Five Questions for Crossing the Threshold

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 - 5:28am
Photo by ArTeTeTrA

Five Questions for Crossing the Threshold

This “New Year” thing is a curious fiction, isn’t it? The planet on which we’ve hitched a ride has been wheeling through space a lot longer than 2,014 years. And the hoopla we make at midnight on December 31st is a tad over the top for one more tick of the clock.

But this annual ritual allows us to imagine that maybe, just maybe, we're on the threshold of something new and better — and some of our imaginings might come true, depending on what we do. Here’s a small poem that’s large with wise guidance for threshold-crossing:

We look with uncertainty
by Anne Hillman

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.

I’m going to pass on making New Year’s resolutions this time around. Instead, I’ll take Rilke’s famous advice about “living the questions,” and carry into the New Year a few of the wonderings Hillman’s poem evokes in me:

• How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness?
• What is my next challenge in daring to be human?
• How can I open myself to the beauty of nature and human nature?
• Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
• What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?

We look with uncertainty to the year ahead. But if we wrap our lives around life-giving questions — and live our way into their answers a bit more every day — the better world we want and need is more likely to come into being.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2015 be a year of light and life for you and yours. And may we help make it so for others with whom we share this ride.

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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Contemplating these questions will carry me, I pray, into the "new" year and beyond. Thank you for the reminder to become new myself in the ways that matter--to enrich my life and especially the lives of others. Love and light.

So very true, and so exactly what I need right now to keep on my path. I saw this little expression recently and it's a great help. I'm trying to use it as a mantra:

"Change is Difficult, Not changing is Fatal"

Just want the message

I mistook the Hillman....and now see it is Anne and not James. Women have come into their own. Alleluia!

These are beautiful questions to carry and quite interesting how just "being open" is my answer to all of them. Happy New Year to you and Thank you!

"daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence."

I love those two lines. So often vulnerability is seen just as us showing our imperfections to the world, but that's only part of it. The greater challenge is in seeing others, bearing witness to all their beauty and imperfection. It's not just putting ourselves "out there", it's letting others "in here"...

Thank you for sharing that beautiful thought. I will vary THAT into my New Year!

Thank you for sharing that beautiful thought. I will carry THAT into my New Year!

I loved those two lines also and your reflection as well. Does extending the greater challenge of "others" include everything beyond humanity as well for you? For me humanity is just the beginning, but a very good beginning! Being vulnerable to the beauty of existence brings in all those questions of beauty/truth and existence/eternity or just plain being "alive". What a gift just to be here right now!


More and more as I grow older, I want to celebrate the mystery, the gives me peace. Thank you for this sendoff for a great new year!

Live, live your questions...until in some faroff day you may come upon an answer. Rilke, Hillman, Parker Palmer...and I have to add...Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Barbara Fiand, Paula D'Arcy. Oh, the wonders of the Riches...Happy Best Year..s~

Thank you Parker for sharing this lovely poem,and for posing the rich set of questions.Each present a voice to be listened to and savored often this next rotation around the sun.May you receive the light and love you so frequently offer others.

Well said Claudine! I echo your heartfelt sentiments and gratitude for wonderful and wise human beings like Mr. Palmer. His words instantly awaken in us an awareness of the beauty which we are able to create in our experiences, perceptions, relationships and actions. Thank you Mr. Palmer!

"Living with questions" is a beautiful way to re-frame uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and a whole host of habitual behaviors that feelings that hold us back. I aspire to live 2015 in the present, accessing my own inner knowing, as I continue to enjoy every moment!

Thank you Parker for this beautiful reflection. Yes, may this be a year of searching further into the life giving questions. Ah yes, "What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?"

just what I needed....thank you

Thank you for sharing this...I believe to truly grow, we must face new ground and explore it with wonder.

Very nice thoughts Mother!

Live in the now...

Ah! Your questions bring to mind the acceptance of being not 'only' human...
but to embrace the beauty and impermanence of this human condition and to behold its nature.

Duino Elegies
The Sonnets To Orpheus: XIX

Though the world keeps changing its form
as fast as a cloud, still
what is accomplished falls home
to the Primeval.

Over the change and the passing,
larger and freer,
soars your eternal song,
god with the lyre.

Never has grief been possesed,
never has love been learned,
and what removes us in death

is not revealed.
Only the song through the land
hallows and heals.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke : 106 / 125

The Sonnets To Orpheus: XIX

Though the world keeps changing its form
as fast as a cloud, still
what is accomplished falls home
to the Primeval.

Over the change and the passing,
larger and freer,
soars your eternal song,
god with the lyre.

Never has grief been possesed,
never has love been learned,
and what removes us in death

is not revealed.
Only the song through the land
hallows and heals.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Thank you for sharing these very juicy questions and the suggestion to live into them rather than resolving to do any particular thing... just what I needed right now.

this has changed my life

Thank you so much, Parker! And thank you Krista Tippett and all who make "On Being" possible.

Each new day is a personal challenge to me to expand my mind and my knowledge. To become a better person and try to help others. My time in this life is limited and I don't know how much I have left. I'm not religious but I feel that it's up to me to make the best of what I have and to help others. I'm not looking for any kind of reward. It's just a statement of how I want to spend my life.

You might enjoy Stephen Cope's "The Great Work of Your Life". I recommend it.

Dear Parker Palmer, a dear friend sent me this page today. I've read you for so many years and quoted you many times. Thank you for the depth of your inquiry and your wisdom. And for a way to honor the gift of living into the year that's emerging.

Dear Anne: How wonderful to hear from you, and to have a chance to thank you for your marvelous work. "We look with uncertainty..." is both beautiful and wise. It's a poem that I and others close to me return to time after time as we seek to re-set our inner compasses. The happiest of New Years to you and yours! With much gratitude and many blessings, Parker

A beautiful way to approach a new year. Thank you!

After something is nothing !! Existence is now not later!

How do you enjoy the journey if you feel you'll never stop long enough to smell the flowers or even be able to afford the flowers?

How do you not feel stalled when your friends have left you far behind in the life/success race?

It's not about making money, but money is about making or helping you afford to make a life.

Favor aliveness--a refreshed way of saying being interested in life! Thank you.

Dear Parker Palmer,Happy New Year to you and all you love!
A happy new morning indeed it is to have received the great gift of your wisdom!
Your choice of the poem by Anne Hillman will be a guide to me for sure.
In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke:
"And now,let us welcome the New Year,full of things that have never been!"
May I always choose the light,the life,and discover more and more :what does it realy mean to be human?in the days ahead. With gratitude for all! Thank you Parker.

I think this is a great way to start us on our way to living and loving more fully and freely.

Remember the past, but live for the future.

what a way to start the new year. these questions are about as critical as they can be and living with them will deeply enhance my life. Many thanks

I stopped and reflected on each question and I felt an internal guidance come alive. I will try to read these each day, to start my day with this prayer...

Thank you Mr. Parker... for your wise questions & insight that gives new thoughts on "living into the answers". What a wonderful way to begin a new year.

…I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

—from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Thank you Erica for this helpful contribution to the conversation. To me, living the question is--in some cases--having a thought seems like an answer caught frozen in a static concept, in need of animation . . . and holding that not-yet-answer up to God and just waiting . . . until the life comes into it.

Sit back as a spectator & let the drama of life unfold upon you.....that way you learn to 'let go' for the drama is but an illusion. that is the path of happiness, which is everlasting....our true nature.

Remembering Baudelaire on the 2nd. day of 2015:"Oh, memories,how you rise & soar,and hover there!/The eyes close:dizziness , in the moth-driven air,/seizes the drunken soul, and thrust it towards the verge-/ Where mistily all human miasmas float & merge- Flowers of evil/We have to face up to the uncertain with grit and refulgent determination to overcome"

Important for a happy re-new year.

Ah, To simply be, weather it is a new year a new week or this new moment - or possibly my last moment. To express precious infinity in this second.

Lovely and perfect as always. Happy New Year, Parker, and Trent, and Krista, and Courtney!

Many meditate on the new identity "in Christ", an ongoing "corporate life" of which we are but a part. I think this resonates with the questions.

We've all heard and said it, in some form, a gazillion times thus far in your life:

My body hurts
My emotions are all jumbled
My mind is racing…or…

My thinking is clear
My heart is full
My body is strong as an…

Such simple statements, such common expressions, and yet, how often has anyone asked the most obvious question…Who is it that is speaking? Who is the “my”?

If my body hurts then I have a body so I am not my body. If my emotions are all jumbled then I am not my emotions. If my mind is racing then I am not my mind; I have a mind…which is racing. So…Who Am I?

Learning the answer to this question is the KEY to transforming one’s life and in the transforming of one’s life, the World is transformed.

Simple? Yes! Easy? Not so much. Worth exploring? PRICELESS!

Good advice and suggestions......

The message is affirmation to what I have been pondering for the last several days.

I believe every new day is a blessing. It is an opportunity to question and embrace blessings, uncertainly, hope, and especially the grace of life.

Such a timely post! Thank you, Parker Palmer, for continuing to teach us about the importance of bringing humanity into our very human endeavor as educators.

I am helping facilitate a book club around The Courage to Teach for over 20 teachers and administrators this winter. As an administrator myself, I can think of a hundred other things we could be focused on right now. But I cannot think of a more important topic than discussing life through pursuing our questions. Thank you for this necessary reminder about what are priorities must be for our students and ourselves.

Take care,

Authentic, life affirming approach to life.

My work as a hospice chaplain has me opening our team meeting with a poem or thought or prayer. I will start our new year off by sharing your wonderful piece. It has not been the first time I have used your material nor do I suspect it will be the last. Thank you.

To Begin 2015

I started out this year with the resolution to learn to be brave in the face of uncertainty. This was a wonderful read and so much in line with my personal goals for this year Thank you for sharing it.

Thank you for this post.

Times Sqaure

Joe, a New York institution, patriarchal heir - the very last - of this small newsstand, for sixty-seven years, his life, holding-on to this edge of old Times Square, soul of The Great City. His young grandfather hawked The Herald here for half-a-penny, selling to bowler-capped, haberdashed pedestrians, city souls passing as he sang "Titanic Sinks" while one patron complained, “This youth's a charlatan...he's peddling scandalous, mendacity to the unwary".

Now his Kiosk's flickering fluorescent tubes cast shadows - multi-hued -upon the news of the day, while yellowing plastic light covers entrap insects, who disintegrate in stages, their mummified remains, undressing inside make shift sarcophagi in the passage back to dust. Then suddenly, a strong wind gust unexpectedly causes liberation sending ashes spiraling up, scattering to the four winds, toward the brightness, soaring above the lamp post past even wildest imaginations, farther than skyscrapers, and beyond the summit of human limitations.

But, Joe has difficulty seeing the disparate state of his inheritance. He's bent and hobbling, forced to stare at the ground, another consequence of attaining old age, his afflicted being kept alive by fear of the unknown, of death and by the memories...the day he fell in love at Ellen's, with Rosie, a waitress there, of the family he raised, when to him 7th avenue was just another neighborhood in a nation he knew as a Shining City on a Hill.

And he still scoffs when he imagines tourists exiting the subway at 42nd & Eighth, star-struck amateurs staring in awe, looking as if they just got off a Star Wars transport in the Emerald City, mouths gaping, brazenly unashamed of bad teeth, suckers begging to get their pockets picked, Broadway lights scanning, penetrating Deeply -- into eyes, igniting new life, unleashing strange senses, and wreaking havoc on red-stated certainty.

But everyone quietly knows the rumors are true: Joe's meaning can no longer be grasped by the strutting masses scuttling past his stand-pompous automatons, fakers focused dead-ahead, needlessly worrying someone might interrupt them on grandiose journeys to nowhere; or by the nouveau rich, field marshals of the never-ending army of cement that entombs him in his corner of the world. So, he doesn't acknowledge them either and doesn't bother looking up, not even at midnight, when the ball comes down. He quit looking in '94 and wanted to stop forty years ago, but was a pretender for his kids; he loved and pretended a lot for them. But now, they're gone: the Hamptons, Miami, Toronto ...too busy to visit dad, they say, but really, more like heretical progeny, inconsiderate trickle-down theorists, faithlessly unwilling to face the future.

And his faithful Rosie, his one and only; lifted from this heavy, three-dimensional burden five years ago but coming again in dreams, whispering, “you can't go home again" ... not to the Times Square they knew. All that's left are cheap Churchills smoked too far down, an ancient dog, Mitzy, barely standing herself, nearly blind, mostly Dalmatian and Lab, so he thinks, holding on for his sake.

Now, the prophets say, when he goes, the City's heart will be broken...but he - all of us - "one out of many", will return again to these hyper-electric, energized streets that bend history to its whim, the entire world, souls from all times, sharing this place in common, having passed through in one life or another.

Feel like I can only process one of these question for the year.

I think it is time to remember these words, "Arise and shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you" (Isaiah 60:1). I look forward to the journey where light and life will shine.

I've been waiting a long time for the course of events to turn around, and suddenly it feels like it is happening. We will see.

Thank you for these five questions. I am going to try to live with them and respond to the divine presence during the coming yea.

Sturdy truths, answers, do occur, having vitality in their relevance to recurring situations and in their openness to unending discovery of new meaning and value.
My next challenge is to re-enter the trans-intellectual, intuitive, spiritual flow as often as need be.
Through my body I am part of nature. Trusting all to the Creator, I open myself to the outdoors from before sunrise when I can already sense the earth's turning toward the new day, its axis pointing away from the sun, as it revolves along with the solar system, our galactic supercluster and so on, around the Great Attractor in a friendly universe.
I need to learn to love those who are close to me and similar to me in religion, habitually subordinating this or that obstacle to the primal wonder of our kinship in the universal family. And then learn to love those who are antagonistic, being part of the cosmic aikido that weaves clash into eventual harmony.
The new creation is my true and deeper self, my soul, under construction by the spirit of God within.
Parker, thank you for these inviting questions!

What creation wants to be born in me? For the first 50 years of my life I was in a trance (functioning "normally"). For the last 11 years I have been in a trance as well. The only difference is that now I know I am in the trance. This awareness has liberated my life. The biggest casualty of the non-aware trance was the creation wanting to be born in me. This is a regret and I plan now to intentionally make up for this loss. Creativity comes from the sacred within. I will give it space to expand and nuture it with a fierce protection. It is God emerging. Rare, fleeting and precious.

Thank you for the invitation to think, to pause, to listen…deeply.

Standing at the threshold; of the year, of the day, of each moment. W are always crossing over into something new, but do we allow ourselves to know it, to embrace it, to share it with the beingness on the other side of that moment?
Thanks for the important reminder, Parker, as always you take me to the threshold but give me the freedom to pass over it as I will...for better or not

this speaks to my work that explores the liminal space. I can find ways of LISTENING to the uncertainty, instead of filling in my answers from experience from the PAST see what the NOW is saying to me.

I also decided not to make any new year's resolutions this year! Love the 5 questions.

I've never considered the possibility before that each new day might hold the promise of something new and good taking shape with me. Something I can share, something that may help someone navigate a little easier through this often-crazy world.

I feel somehow like a new person, a stronger person. Wow, that's an amazing gift you have presented me, Mr. Palmer. Thank you.

I didn't know who you were before. Now I know I will never forget you.

Your post came to me via a Facebook post. It was wonderful and inspiring for me. In fact, I referenced it during my Sunday Inspiration at our on-denominational spiritual Center. Thank you.

Uncertainty used to be the word I used to describe that which made me very anxious because it meant not knowing what was coming. Today it is an opportunity I use to enlightenment. Today instead on running away from it, I embrace and accept because it is the means to go beyond the mind and connect with my true self

I would like all of us who this resonates with to meet and elect the next president!
On a more serious desire... I would like us ALL to convene next New Year's eve or around that date.