while, you know for some good teachers in college to light my fuse. I think it happened in the second semester of my freshman year. But that sense of fraudulence, or of not belonging here, that I carried with me all the way through my PhD, that was throwing up clues of the divided life, that there was something incongruent about what I was doing, that led me, for example, to reject a traditional academic career despite the fact that I was surrounded by powerful and well-meaning mentors who were saying, "Hey you're really destined to be a young college dean, a young college president. Why are you throwing your life away on this quirky kind of granola hippie place called Pendle Hill, that nobody's ever heard of, where you're just going to disappear from the radar?"
And so those tensions were very much with me for many years, as I was trying to find my way. And the only answer that I could give, Preeta, to people who asked me, "Why are you wrecking your career?" was, “All I can tell you is I can't not do this. It isn't that I'm crazy wild about taking these economic risks or risking disappearing from the radar, but for some reason I can't not do it and I can't explain that to you, I can barely explain it to myself.”
But when I talk with young people these days about vocation, after listening for a long time and evoking with questions, I'll eventually get to the question -- Is there anything you can't not do? Because if there is, let's start talking about that and see what guidance there may be there, for you.
I tell you what, I'm going to have to ask you to reboot the question so that I don't get too far off course.
Preeta: I feel like everything you say is just so provocative; but I guess the question was really about when you first felt the dividedness within yourself and how that might have manifested?
Parker: Right, right. Okay, so I wasn't too far off course, but I was getting there. So that's one answer, that it started early; and I think the second answer is that, you know, Pendle Hill was in many ways the setting I needed. And it was hard, but it was kind of idyllic. I mean, it was, for many people in that era, a kind of dream come true, that one could live this grounded communal life. But the problem with every perfect setting is that we take ourselves with us, right?
So even at Pendle Hill, I started struggling with what I've written and talked about on a number of occasions, and that was my first experience of clinical depression. Now clinical depression is a tricky topic to talk about; I've experienced three of these in my adult life, two in my 40s and one in my 60s, really deep dives into this place where isn't just that you're lost in the dark, you feel like you've become the dark; and it's hard to differentiate yourself from the dark; and it's hard to generalize about this because nobody really understands fully what clinical depression is all about or why and how it comes to a person. Sometimes it's strictly genetic and biochemical, sometimes it's situational, sometimes it's both. But I think my depressions had a lot to do with the struggle that I was having over finding a path in life about which I couldn’t say more than, "I can't not do this."
That's a powerful motivation, but eventually a person, you know, if that's all you can say about it, things get heavy, and I think things got heavy for me. There was some kind of dividedness in the work I was doing and in the life I was living. I guess one way to put it was that while each piece of what I was doing made some sort of sense, it was very hard for me to put the pieces together in a coherent whole and to construct out of that a sense of self. And of course, one of the main things that happens in depression or that connects with depression is a loss of sense of self. So for me, the divided life was way beyond just an interesting psychological, spiritual subject. Coming to terms with it, trying to understand what drove the divided life and what the way forward with the divided life was, it really became a matter of survival, because in each of these depressions, I got to that place where a lot of people get, which was feeling like this might be the day to end my own life.
I've written about this in several places, but one of the places that I wrote about it is in a little book called Let Your Life Speak, and I remember writing a sentence there, a small paragraph that I thought, I wonder if I'm going to get a lot of blowback about this; but instead I've gotten a lot of appreciation. And what I said there was very simple. I said, “People walk around saying, I don't understand why so-and-so took his or her own life.” and I go on to write, “Well, I understand it perfectly: they needed the rest. It's an absolutely exhausting experience, this depth of depression.”
And then I say, “What I don't understand is why some people not only survive it, but thrive on the other side of it.” So I'm one of the lucky ones, but I have no idea why; and it drives me nuts when people say, well, you must have said the right prayers or you must have prayed hard enough. No, that’s ridiculous, that's not the way the world works. There is simply a mystery about the Dark Night of the Soul that nobody who has any wisdom about it, would have the audacity to try to explain, in such a simplistic way. So I live with that mystery, but it was that mystery that drove me into an examination of the divided life. And then connecting that-- and this was very important to me because when I was at Pendle Hill with these Quakers who have a history of connecting inward journeying with outward reach, these people who sit in silence are also people who have been disproportionately represented in racial reconciliation movements, peace movements, the women's movement, etcetera, etcetera. Journeying with them, I started to make these connections between the inner and the outer life, and I started to get fascinated with social movements.
So if you look at social movements around the world, if you look at the liberation of Eastern Europe from communist oppression, you look at liberation movements in South Africa or in Latin America. You look at the Black Liberation movement in this country, the Women's Movement around the world. What you're looking at is movements that have changed the lay and the law of the land. But these movements have been populated by people who had every external form of power taken away from them. They were deprived, you know, they didn't have armies. They didn't have status. They didn't have money. They didn't have access. They didn't even have acceptance -- I should add to that list the LGBTQ+ movement -- didn't even have acceptance in the society in which the movement was being mounted. So what power did they draw on?
Well, I think what they drew on -- and this is something I've learned, you know from studying these amazing movements and the amazing people who sparked and sustained them -- I think what they drew on was the power of the human heart to claim its own identity and integrity. To say, as Rosa Parks said, I am no longer going to behave on the outside in a way that contradicts the deep truth I hold on the inside, which is that I am a whole human being as worthy as anyone else, and I am not going to collaborate with your racist rules or your homophobic rules, or your sexist rules or whatever it may be; and that's the sparking point of social movements.
And when I started to understand that, I started to put together, in my mind at least, a big puzzle about how inner journeying and social change not only can be connected, but have been connected historically. Because I got to the point where I thought, if I can't figure out the connection between inner journeying and social change, then I need to find something more worthy to do, because that's just narcissism, taking an inner journey that gets lost inside one's self, and I did not want to end up there. So beginning to understand this about movements was a very important passage in in my life. And just to say one more thing about that sparking point, I started asking the question: How did these courageous people--and I'll just use Rosa Parks as an example -- how did they do what they did, knowing that the full weight of established institutions and culture was going to come crashing down on them and that they stood a good chance of losing a lot?
I think the answer to that question, as best one can answer the mystery of the human heart, of the human spirit, is that these are people who came to understand that no punishment anyone could lay on them could possibly be worse than the punishment we lay on ourselves by conspiring in our own diminishment. No punishment anyone could lay on us could possibly be worse than the punishment we lay on ourselves by conspiring in our own diminishment. And so, you know ever since that day, I've walked through life using that as a litmus test for decisions I need to make, or acts I want to take, or whether I'm going to say yea or nay to whatever it is that's in front of me. If I say this, if I do this, will I be conspiring in my own diminishment? And one knows, you know, one knows even if one doesn't want to admit it, that that's exactly the risk of certain moments. And those are the moments when you say -- can't go there, can't do that. So the divided life has been a lot more than a topic of academic or, you know, theological, spiritual, interest to me. It's really been an existential tool to try to understand it.
Preeta: Beautiful. You know, as you're talking about Rosa Parks and those who have led social movements, you mentioned there people who often don't have much by way of the external situational power, but I'm kind of reflecting, I'm curious about your own situation when you first experienced one of these crippling bouts of depression that you've written about. I believe you were a so-called leader of Pendle Hill. You were the Dean of Studies. You were a spiritual leader. You were a leader of this spiritual community; and I wonder, you know, for those who do have--the question really goes to the role of leadership and those in positions of situational leadership, and also for example our political leaders in government. What is the--I guess the question I am trying to get at is, for you in this role as a leader, how was it complicated to work through? The divided life, the depression, while you were in this this kind of situation?
Parker: Yeah. It's a very important question and I can only speak of my own experience. I guess the first thing I'd say is that depression is debilitating, it lays you low. There were days when I couldn't do anything, when, you know, I would be sitting and talking with someone, or looking like I was talking with someone, and I suddenly realized I haven't heard a word this person has said for the last five minutes and then you know trying to figure out, so what do I say now, having no idea where we are in this conversation because I was lost in that well of inner darkness; where I'm reading a book and a half hour later I realize I'm still on the same page that I opened because I was lost in that same well. So there were times when I had enough of me left to kind of battle my way through that debilitation, but there were other times when I simply had to acknowledge, I'm just not capable of doing this work right now; and indeed at one point at Pendle Hill, because even family life was so painful when I was in the depths of one of these depressions, I had to move into a small apartment on campus where I could still, you know, visit with my wife and my kids and friends could sit with me. I wasn't a great conversationalist, but you know, I was glad for a certain form of quiet company; and of course in a small community that becomes publicly known.
So the straight-up answer to your question is, this is a humiliating experience; but one of the great lessons in my life, is that the word “humiliation” is related to the word "humility," is related to the word "humus," and this is the muck and mud that helps things grow. Nature manifested in the spring. And you know, I don't mean to just be engaging in wordplay here. Again, that's an existential reality for me; is that I liken it in a way to this grinding down of my sense of entitlement. I think that something in me, you know, needed to understand that life was as much about becoming humus, as it was about growing prize-winning flowers, and that one had to embrace all of that in order to live a full life. You know, one of the things I've written, and that has been very important to me, is that wholeness--which we all talk about and we're all seeking it-- wholeness does not mean perfection. Wholeness means acknowledging your brokenness as part of who you are. That's real wholeness; and there are times when the leader, who is so thoroughly debilitated, simply has to step aside for a while, because continuing--you can't do your work well and you're even going to harm yourself by pretending that you can. Things are going to get worse, not better.
There's a more subtle level of this though that I want to talk about for just a moment, because it has to do with leading, which in my life has been partly in the form of teaching, partly in the form of writing, partly in the form of founding a non-profit that's been up and running for over 25 years now. So as I've written, it took me ten years after my first experience of depression to be able to write and speak about it publicly. And the reason it took ten years is that until that much time had passed, something in me knew that I did not have that experience of darkness thoroughly enough integrated into my sense of self to stay on my own two feet, while still going public about it.
And I think it's important for a leader, for example, who's going to sit in a circle as I often do and talk about his or her let us say depression to have that well enough integrated, so that the whole group doesn't sort of gasp and say, "Oh my gosh, are we going to have to take care of this person?" Because my job in that circle is to take care of them, but can I get to the point with my own brokenness that I can say with confidence -- I am all of the above, you know, I am my strengths and my weaknesses, I am my successes and my failures, I am my light and I am my darkness; and these days I have no trouble acknowledging that at all.
And when you do that and people can see -- Oh he's okay, he's okay with that. And that's helpful to us, because if he's modeling this sort of vulnerability without starting to come apart at the edges in a way that makes us feel like maybe we better dial nine-one-one, then he's giving us a gift of encouragement to be vulnerable about our own lives, but always in our own time and in our own way. This is why the retreat work we do is strictly invitational.
As I like to say, this is not a share or die event, because people do these things at their own inner clock and in their own moment of readiness, so it's complicated, but I do think that it can be navigated. And sometimes, of course, depression means, or can include the meaning that the work you're doing is diminishing you, it's killing your spirit. You need to find another path. Those aren't easy times, but I think we all we have to help each other, you know, keep our eyes open for them.
Preeta: Beautiful. There's so much we can delve into and I'd love to, but I'm mindful of the time, so I thought what I'd do in the last couple minutes we have before opening it up, maybe I could throw out a couple questions and you can see what moves you, in which direction you want to go?
Parker: Okay.
Preeta: So I'm just fascinated by your notion of community. You lived in an intentional community, Pendle Hill, and now the processes, the circle processes that you're so involved with, they really speak to the role of inner work that people do, the deep soul work, but in community with others. And so one possible set of topics could be the role of -- what your view is of intentional communities, what your view is of kind of these fluid temporary communities to come together, and the role of group processes versus solo practices, for example sitting meditation and inner soul work. So that's one set of questions.
Another set of questions, I'm just fascinated in, is your work with democracy and the heart of democracy, drawing on De Tocqueville and Robert Bellah. You wrote the powerful book Healing the Heart of Democracy many years before our current polarized political climate, and you were very troubled by our national discourse at the time; and both to know what troubled you then, what troubles you now, and what gives you hope now? So, you know, either of those or both or whatever. But--
Parker: Yeah. Well, Preeta, you ask questions that are way too good. So it's really hard, it's really hard to choose. I guess had we world enough, and time, what I'd really love to do is conflate those two, because I do see a relationship and I'll just make a quick comment on that. So my book about Healing the Heart of Democracy as you mentioned, drawing on Alexis de Tocqueville especially, is of course--as is de Tocqueville's work--it has a heavy emphasis on the importance of democracy being a community of communities. And so de Tocqueville saw the American promise as being scattered across the land in all of those local venues, the neighborhoods the religious communities, the workplaces, the community organizations, the sidewalk cafes, the public libraries, the gathering spaces, you know, where people kind of replicate what the Greeks did, which is come together in a public forum that was really built around the marketplace in order to share communal concerns and generate communal conversation and debate. And as many people have commented, the decline of American democracy, or the threats to American democracy, have a lot to do with the decline of local community in our lives. When you have a thick local community, a rich local community, all kinds of good things happen. You have less fear of each other. You have more welcoming and hospitality. You have more chances to air it out on the local level, before you blow it up on the national level.
And the desire in this last national election on the part of a lot of people to elect a guy whose basic promise was, “I'm going to blow the whole thing up,” I think has a lot to do with all of the isolation that people were experiencing and are still experiencing in this country, and we have to continue to find ways to work on that and a lot of creative people are working on that. I think in writing Healing the Heart of Democracy one of the key things for me at least was that I had become very aware of the phrase that floated around at the time, which was the “politics of rage.” You still hear it of course and I understand why it gets used. But in that book I said, you know, “I think the politics of rage is really the politics of the brokenhearted;” and I wrote an entire foreword or chapter one, I can't remember, on the politics of the brokenhearted, the politics that come from a people who have experienced a great sense of loss in their common life, a great sense of loss of what they see as the great tradition, a sense of economic loss and dislocation, etc. etc. And as you go down that list, you quickly become aware if you know at least a little history, that what you're listing is the same preconditions that existed before the rise of the Third Reich.
I wrote an article for On Being, Krista Tippett's online program, I wrote an article nine months before the election of 2016 that was titled, Will Fascism Trump Democracy? And I didn't use fascism as an insult. I used it as a political-science term of art, which has certain objective, you know, manifestations or symptoms, and I saw every one of those symptoms in the campaign that number 45 was running even at the time. Lots of people did, I think; but you know, we're all trying to get ahead of the train wreck. And naming it is the first, at least the first step, and then there's a long road to go after that.
So community, to go back to that more fundamental topic, I think has to take many forms. And civic community is one important form and there's an art to that and there are people who major in that art. My friend Joan Blades, who was one of the co-founders of moveon.org, has now founded Living Room Conversations, which is a particular method of creating local community across lines of political difference. And I highly commend Living Room Conversations, which you can Google and get on their website, to folks who are interested; and lots of other people have similar projects.
Our Circles of Trust at the Center for Courage and Renewal, are the stuff that I wrote about in a book called A Hidden Wholeness, where we really do try to hold the paradox of community and solitude. I sometimes call them ways of being alone together or solitude in community, because for me solitude in community, which is the model that I learned from the Quakers, has had great power. There's something evocative for me about sitting in silence with other people as if there were a kind of vibrational level that we're all humming in on, and you know when we're focused and in that force field or that flow, something new is going on inside of me that doesn't quite go on when I'm simply sitting by myself, although sitting by myself, going on solitary silent retreats, is still and always has been an important part of my life. But what's important to me about the Circles of Trust, about that particular form of community, is that these are communal settings in which our intent is to create a space in which it is safe for a person's soul to speak; and, you know, that doesn't happen much in other forms of community.
Civic community, important as it is, you know, gets very active, very verbal, very busy, even frenzied. There's a real role for that, but there's a real role for places where people can first figure out what is that deep truth in them that is wanting to come to the surface. And when you learn how to create spaces that are safe for the soul to speak, which again I've written about in A Hidden Wholeness, I think you're giving people that opportunity in a way that strengthens them to enter the rough and tumble of the public realm.
I'll just give you one quick example, and then lay it down. I was facilitating a Circle of Trust for physicians a few years back. We were considering a poem about death and dying, daily reality in a physician's life. And at one point this gentleman spoke and he said, "You know, I work in a healthcare system that has me right on the edge of violating my Hippocratic Oath two or three times a week." And given the ground rules of our circles, nobody jumped on that as a discussion point, they just received it in silence and let it settle in. Thirty seconds later the same man spoke again. He said, "You know, that's the first time I've ever acknowledged that to, or said that to, a circle of peers," which of course is a big deal. Here's a doctor saying, I'm skating on the edge of my Hippocratic Oath to other doctors, More silence, more receptivity. And then he spoke a third time from an even deeper place. He said, "The truth is that's the first time I've ever said that to myself." Now that's a powerful moment in a person's life. That's the moment at which they say, "I have just heard something from inside of me and I have to make a decision about it. I can't blow it off like I could, if someone else said it to me. This is my truth. I have to own it." So what do I do? Do I try to sweep it under the rug, do I try to get the toothpaste back in the tube? That's not possible. Or do I act on it and claim my own identity and integrity in action.
So to make a long story short, this man went back to his health care system. He gathered a few allies, having learned in the Circle of Trust that everybody else in that circle had that same dilemma in one degree or another. He gathered some allies back in his workplace, and they worked for several months very skillfully to establish a penalty free zone for the reporting of medical errors, which isn't the whole answer, but which helps nudge that healthcare system a little closer to what the Hippocratic Oath in action is supposed to look like. Because at the moment hospitalization is the third leading cause of death in this country, and part of that is because medical errors get covered up rather than exposed in ways that would allow systemic correction. And so this man heard his soul speak, heard his identity and integrity as a physician speak, and was empowered, again, in the way movement power works, was empowered to gather others around that and organize for change.
So that story stands for me as kind of paradigmatic of the kind of community that I don't think we have enough of. You know, we have a lot of communities where we can debate things and argue things and hash things out. I don't think we have enough communities or circles where people can hear their own souls speak in an atmosphere of quiet and receptivity, where nobody is going to try to save them or correct them or set them, you know, or fix them or advise them, which are things we prohibit in our circles.
Preeta: Beautiful.
Pavi: Thank you so much Preeta and Parker for the magnificent duet of this first hour of our call. We have several voices now aching to join the symphony. So we are going to open it up to some of our live callers and I will also add in questions from the web that have come in online. We're going to go to Timber now.
Caller: I'm Anand from India. Yeah, the education pattern that human beings adopt is both academic and the culture in which they grow up. I wanted to ask Parker If there was some method where we could improve the cultural settings so that people can align more with their soul and not be left to live a divided life?
Parker: Umhmm. Yes, thank you. And that question cuts to the heart of a lot of my concerns. I'm really not trying to sell books here at all, but I have two books where I've worked at length on one way of answering those questions. One is called The Courage to Teach and the other is called A Hidden Wholeness, and I hope that you would find some things relevant to your question in those books, because the answer that comes to me is probably too long to lay out right now on this call. But I do want to say that I believe that one of the responsibilities of educators and educational leaders, and indeed all teachers, teachers as leaders, is to reclaim this notion that education should be the maker of culture rather than the servant of culture.
Education is where we have a chance to reflect on the very mixed bag that any culture is; and we need, as we would say in farming country here in the Midwest of the United States, we have a chance to sort the wheat from the chaff, the true from the false, the healthy from the unhealthy; really, the good from the evil. And if education, you know, relinquishes that role, or tries to follow culture rather than to lead culture, then I think we get into some of the kind of trouble that we are now in. In this country, at least, we've had this very sad phenomenon over the last several decades of becoming a lot less interested in educating children then in getting children to pass standardized tests. And those are two different tasks. We've been seduced by the fact that we can be "effective" in getting kids to pass standardized tests, even if we have to do it on the cheap, as in teaching to the test, for example. We need courageous educators who can say, "No, my job is to educate a child," and that means to prepare them to be a discerning citizen, a critical citizen, an engaged citizen in this very complicated thing called democracy. So I think in the long run maybe those books have some details that would be useful to you, but the big picture for me is educators reclaiming their roles as leaders of culture rather than laggers behind culture.
Pavi: Thank you and on to -- and just a reminder to anyone who is asking a question -- we do have several callers and questions in the queue; so please try and keep your questions brief. Next caller in the queue.
Caller: Hi, this is Wendy in Half Moon Bay. It's been just a wonderful conversation so far. My question is, I was very fascinated with the politics of the brokenhearted you mentioned, and I'm wondering what would make the difference, in terms of the politics of the brokenhearted, to go towards the politics of rage versus the politics of liberation?
Parker: Right. That's a great question. Well, I think that you've really put your finger on something important. Let me just start with a kind of common-sense statement that the way we diagnose a problem has a lot to do with how we end up treating it, right? And if we diagnose what we've got as the politics of rage, then I guess we're sending everybody into anger management programs; or we simply have the war of one enraged group of against another enraged group, and that none of that, of course, is going to work. So the diagnosis that this is about the politics of the brokenhearted leads in a different direction. And I think that your very important point about the fact that sometimes broken-heartedness can lead to the politics of liberation rather than rage has a lot to do with with the fact that, as I understand liberation movements, the rage has been cultivated and refined and harnessed, toward constructive ends in community.
Earlier when I was talking about the politics of rage, I talked about a lot of isolated people. But if you have liberation communities that are available to folks who are feeling that rage, you have a much better chance to direct the rage, the anger, toward constructive ends. I have --again, I'm really, really not trying to sell books here--but in my new book called On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, I have some chapters on politics because that has always been and will always be an important part of my life. And I'm eager to say to older folks, "You must not give up your citizen role. There's still a lot you can do and you've experienced a lot that needs to be brought to bear on our current situation." But I'm mentioning that book because in that book, I have a chapter called, an essay called, "What's an angry Quaker to do?" I meant it to be a provocative title because most people who know anything about Quakerism associate us with peacemaking and being peaceful.
But I'm a Quaker who feels a lot of anger about what's going on these days and about how people are being demeaned, whole groups are being demeaned, in a way that is aimed at divide and conquer, and that is radically cruel and unfair, and results in very dangerous encouragements to very dangerous people; and I've had to wrestle with my anger and ask myself, you know, am I supposed to feel angry? Well, it's a silly question, because I feel angry whether I'm supposed to or not. And so the way forward for me has been to say, anger is a form of energy. And like every other emotion, the question is, what do you hook that energy to?
And I have tried to harness my anger into constructive efforts that will energize me, even when I'm tired and discouraged, toward doing things like creating circles where we don't throw our political positions at each other like brickbats, but instead we ask -- tell us stories from your own life that will help -- let us tell stories from our own lives that will help us, as a group, understand where each other is coming from, because there's something about telling a story that cuts through the gridlock, the collision of opposing political viewpoints, all of this being based on the principle that it’s more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right, when we're trying to hold these complex political issues.
That doesn't mean that we're supposed to give up on our version of true-false, right-wrong; but those are often complicated things to sort out, and if you don't have a container in which people can persist with each other in sorting them out, you'll never get there. So the container comes first and then comes the sorting; and out of that sometimes come some very good results. We don't have time to point to all of the examples I could give but I believe that to be true. So I hope that's a helpful response to a very important point.
Pavi: Beautiful, beautiful articulation. Thank you, Parker. I'm going to pull the question from Kathy, who asks, "Recognizing that eventually I will be diminished physically, mentally or otherwise, and given the fact that the Western culture values youth, how do we continue to have wholeness, or a significant impact on issues and people we care about, as we age?"
Parker: Yeah. But you know one of my one of my little axioms in this new book On the Brink of Everything, is, "old" is just another word for "nothing left to lose." So get out there and do take some risks for the common good. And by getting out there even in a state of physical or mental diminishment, obviously there are points of mental diminishment as in dementia, for example, where one simply becomes dependent; and for some of us that's the big challenge in aging, is to learn the grace of being dependent on others. I hope that I, and I hope that everyone, can learn that, if and when the time comes, because so many folks have spent their lives being the person that others depend on; and one should, I think, be willing to accept the help that is due a person for having spent a life helping others who now needs to be helped; but short of dementia, there's so much we can do if we still are able to write a letter to the editor, if we're still able to talk with friends and family, if we're still able to invite a younger person into dialogue. I have a whole section in the new book about the importance of intergenerational relationships for both the elders and the young.
So one of the most life-giving forces in my life--so again, it's as with depression, it's hard to generalize, because age does different things to different people--but I do believe that because of that culture of youth that you mentioned, or that the questioner mentioned, too many people, too many older people give up too soon. I just--I guess I've been saying this throughout this conversation--I've never been able to understand why I should let the dominant culture call the shots for me. This is my life to live and if I have to live it up stream, so be it; it actually--swimming upstream turns out to be good exercise; and I, you know, I deeply believe that the core of my life--and I always fall short of this, but this is my aspiration-- the core of my life cannot be doing what the culture says I ought to be doing at stage X, Y or Z in my life. It has to be to follow the imperatives of my own soul.
You know, the age, as I approach age 80 a few days from now, I'm much more aware of my own mortality of course than I was when I was 10, 20, 30 40 years younger; and it often comes to me that while there are many painful ways to die, the saddest way that I can think of to die would be with the realization that I never really showed up in this world, in this limited time I had on this earth. I never really showed up as my true self, which ultimately is the only gift I have to give the world. Whatever I learned in school, whatever skills I have, etcetera, etcetera, aren't worth much if they aren't driven by true self; and so in the long run, true self, a phrase I steal from Thomas Merton, is, has to be, the ground on which I stand at any age, and the ground on which I can check out from this life, with at least a sense of satisfaction that I did what I could to bring that gift to the world.
Pavi: And I love it, Parker, because in one fell swoop with that answer you answered several other questions in the queue that were posed in slightly different ways. You covered a lot of ground with that answer.
I'm going to our next caller in the queue. Kozo, you are up.
Caller: Hi Parker, thank you so much for your courage and your vulnerability and your wisdom. Real quick. My son suffers from depression and I've witnessed him get to that point of exhaustion with life, and my question is: What if, anything did your community or your loved ones -- How are they able to support you to make that decision to continue on, rather than give up?
Parker: Well, first of all, my heart goes out to you and your son. I can't put myself directly in your shoes, but I can certainly say that I've walked a parallel path, as have the people in my life who walked alongside me. And you know, the question is so important and the task you name is so sacred that I know what I have to offer is by no means a definitive answer. But here's what my experience tells me, that comes to me, as I hear the immediacy of your situation.
The first thing is that, as a depressed person, I was aware of so many people approaching me as if I had a contagious disease. And what I mean by that is that they wanted to come in and then get out as quickly as possible, as if I had diphtheria or something, and I could sense the fear that they had about staying around me too long, as if depression were catching, and so that would manifest itself in sort of quick in-and-out advice, sort of drive-by-helpers, you know? And a lot of that advice would take the form of, you know, "Parker, you're such a good person, you've helped so many people, how can you possibly be so down on yourself?", which really made me feel radically unreceived, because all you can hear when you're depressed is the voice of depression.
It's a voice that lies, but it's the only voice you can hear, and so when someone says, "but you're such a good person, why are you so down on yourself?", your feeling is, "I've just defrauded one more person who doesn't understand what a wretch I am, and if they knew, they wouldn't want to have anything to do with me. So that kind of "encouragement" is not encouragement at all. Nor was it encouragement for people to say, "Why don't you get outside? The sun is shining. The flowers are blooming. It's so lovely; you're sitting here in this dark room." Well, that was depressing because I knew intellectually that it was beautiful outside, but I couldn't feel an ounce of that in my body. And so knowing that, you know, that yeah, it's beautiful on an intellectual level, but I can't feel any of it, adds to the depression.
The one person, I wrote about him in Let Your Life Speak, I think about him often, he helped save my life, who somehow knew what to do when I was at Pendle Hill, was a Quaker who was maybe a decade older than I am, a man who asked my permission to do what I'm about to describe before he did it. And for some reason I granted it to him, because it was a time in my life when just being with other people was painful. As I sometimes have said -- the world was full of knives. What he did was: every afternoon, at a stated hour, with great faithfulness and regularity, always letting me know in advance if he couldn't make it on that particular day, but almost always making it, he came to my home, he sat me down in an easy chair in my living room, he took off my shoes and socks and he massaged my feet. He hardly ever said anything, except occasionally, "I feel your struggle today" or "You feel a little stronger today." But he found, he somehow found the one place in my body where I could feel connection to another person. You know, he, for a Christian he evokes those biblical stories about Jesus washing people's feet; but he was simply massaging my feet in an act that allowed me for a little while to come out of my sense of free-floating isolation into a sense of human connectedness. The most terrifying thing about depression is you feel utterly and utterly isolated from other people and indeed from life itself; that this man somehow, you know, he literally touched me in a way that gave me a little bit of hope. And the regularity of that practice, the faithfulness of that practice, the gentleness of that practice, the fact that he didn't use that opening to try to drive a truck full of advice into my life, was salvific for me.
I don't know always what -- I've known therapists who read about that in Let Your Life Speak--and so they did it with, they've done it now with their own patients, and their patients have said it was helpful or they've recommended it to loved ones of people who suffer from depression. I don't know what the particular form is in other people's cases, but that's just a witness from my own life, along with my wish to hold you and your son in the Light for wholeness and healing.
Pavi: Thank you Parker. I remember reading that story on the On Being blog, and you know, was in instant tears just reading the truth of that, and feeling the power of that kind of unconditional presence in the healing that can offer. Thank you. We are at our closing time. I wanted to check, want to respect your time. Do you have a few more minutes?
Parker: Sure.
Pavi: Or do we need to end here? Okay, perfect.
Parker: No, I'm good.
Pavi: All right. Thank you. Then I wanted to convey a question from Dottie who says, "In our country at this time, how do you think we as individuals can start down the path of healing and reconciliation? Where can I, as one person begin?"
Parker: Yeah. I want to say first of all that most of us have to begin by cultivating the belief that small acts count. And that, in this American culture, that is a belief that is not well supported. This is a culture that wants to do big things in one fell swoop and get the headlines that come from that; but if you look at social movements around the world, they are all made up of a million, million small acts.
In 2011, my wife and I went on the annual civil rights pilgrimage led by John Lewis. We went from Birmingham to Montgomery to Selma, and on the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, we marched behind John Lewis across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the same John Lewis who in his 70s, was now leading the march he led in his 20s, all those years ago. And one thing I understood in my bones as we took that three-day pilgrimage was that the movement that culminated in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was built on tiny, tiny acts taken by generations of people, who gave rise to the young people who found the courage to do what they did. So there's lots of historical evidence for the power of small acts; but a lot of us have to cultivate that and keep it in perspective and not let it go, or we soon get discouraged by the smallness of the act itself.
That then leads me to say that we all need to look for what small act is possible in our own settings? Here's a couple of thoughts that actually have to do with experiences I've had. Somewhere in your life there's somebody who holds political, social, economic views, perhaps prejudices or forms of bigotry, that really set your teeth on edge. After preparing yourself for it, try going to that person, not to change his or her mind, but to build that relational container that is so often built around stories of our lives. So the initiating question becomes, "I'd like us to share stories about how we grew up and experiences we had along the way, from childhood into adult life, that have shaped the way we look at the world. I just want to get to know you better and I want you to know me better. I want--you know, we're not here very long. We have this precious opportunity to build or renew a relationship. Let's try to do that"--again the word I would use for this kind of thing is pre-political-- "Let's try to build that communal-relational container and see where we might take that," always based on storytelling and based on the simple insight, the simple truth, that the more you know about another person's story the less likely, the less possible it is, to distrust, dislike, dismiss them, because the story contains the humanity of the person; and there's so much that can be understood from the point of view of story.
A quick example. I had a conversation with a physician a couple of years ago. I want Universal Health Care in this country. He didn't. He didn't like what was happening. I said, "Tell me your stories," in effect. And he said, "The system we have right now has me staying so late at work so many nights, filling out forms, that my family life is falling apart. I'm missing the growing up of my kids. My wife and I are becoming distant. I don't like this system." And you know, that put a human face on it for me. It didn't change my mind about the importance of Universal Health Care, but it certainly got me thinking about, how do you create a system of that sort that is less crushing to physicians whose lives are already so very demanding that, for many of them, family life is at risk even without the paperwork. So when that human thing starts to happen something new happens.
Here's another small act example, and I'm just tossing out a couple of, I think you know, I think the limit on these is only the limit of our imagination. So I'm in a group where somebody says something that is overtly homophobic, racist, sexist: sometimes these days it will be a comment picked up from our national "leaders" about Mexicans, for example. And I have prepared myself to say, I need--because it's true of me, I have friends who are all of the above--I need you to understand, you who have just spoken, that when you speak that way, you hurt me personally because you're talking about my friends, and that's very, very, very painful. I need you to know that. What happens in the wake of a comment like that is so different than what would happen if I had simply said, "well, you racist, sexist pig or whatever, how dare you," because I've now personalized it. This person is talking about someone who's not there; and suddenly I'm creating a conversation about someone who's there, which is me, and my connectedness--and him--and my connectedness to the people that he's thoughtlessly disparaging. Different things happen in different situations. Sometimes folks just walk away, but sometimes--but even then I believe that they don't forget that moment.
So small things, all of it counts. We just have to, I think we just have to keep cultivating that belief, swimming upstream in a culture that is toxically wedded to bigness.
Pavi: So well said, and I could hear just this cheer going out through the community of listeners. This is a community that really anchors in the belief of small acts counting. So a really fitting way to draw our call to a close here. Parker, We ask all our guests one final question, and that is: How can we as the Awakin Call and Service Space Community, how can we contribute to your magnificent work, to your vision in the world?
Parker: Oh my, well, you already have; and really that's the truth. Conversations like this are meat and drink to me, and what I'm getting -- the wonderful questions that Preeta asked me or the questions coming from the gathered community around the world. I'm drawn more into deeper reflection, and I'm also encouraged by a gathering in which we share these fundamental concerns, because it's so easy to walk around in this world feeling like I'm all alone with this or that, and that's the, you know, that's the ultimately defeating-- or discouraging and ultimately defeating feeling. And so you've already done that and I wouldn't ask for anything more except maybe, maybe, I don't know, like when I turn 90, maybe I can get on back on the phone with you, how about that?
Pavi: You have an open invitation, you don't have to wait a decade for that one. I can't, you know, I'm remembering a phrase that you used in On the Brink of Everything, And you are quoting Louis Massignon, who talked about a relationship with an Islamic mystic from ancient times, and he described the relationship as a friendship of a rescue. And you use that same phrase to describe your relationship to Thomas Merton and his role in your life. And I feel like for so many, many people not just on this call, but tens of thousands of people all over the country and the world, your work has been exactly that, has meant exactly that, it has been a friendship of us and a rescue, you know a source of deep companionship, a source of deep unconditionality, and a respite, a safe haven, you know, a place of some space of salvation. So gratitude on behalf of the extended community for all that you've done and been and continue to be and hold space for, in your life, Parker.
Parker: Well, thank you so much Pavi. This -- I'm sitting here on a frozen day in Madison Wisconsin, and those words just warm up the whole the whole town for me. Thank you. I see the ice melting now like in the Narnia stories by C.S. Lewis. I just -- all I want to add to that is that, you know, when it gets to this level where we can look at each other and say a friendship, a love, a rescue, it suddenly shifts from "my work" or "your work" to "our work." I feel that very deeply. This is our work and we can't do it without each other.
I could have written a whole lot of books, but without the "us" that you just referenced and many other us's and many other folks who have spoken their truth, we wouldn't have much, so thank you for this blessing upon our work and I return that in full measure.
Pavi: We are going to end the only way we can after a call like this and that is in a community of solitudes, another minute of shared silence, stillness and gratitude. We integrate all that we've received and deepen in our intention to pay that forward and ripple it out into the world in some form. A minute of silence.
Thank you to all our listeners and thank you again Parker for this beautifully enriching call.
Parker: Thank you Pavi and blessings to all.
Preeta: Thank you so much Parker.
Parker: Oh, thank you, Preeta. It was really--you guys do a wonderful job instead of framing this and making it so easy for the guests. I really had fun.

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