I was in a recent discussion when someone made the comment, “We’ve created a world that no one wants to live in and it seems we’re all working very hard to keep that world going.” We nodded with the sense that he had named a sad truth. But there is hope.
In this brilliant and important TED talk, human rights lawyer and justice activist Bryan Stevenson explains that truth for me: how we in the United States live fundamentally divided lives. (And wherever you live, I suspect you will find ways to apply his points.)
He makes the case that our humanity, our identity, our integrity as individuals and as a society depend upon our capacity to pay attention to injustice.
In a timely and timeless way, Bryan challenges each of us to be more courageous:
“We have in this country this dynamic where we really don’t like to talk about our problems…We have a hard time talking about race, and I believe it’s because we are unwilling to commit ourselves to a process of truth and reconciliation.
“…Ultimately we are talking about a need to be more hopeful, more committed, more dedicated to the basic challenges of living in a complex world.
“Innovation, creativity, development comes not from the ideas in our mind alone. They come from the ideas in our mind that are also fueled by some conviction in our heart. And it’s that mind-heart connection that I believe compels us to not just be attentive to all the bright and dazzly things, but also the dark and difficult things.
“…Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader, talked about this. He said, ‘When we were in Eastern Europe and dealing with oppression, we wanted all kinds of things, but mostly what we needed was hope, an orientation of the spirit, a willingness to sometimes be in hopeless places and be a witness.’”
Click the image above to watch his video and then consider:
How can you “be in hopeless places” with a hopeful spirit?
How do you cultivate a “mind-heart connection” that helps you commit to facing the truth?
Posted by: Lisa Sankowski, Health Care Program Manager June 24, 2015
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Please take action on behalf of the nine people murdered on Wednesday, June 17, at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.: Top row (L-R): Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons. Bottom row (L-R): Susan Jackson, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance. Photo collage source: CBS News
The attack in a Charleston church this past week was horrific and heartbreaking. We know this is not the beginning, this is not the end, and this is not unique to Charleston. Racism is an insidious disease which has caused gaping wounds in our country. The tragedies of Charleston, Baltimore, and Ferguson in the past six months are but symptoms of this disease. Achieving our audacious goal of 100 million healthier lives requires that we address this issue—we cannot ultimately address the root causes of inequity in our country without the recognition that we are one human family.
Through 100 Million Healthier Lives, with your support and with the support of our partner organizations, we have an opportunity to join voices and come together in collective action to address individual, institutional, and systemic racism.
Would you pledge to take action with us? Click on the link below to sign up to take action and report actions you’ve taken.
Convene a moment of silence in your workplace or neighborhood.
Talk about what happened in Charleston with a friend.
Become trained: Attend an upcoming Undoing Racism, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work, Racial Equity (www.pisab.org/) or other training.
Join racial justice conversations: Many are already going on in your communities to listen, speak up, and be willing to be of service. Find out who is working on this in your community and partner with them.
Convene a dialogue on racism in your community. We can help with this.
Make your support visible: Add something to your email signature or a sign to your home showing where you stand.
Learn more: Commit to getting to know someone who is different from you—take the time to understand their story and be in relationship with them.
Invite others to take action: Share this email with colleagues and friends through your networks and conversations, post on social media, and invite others to pledge to take action with us.
We will be hosting a special webinar on this issue on Wednesday, July 1st from 4:00-5:30 PM EDT. You can join the webinar by clicking here (ihi.webex.com/mw…) or dial into the call at 1-866-469-3239 (access code: 620 004 361).
Posted by: Herdley O. Paolini, Ph.D. June 16, 2015
The surgical fellow just two weeks shy of completing his nine-years of medical training sat across from me. His eyes vacant and looking down, he spoke in a detached way, as if describing someone other than himself:
“My body feels like rubber… I feel nothing but dread… I can’t imagine ever feeling joy again.”
Educari – the root of the word education means to make whole… I wonder how we have come so far from its original intent. I wish I could say the experience of this fellow is a rare occurrence, that it is an anomaly, and that our medical training produces healthy and whole physicians. I also wish I could say that the environments where our physicians are practicing cultivate and support their health and their joy in the practice of medicine. This is not the case, and it is delusional to think so.
The costs—in addition to physicians’ lives—are quality of care, safety of patients, treatment outcomes, patient satisfaction, nurse turnover, hospital staff morale, and financial performance. Physician burnout truly is threatening the very foundation of the U.S. health care system.
What can be done? Where should we start? The task seems daunting, overwhelming. The environments are set up to suck the soul; the individuals sell their souls as if they are unaware that there is another choice.
At a time like this, I remember my father’s admonitions: Whenever you are at a crossroads (or in Courage language “whenever you find yourself in a tragic gap”) do three things:
Go into nature
Create a community
Let your heart speak
And that is what we did – twelve physicians, an 11,000+ ft. range in Colorado, and the invitation to retreat, renew, and nurture leadership from the inside out.
As we faced the mountain at the base and began our journey up, the vastness and greatness of the mountain overtook us. We felt small in a most honoring way. Every step reminded us of our small place in a great universe – the landscape recovering from the devastating 2002 forest fire; nature’s defiance as it returns again and again; the amazing wildlife; and the enormity of the mountain itself.
As the oxygen became scarcer and our physical stamina was challenged, we began to take turns helping and encouraging the ones who were struggling. Those who were able carried others’ packs, slowed down to support one another, and pulled together as a team. The spirit was contagious and the motto was: “Leave no one behind.” We were going to make it as a team no matter how long or what it took.
We all made it safely to our base camp, where we established our Circle of Trust and spent the Memorial weekend around a fire, blanketed by a carpet of stars and listening to the wild in us and around us. This Circle of Trust continuing medical education course was an invitation to begin to recover the “rubber bodies” and the “deserted souls.” No cell phones, no PowerPoints, no lectures or tests – just a Circle of Trust and the courage to dream that we, too, could recover from the devastation and return to our true selves again.
This one experience won’t change medical education or medicine practice in a significant way. Not yet, anyway. But, this small group of doctors might just continue to defy the “ecological disaster” that threatens the very foundation of their wellbeing; inspired by nature’s vulnerability and resiliency, they may just choose to sustain renewal.
We returned from this wilderness experience having understood like never before some most basic truths about being human:
We are indeed a small part of this great universe;
There is a wholeness in each of us and we can begin to recover it; and
We are powerfully and amazingly strong; capable of achieving great heights when we create a community for the journey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Herdley Paolini, Ph.D. is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator who works with healthcare professionals. She is also Co-Program Director for Health and Health Care at the Center for Courage & Renewal, a licensed psychologist, and author of the 2009 book, Inside the Mind of a Physician.
In his May 10, 2015 Naropa University graduation address, Parker Palmer offered six brief suggestions about the road ahead of the graduating class of 2015. Parker, an accomplished author and scholar, is the founder of the Courage & Renewal Center and in 2011 was named an Utne Reader Visionary, one of “25 people who are changing your world.”
PARKER J. PALMER: Thank you so much, Jerry [Colona], dear friend, Naropa University graduating class, relatives, friends. I’m deeply moved and I’m profoundly grateful to be here.
This is a wonderful moment in everyone’s life, and I’m going to take just a brief moment of personal time to say it’s doubly wonderful for me because not only is my wife here, but my son and his wife, and my two little granddaughters ages 8 and 6 are here.
And I just want to say a word about them because I’ve been thinking a lot about them in the Naropa context.
So two years ago my wife and I were in Golden, and we were hiking in the foothills with Naiya, 6 years old, and Kiara, age 4 at the time. And they both were hiking barefoot up these rocky trails. I finally asked Naiya, “How can you do that? It hurts me just to watch you walk this terrain barefoot.” And she very quickly and instinctively said, “Well I’m a nature girl and nature loves me and I love nature except for the spiky parts.”
At which point Kiara, then age 4, wanted to say something about herself, and she said, “And grandpa, I’m a vegetarian, except for bacon.”
So my sense is these two fit the Naropa vibe, would you agree?
[…] I’m honored to be here but my true honor is that I get to share this important moment in the lives of the class of 2015. A deep bow to all of you, and a deep bow also to the friends, family, relatives, strangers, and to staff, faculty, and administration of Naropa University who have helped you come to this day.
Naropa is a very special place. I think some of you know that the contemplative teaching and learning movement is now getting traction in higher education around the country. It’s slow but it’s coming, coming to an extent one could not have imagined 40 years ago when this university was founded, let alone even 30 or 20 years ago. And Naropa has planted those seeds. This is a granary of something that is now growing. Our task is to the let the world know where the granary is…
…so let’s try to do that, get the word out. I have tried to be your emissary—I want to do that on into the future because I think what happens here is a very important contribution not only to you as individuals, but to higher education and to the world at large.
I have two modest graduation gifts for the class of 2015. I wish I had more to offer but, for now, this. The first is six brief suggestions about the road ahead of you, and the second is a promise to stop talking in about 12 minutes so you can get on that road sooner rather than later.
My first suggestion is simple. Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.
Now, since half of you misinterpreted that…
It’s true I spent the 60’s in Berkeley, but I’m 76 now and… well there may be snow on the roof but there’s still a fire in the furnace.
Anybody know CPR?
What I really mean, parents and grandparents, 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.”
Offer yourself to the world—your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart—with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail. To grow in love and service, you, I, all of us, must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success. I know this is ironic advice on graduation day, but clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn. That’s the path to a life lived large in service of love, truth, and justice.
Here in Seattle we’re turning into summer and I feel a lingering pull to slow down and reflect, a pull captured powerfully by Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” that ends with the lines:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I spent much of the first 50 years of my life in schools first as a student, then a teacher, then an administrator. I miss the seasonal rhythm of school: starting with a bang in the autumn, working hard through the winter, bringing it to a finale in spring before closing up shop for the summer. I believe this rhythm tracks deeper natural patterns encoded in all of us through a thousand generations of having to be attuned to the cycles of the seasons.
The end of the school year is bittersweet for me:
a promise of freedom and a change of pace,
the loss of ending a year and saying goodbyes,
the very hard work and long days of exams, finishing coursework, grading, report cards, graduations, and
the jarring transition from 12 hour days to being able to sleep in and not have a thing I have to do.
That day after the term ends and the students and staff head home for summer break was always a reflective time for me:
sadness and relief together as such an intense community experience ended,
pain about what I’d failed to do
celebration as to what I’d accomplished and
anticipation as to what I might do the next year.
As a nonprofit leader for many years now, I often wonder when this school year will ever come to an end!
With acknowledgment to all those in the global south who are turning into winter, join me.
How do you experience this time of the year?
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
A few months ago, Reverend Wint Boyd shared a story on Sojo.net about how his congregation took an unexpected journey with a former clergyman who had been charged with vehicular homicide. Wint said it was “a tangible and daily experience of paradox and tension holding, to be sure.” Below, Wint recounts the story again and uses a Courage & Renewal touchstone to describe what happened.
At its best a church community should be a place of nonjudgmental love. For me, there’s a deep connection to the Courage & Renewal touchstone of ‘turning to wonder.’
For a variety of reasons, this colleague from another denomination found us in the immediate aftermath of a horrible car accident that resulted in the death of an innocent and lovely woman in a nearby community. Rather than becoming a setting to explore the details of this accident, Sunday mornings in worship with our congregation became a lifeline for him during the months he awaited his fate and eventual conviction of second-degree reckless homicide.
Week in and week out, he attended worship, sang with us, prayed with us, and sought spiritual solace with us. His presence was quiet but consistent. He didn’t ask for special attention, indeed didn’t want to make us uncomfortable with his presence. As a person of faith on his own difficult journey, he was longing for the spiritual space to worship with others.
On his last Sunday before going to prison, a few of us surrounded him in a small prayer circle, in which we prayed difficult and honest prayers. Amid the tears, this new friend made a point to tell two of us pastors, “Remember that what you do here matters. It matters immensely.’ At the same time, while he was grateful for our pastoral care, most of the healing and solace came from ordinary members, many of them unknown to him before his attendance in our worship services.
When our church receives new members, we share a covenant that includes the commitment to ‘journey together.’ Sometimes this can mean ‘journeying’ into unwanted, dark, difficult, or surprising places with each other.
At its best a church community should be a place of nonjudgmental love. For me, there’s a deep connection to the Courage & Renewal touchstone of ‘turning to wonder.’
TOUCHSTONE: When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, “I wonder what brought her to this belief?” “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?” “I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?” Set aside judgment to listen to others—and to yourself—more deeply.
Part of what I love about turning to wonder is that it’s an invitation to suspend conclusions. It is to step back from my immediate opinion – pro or con – to say “what is happening here?” How do I sit with what is rather than quickly determine what should be?
The principle of turning to wonder is helpful in community and congregational life because many of us struggle with rushing to judgment. It helps us create a container for deeper listening to the complexity of someone’s story, especially when they exhibit attitudes and behaviors that are confusing. By turning to wonder, we don’t try to fix or save someone. Instead we contribute to an environment for us all to find our voice and grounded center.
I’m grateful for a community that embodied this and pray that all involved – perpetrator and his loved ones as well as the victim’s loved ones – will find this sacred space in their lives.
This safe and ‘wonder filled’ culture in my congregation has been forming over time. I’ve been looking for language to name it and articulate it. The idea of a safe container for our own soul work has real resonance. We are aware that many come to the church curious or even distrustful about the nature of congregational life. We know that many have felt violated by religious communities in the past. We want to welcome them but also let them self reveal on their own timetable. We try to remember that when people come to church, they want to be in control of telling their story.
One way of describing it is ‘invitational.’ Come as you are. Share what you’d like. Show up as much as possible. We are here with our welcome and the Welcoming Spirit. We trust that with openness and honest interaction we’ll grow as a community. But we don’t control the pace or the outcome.
Winton Boyd has been Senior Pastor at Orchard Ridge UCC in Madison since 1999. He has been a facilitator with the Center for Courage & Renewal since 2007. In this capacity he has worked with cross professional groups of men and women in settings across the USA and British Columbia. He and his wife of 30 years, Tammy, have three young adult children.
Sometimes I scratch my head when I read about the government’s efforts to improve schools: new standards and tests that have to be implemented immediately, punitive teacher evaluations, and threats of school closures and job losses. All methods that I’m sure have the school employees’ amygdalae firing off 24/7, not to mention the students’.
Instead of incapacitating people’s ability to problem-solve or try new ideas—which is what fear does to us—research on school reform strongly suggests that policy-makers should be encouraging school leaders to take a more humane approach. In their seminal 2002 study on the reform efforts of twelve Chicago public schools, authors Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider found that enabling positive social relationships between the adults was the key to successful school improvement—and that trust was at the heart of those relationships.
What does trust in schools look like?
Trust in schools comes down to one thing: psychological safety. By this I mean safety to speak one’s mind, to discuss with openness and honesty what is and isn’t working, to make collective decisions, to take risks, to fail—all things researchers tell us are required for deep organizational change and transformation.
Yet this kind of safety doesn’t come easily to schools. According to Bryk and Schneider, the adults in a school community rely on each other to do their jobs correctly and with integrity. The challenge is our expectations for one other are very diverse, based on our unique backgrounds, including our previous school and work experiences.
At one school where I taught, each teacher had differing expectations about how much extra effort teachers should put into their work—a huge bone of contention between the teachers who left after the last bell and those who worked into the evening. And when expectations are largely unconscious or unspoken, it becomes impossible for others to live up to them.
We also make assumptions about the intentions behind a person’s behavior, and, as we all know, assumptions are often wrong. For example, parents and teachers may think the principal made a particular decision based on his or her career advancement rather than what’s best for the students. If we don’t feel psychologically safe to question our assumptions and expectations with each other, trust flies out the window and our relationships suffer.
Building trust among adults
I’m actually not surprised that education policy has yet to embrace the idea of building trust in school environments. For one thing, it’s hard to measure and hard to implement. It also requires us to take an honest look at ourselves, both personally and professionally, and potentially surface those parts that are painful or tender to the touch. And trust-building is just not part of a school leader’s training.
Developers of the program, Pamela Seigle and Chip Wood (creators of the social-emotional learning programs Open Circle and co-creator of Responsive Classroom, respectively) and Lisa Sankowski were inspired to develop Leading Together based on their previous work with principals. “We saw time and again that principals were experiencing a tremendous sense of isolation, despair, and overwhelm,” explained Seigle, “The role of the principal is not structured in a viable way – they can’t build school community alone.”
Using the principles and practices of the Circle of Trust approach developed by Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal, along with methods such as active listening, discussion protocols, reflection, song, mindfulness, and poetry, school teams made up of the principal and teacher-leaders spend four days during the summer and two more days during the school year with the Leading Together facilitators and each other envisioning how they will foster trust amongst the adults in their schools.
“After four days with Chip and Pamela, you feel like you can take on the world,” said elementary principal Paul Carolan, “but it’s not about that. It’s about getting a truer sense of who you are by making the space to be more vulnerable—and to do some great learning.”
With the on-going support of the program’s facilitators, the teams return to their schools and begin the challenging work of implementing their ideas. Ed Kaufman, an elementary principal, described the resistance he met from some of his staff members. “Teachers would say to me, ‘we have so many educational things to talk about. Why are we doing activities to build trust?’ It takes time to help people realize that working on our relationships with each other will make the rest of what we do so much more effective and efficient.”
Finally, after several months of doing this work, Kaufman saw that things were starting to shift. “At a staff meeting, we were using one of the Leading Together protocols called ‘Connections’ where people volunteer to share something professional or personal with the rest of the group,” he described, “Normally three or so people participate. This time we had twenty-five people who wanted to share something. I realized that this was a turning point.”
The rewards of building trust
Even though trust-building may seem like an uphill battle, in the end it pays off. For one thing, it lowers teachers’ stress levels. “In the past, I’ve had some very difficult challenges with teachers when they started feeling overwhelmed,” said Carolan. “The angst is still there, but it’s tempered because we’re using the Leading Together protocols to figure it out together.”
Carolan also found that educators participated more in decision-making because they felt their voices were now being heard. “I had so many teachers volunteering to help with our school development plan that I had to pick and choose who would be there,” he said.
Kaufman discovered that he was better able to help teachers develop professionally. “As an administrator, when teachers don’t know or respect you and you push them hard,” he explained, “it can make the relationship less cooperative and congenial. Our work with Leading Together has permitted me to get to know teachers better and have deeper conversations in ways not meant to be negative, but to challenge them to grow and learn.”
Middle school principal Patricia Montimurro felt that the Leading Together practices added years to her life. “I’ve found an inner peace that wasn’t there before,” she said. “When I opened up to slowing down and being present, it made me feel more confident about my work and less concerned about the ‘what ifs’. My staff also saw me become calmer, which helped them be calmer, too.”
In the end, the ultimate beneficiaries are the students. Kaufman found that as his teachers collaborated more with each other, they became more invigorated by their work, which led to more engaging and thought-provoking curriculum for the students. “They also connect better with their students,” he observed, “and they’re more sensitive to their students’ relational issues.”
Ultimately, principals have to realize that building trust doesn’t happen overnight. “This is hard stuff,” said Seigle. “Being in relationship with each other is harder than rocket science. And it’s something that you always have to be working on.”
But, according to Montimurro, the heart of education is trust. “The field of education needs this as much as it needs test results, standards, and teacher evaluations,” she explained. “If we’re going to keep good people in education, we need this work because it’s so stressful.”
Posted by: Susan Richardson, blogger, 'Human at Work' May 13, 2015
Ideas become reality only when we experience them — in our bodies, our selves, our daily lives.
So when a great bunch of Philadelphians gathered recently in the Great Hall of Neighborhood House, at Christ Church, for the WHYY event “City and Self: Bringing Humanity to Work,” that’s where we started — and I hope where we ended up, as well.
Path, place, self and city
People from across the city came together to look at the four areas that have emerged so far in the ‘Human At Work‘ blog: path, place, self and city.
In other words: the physical path to work, or the larger path your work life has taken (or not); the workspace; the meaning or purpose (or lack thereof) you find in your work; and the city leadership that can help you to feel more fruitful at work.
Susan leads the panelists in questions about path, place, city and self. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
We had a terrific panel of Harris Steinberg, of the Lindy Institute at Drexel; Andrew Phillips, from the Charter High School for Architecture and Design; and Geoff DiMasi, from the design firm P’unk Ave. and the business/civic-service network The Junto. Chris Satullo and I moderated, and we had skilled facilitators to guide the audience into groups to listen and to talk.
And I have to say, I’ve rarely felt a space so vibrating with energy.
Harris Steinberg (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Steinberg — who had just gotten off the plane from a business trip to Chile — led off talking about the importance of walking in the city in order to process things, and then letting where your feet lead you transform your thoughts. Phillips took us into the workspace of a classroom of students, many from underserved communities, connected with him, each other, and their curiosity to learn. What came up first for DiMasi was the question, not just of bringing himself to work, but his “best self” and what that looked like.
When the discussion shifted to the audience, people noticed what was coming to mind for them and wrote it down on little sticky notes, which they then harvested onto a large sheet for each table. The room buzzed with conversation as people began to find the real stories that were inside of and around them — the yearnings and the hopes — triggered by path, place, self and city.
Audience members had vibrant conversations in small groups. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Toward the end of the evening, Satullo led the panel and tables in culling the connections between self and city and what could make Philadelphia a more meaningful work environment. And what was wonderful was how it took real stories to help reshape the question.
Yearnings for a connection to the city
Both from the panel and from the audience tables, we heard yearnings for beauty, meaning, acknowledgement and support of a city wider than just Center City, mutual support among workplaces and working neighborhoods, and civic leadership that looked deeply into the real learning that underlies the rubric ‘education.’ DiMasi pointed out that the inequalities and poverty in Philadelphia gives everyone a chance to be persistent in looking at it again and again, and never to look away.
Geoff DiMasi (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
And among these points, we consistently heard about the importance of vulnerability that’s involved in truly doing your work well; and how creating an environment in which people are encouraged to grow as humans — including those folks who are students — is profoundly meaningful for everyone, above all, perhaps, for the person managing and creating that workspace.
In other words, the question of Philadelphia’s leadership and how it can support richer work experiences in the city left behind the two-dimensional stump speeches of a mayoral campaign and took on the flesh and bones of real lives. And from that process, new possibilities began to emerge.
Just as beautiful as the conversations were the big yellow sheets filled with sticky notes, with bits of ideas and key words written out in all kinds of handwriting as ‘footprints’ of the evening — spread out now on my apartment floor.
“How can you bring your best self when your work isn’t valued?”
“Seeing through the eyes of others.”
“Define ‘pathway’ through time.”
“How can we have this conversation without mentioning money?”
“Be willing to leave the path.”
“Strategy or door? Choose the door!”
“Beauty expresses the soul of the city.”
“Passion and policy.”
“Having a ‘path’ at work is a luxury.”
“Joy doing work with those who enjoy doing work with you.”
When we all said goodbye that evening, it felt like we had only — and reluctantly — paused the energy.
My three takeaways? First, gather up a good set of questions and some great minds, and then trust the process. Better things will happen than you could have predicted. (Thanks, team!)
Second, I hope mayoral candidates will allow themselves the courage to enter into connections between work, self, and city — whether other peoples’ stories or their own. It can be a better route to transformative decisions than the seeming (and false) certainty of promises. How can you be productively vulnerable in your work? Can you see your own job as helping create a city that encourages people to grow in their work?
And third: We’ve only just begun.
This article originally appeared at WHYY NewsWork and is reproduced here with permission of Susan Richardson, Human at Work blogger.
Susan Richardson | Human at Work | firstname.lastname@example.org “Spirituality is embedded in our real-life bodily stuff,” is Susan’s basic (inelegant) take on theology. The Assistant Minister at Christ Church Philadelphia, where she loves working with all ages and stages of life, Susan is also adjunct faculty in world religions at the College of New Jersey and freelance editor/research for the Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton University. As second-career clergy, she’s always had a particular interest in how spirituality comes to work with us, one way or another. (Image courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou)
We seldom talk about the warrior spirit in our Courage & Renewal retreats. I haven’t been a warrior myself, although my father did hard combat service in the Pacific in 1944 and never spoke of it to his children. I only know it haunted him.
That’s why the story behind this new book caught my attention. In RESILIENCE, Navy SEAL Eric Greitens writes letters to a brother in arms who is struggling with PTSD and the aftermath of serving in Afghanistan.
His friend needs the courage to come back to life. The courage to create “the good life” for himself by reconnecting to meaning and purpose. And tapping into wisdom, including his own. He needs to find what to do with his suffering wrought by combat. He needs resilience.
The recent events in Baltimore and Nepal remind me that we all need resilience—for the challenges of everyday life and for the overwhelming times when it seems the whole world is sending prayers for resilience and strength.
I hope this excerpt offers some encouragement today:
“The Good Life” Takes Resilience
Math is a subject that allows for precision. If I ask you “What’s seven times seven?” you know the exact answer: forty-nine.
But what if I ask you “How do you deal with fear?”
Life—and the subject of resilience—rarely allows for perfect precision. Real life is messy. Attacking your fear can lead to courage, but there is no equation for courage, no recipe for courage. It gets mixed up with anger and anxiety, with love and panic.
This isn’t an excuse for sloppy thinking: the virtues have been the subject of rigorous, disciplined thought from before Aristotle to today. But when the question is “How do we live a resilient life?” we also have to be ready to accept ambiguity and uncertainty.
There are strategies for dealing with fear and pain. There are strategies for building a life rooted in purposeful work. There are strategies for building a home that is happy even when things are hard. But the strategies won’t reach into your life and resolve your fear or your pain. You have to live your answer.
And look, Walker, nobody’s ever going to hand you a prize for resilience. There is no certificate. No T-shirt. (And don’t even think about a tattoo.) There will be no line to mark the point in your life at which you “got” resilience.
With resilience, you and I are not in search of an achievement, but a way of being.
Remember all of this when you go to live your own answer. You demand a lot from yourself. In this case, you’re going to need to be patient, even kind to yourself.
You won’t be able to judge most of what you do by a standard of imperfect or perfect. Usually, our standard will simply be worse or better.
Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Posted by: Parker J. Palmer, Founder April 30, 2015
In respectful acknowledgement of the immense suffering that is happening in places like Baltimore, Maryland, and the nation of Nepal, as well as the immense suffering that continues around the globe without as much visibility, we would like to offer this writing by Parker J. Palmer on the topic of heartbreak, violence and hope. It also recently appeared at OnBeing.
Protests at the Baltimore Police Department following the death of Freddie Gray, April 25, 2015. wikimedia commons.
Rubble in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal, April 25, 2015. wikimedia commons.
A disciple asks the rebbe: “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.” —Hasidic tale
Heartbreak comes with the territory called being human. When love and trust fail us, when what once brought meaning goes dry, when a dream drifts out of reach, a devastating disease strikes, or someone precious to us dies, our hearts break and we suffer.
What can we do with our pain? How might we hold it and work with it? How do we turn the power of suffering toward new life? The way we answer those questions is critical because violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.
Violence is not limited to inflicting physical harm. We do violence every time we violate the sanctity of the human self — our own or another person’s.
Sometimes we try to numb the pain of suffering in ways that dishonor our souls. We turn to noise and frenzy, nonstop work, or substance abuse as anesthetics that only deepen our suffering. Sometimes we visit violence upon others, as if causing them pain would mitigate our own. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and contempt for the poor are among the cruel outcomes of this demented strategy.
Nations, too, answer suffering with violence. On September 11, 2001, more than three thousand Americans died from acts of terrorism. America needed to respond and plans for war were laid. Few were troubled by the fact that the country we eventually attacked had little or nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked us. We had suffered; we needed to do violence to someone, somewhere; and so we went to war, at tragic cost. A million Iraqis lost their lives, and another four million were driven into exile. Forty-five hundred Americans died in Iraq, and so many came home with grave wounds to body and mind that several thousand more have been victims of war via suicide.
Yes, violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. But we can ride the power of suffering toward new life — it happens all the time.
We all know people who’ve suffered the loss of the most important person in their lives. At first, they disappear into grief, certain that life will never again be worth living. But, through some sort of spiritual alchemy, they eventually emerge to find that their hearts have grown larger and more compassionate. They have developed a greater capacity to take in others’ sorrows and joys, not in spite of their loss but because of it.
Suffering breaks our hearts — but there are two quite different ways for the heart to break. There’s the brittle heart that breaks apart into a thousand shards, a heart that takes us down as it explodes and is sometimes thrown like a grenade at the source of its pain. Then there’s the supple heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, growing into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.
What can I do to make my tight heart more supple, the way a runner stretches to avoid injury? That’s a question I ask myself every day. With regular exercise, my heart is less likely to break apart into shards that may become shrapnel, and more likely to break open into largeness.
There are many ways to make the heart more supple, but all of them come down to this: Take it in, take it all in!
My heart is stretched every time I’m able to take in life’s little deaths without an anesthetic: a friendship gone sour, a mean-spirited critique of my work, failure at a task that was important to me. I can also exercise my heart by taking in life’s little joys: a small kindness from a stranger, the sound of a distant train reviving childhood memories, the infectious giggle of a two-year-old as I “hide” and then “leap out” from behind cupped hands. Taking all of it in — the good and the bad alike — is a form of exercise that slowly transforms my clenched fist of a heart into an open hand.
Does a nation-state have a heart that can become supple enough to respond to collective suffering without violence? I doubt it. But since I don’t know for sure — and never will if I don’t keep the question alive — I’m not going to yield to cynicism. There are enough real-world facts and possibilities to justify hope. (There is much more on this topic in my book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.)
Remember how people around the world stood in unity with us for a few weeks after September 11, 2001? “Today,” they said, “we, too, are Americans,” because they had known suffering at least as painful as ours. Suppose we’d been able to take in the global flood of compassion that came our way during those post-September 11 days. We might have been given the grace to consider the alternative to war many proposed at the time, including the late theologian and activist, William Sloane Coffin:
“We will respond, but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor. We refuse to ratchet up the cycle of violence that brings only ever more death, destruction and deprivation. What we will do is build coalitions with other nations. We will share intelligence, freeze assets, and engage in forceful extradition of terrorists if internationally sanctioned. [We will] do all in [our] power to see justice done, but by the force of law only, never the law of force.”
That proposal aimed at turning suffering toward new life. As a nation, we lacked the moral imagination and capacity of heart to respond to our suffering with anything other than massive violence. So today we are living into Coffin’s prophecy of “ever more death, destruction and deprivation.” We have traveled some distance, it seems to me, toward becoming “what we abhor.” Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.
But alternatives abound in our personal and political lives. Will we use them? It depends on our willingness to exercise our hearts so that when suffering strikes, they will break open to new life.
Lead by Mary Oliver
Here is a story to break your heart. Are you willing? This winter the loons came to our harbor and died, one by one, of nothing we could see. A friend told me of one on the shore that lifted its head and opened the elegant beak and cried out in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it, you know is a sacred thing, and for which, if you have not heard it, you had better hurry to where they still sing. And, believe me, tell no one just where that is. The next morning this loon, speckled and iridescent and with a plan to fly home to some hidden lake, was dead on the shore. I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.