Begin Again: On Getting Unstuck

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 6:01am
Photo by Aleazzo

Begin Again: On Getting Unstuck

Last week, I watched Begin Again. The film (starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo) is a tale about love and music set on New York’s Lower East Side, a neighborhood where I sometimes hung out in the early 1960s — drawn, at age 22, to the artists, hipsters, and existentialists who populated the area.

I was in New York to study for the ministry at Union Theological Seminary. Sensing that my divinity gig might fall through, it seemed prudent to cultivate — how shall I say? — a philosophical fallback position. I guess I thought that drinking espresso and breathing the East Village air would make an existentialist of me!

I liked Begin Again for several reasons, not least that it gave me a good laugh to remember who I was fifty-plus years ago. But this isn’t a movie review or a mini-memoir. It’s a meditation on the film’s title and how those two words are helping me get “unstuck.”

I’ve been feeling stuck about many things, including how to respond to the world’s nonstop saga of suffering: the ongoing carnage in the Middle East, endless episodes of mass killings in the U.S. and around the world, the racism deep in the DNA of my native land, our collective blind eye to radical economic injustice and climate change, and the grotesque parade of political “leaders” who bloviate about God and prayer while doing squat about gun violence and other evils.

I’ve also been feeling stuck as a writer. Over the past 18 months, two books have fizzled out at my keyboard. Forgive me for adding an apparently trivial personal problem to my list of major social ills, but we all live at the intersection of our small worlds and the big one around us. If we want to serve others, we must attend to both. Since writing is one of my main ways of connecting with life at large, writer’s block is a vexing problem for me.

I have other ways of connecting, of course. I sit with folks who want to explore their problems or pursue their dreams. I lead renewal retreats for people in the serving professions. I’ve been assisting my granddaughter with a project on homelessness. I also help out at home as allowed, which means whenever there’s a task that does not involve food prep and/or breakable things.

Still, I’ve been feeling sidelined by my inability to get traction on a major writing project. Friends have advised me to think of this as a fallow period, a time to let the soil rest and renew before I try to grow a new crop. Well, I’ve had fallow times, and they felt life-giving. Being stuck has felt more like stagnation, and whether you’re 76 or 26, there’s no life in that.

The day after I watched Begin Again, the movie’s title came back to me in the form of guidance: “You need to begin again.” I don’t mean begin again as in a new book. I mean begin again as in what Buddhists call “beginner’s mind.”

Then I recalled a poem I found a few years ago that now reads as if it were written to help me find a way forward. Here’s Wendell Berry’s tribute to his old friend, the celebrated poet Hayden Carruth, who was in his eighties when Berry greeted him “at the beginning of a great career:”

To Hayden Carruth

Dear Hayden, when I read your book I was aching
in head, back, heart, and mind, and aching
with your aches added to my own, and yet for joy
I read on without stopping, made eager
by your true mastery, wit, sorrow, and joy,
each made true by the others. My reading done,
I swear I am feeling better. Here in Port Royal
I take off my hat to you up there in Munnsville
in your great dignity of being necessary. I swear
it appears to me you’re one of the rare fellows
who may finally amount to something. What shall
I say? I greet you at the beginning of a great career?
No. I greet you at the beginning, for we are
either beginning or we are dead. And let us have
no careers, lest one day we be found dead in them.
I greet you at the beginning that you have made
authentically in your art, again and again.

A man stands on a ledge in Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, India

(Aleazzo / FlickrSome rights reserved.)

To get unstuck, I must let go of my “career” as an established writer and begin again as a novice. In truth, I am a novice in every new moment of the day, each of which presents possibilities unknown and untried. Why not embrace that fact and see what happens? As Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said:

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.”

In practical terms, what does it mean to begin again? I was afraid you’d ask. The truth is, I’m clueless, which may prove, mirable dictu, that I’m actually practicing beginner’s mind. If I’d waited for an answer, I wouldn’t have written this little piece — and writing it may help me get unstuck as a person, as a writer, as a citizen of the world. Simply pecking away at it over the past few days has already taken me to a place that feels less stagnant and more alive. At very least, I’ve been reminded that such a place exists.

Of course, nothing I eventually write or do will solve those urgent problems I named. But since writing is one of my main ways of engaging the world, whatever I write will help me get reconnected and might even move me toward other ways of being useful.

I doubt that I’m the only one who has been feeling stuck. If you’re another, let’s remind each other that the planet cries for all of us to contribute our personal gifts — whatever they may be — to the common good. Let’s make a pact of mutual support to begin again with beginner’s mind and with hope.

A woman walks along the Levada do Caniçal in Portugal.

(Aleazzo / FlickrSome rights reserved.)

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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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The beginners' mind is the mission statement of my entire blog. I've been feeling stuck for a long while too, and I've been writing to find a way to become unstuck for the past six months.

Suzuki's quote has been a great help to me, to remind me to come back to the start and assume that there is still more to go, that there are still possibilities left unexplored.

I wish you well, best of luck to come out of this the other side stronger and wiser.

Thank you, this is just what I needed, since I've had trouble re-starting my book project. I occasionally remember the phrase "begin again," but not always, and your essay has added dimensions to this I hadn't thought of before. Wendell's poem is wonderful, especially "we are either beginning or we are dead." I want to read more by him.

Thank you for this beautiful reminder to try and stay in the beginners mind. Truly it is there, that all the best ideas come. Praying we all find the peace we seek.

Thank you.

Yes, we are in a new when and where never lived before it feels like going back and will this new world, new way of love and compassion ever come our? I think I see that until we finally learn to love and receive the other who is not other, this pain and struggle is what it takes...I send you love and energy...the baby will get born...your new work and our new world...

Really important and meaningful as always from Mr. Palmer. What he discusses is so important, particularly for my generation who sometimes think we know everything. It also brought to mind TS Eliot's keen insight in "Little Gidding" that

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. "

Sitting here on my 52nd birthday with a cup of coffee and your words is truly a wonderful gift this morning ! I ,too, have felt stuck, old, and like life is passing me by. Twenty years ago, I put aside my career to raise my family. Now that the chicks have almost flown the nest, I , too, have been thinking about purpose and how to reboot my life. I was certainly blessed to have been given the opportunity to raise my kids and watch their development everyday, but my heart wanted more for me. At my lowest point this year, an opportunity arose to do something totally different and new, singing! It is something I loved early on in life,but never pursued. I feel excited and scared at my new beginnings, just like my 20 year daughter does about her graduating college and the uncertainty in knowing where your life will take you. I am a total newbie at this singing gig, but it's exhilarating and joyous and fills me with hope. It makes me feel alive again! Thank you, Parker.

May we begin again each new day....a perfect practice, especially now.

Hello Parker. Your words are comfort to those of us out here that feel stuck and immobilized by our successes and "careers." It helps to know I am not alone in this feeling of stagnation even though I would never wish these feelings on another person. I join you in your "pact of mutual support to begin again with beginner’s mind and with hope." "I greet you at the beginning that you have made authentically in your art, again and again" and vow to USE my gifts that reveal the world to me in the hope they will "help me get reconnected and might even move me toward other ways of being useful." You help reveal that my passion lies underneath the outward manifestations I have made of it (rocks, grapes, fermented foods). I believe I may have mistaken the media of my art as the passion itself. The passion is the observing (with all senses and any tools I can access), the noticing, the connection of thoughts, the new thoughts revealed, and the new knowing. This is why I was drawn to science. This is "the buzz" I get from life. Folks like you remind me that it can be had any time with any media and may actually be best explored through uncertain senses in new beginnings using new media. Thank you!

Thank you for this piece ~ inspiring me to share our Irish poet Brendan Kennelly's poem Begin with you.


Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

~ Brendan Kennelly

…and thank you Anne for complementing Parkers offering with this poem.

Lovely...the last line especially-"'...insists that we forever begin."

This poem, along with Parker Palmer's meditation, gives me hope and inspiration. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you as always for sharing your process so beautifully and vulnerably. My sense is it is so true about many of us feeling stuck with the turmoil and real harm to fellow life travelers we keep witnessing be it life threatening or soul threatening. I also can identify with your smaller story as I keep putting one foot in front of the other in a time of transition on so many levels not seeing the shore ahead, in fact sometimes no longer being able to even imagine it's contours. Thanks for stirring up in me a feeling that I'm not alone and can experience peace and connection to some joy by merely shifting my gaze.
Blessed Be,

Oh Parker..... I'm a Sinsinnawa 2000 CTT participant, and once again you've thrown me a lifeline. I really really needed this piece today! I too am stuck, artistically, and due to a recent surgery am stuck physically, too. With too much time to follow the insanity that is current events right now. Trying to think of my heart as cracked open and not broken. Do you know of any groups bringing Muslims and non- together in the Madison area? I'm sad to say that I don't know any Muslims.

So glad I happened across this article. At the age of 86, my God given talent of writing came alive again. I had toyed with writing my entire life but never quite got around to doing anything more than writing for straight A's in high school and college, then stories for children and grandchildren. By the age of 80. I just decided to die. Seems I had accomplished so little except to find new joints to ache and more trips to the doctor. The day I broke a hip was a new beginning. Former aches and pains were nothing compared to that. Rolling my feet on balls in rehab gave me time to think. Walking again without assistance was a miracle, and it was now time to begin over. Never did I ever experience greater joy than that of writing my first novel, The Silver Flask. It has been published and printed, but mostly I give copies to family and friends. My pocket book won't handle the cost of advertising it, and I'm not sure that was my purpose in writing. The joy it brought me in creating it, and the joy my supporters get in reading it may been the real reason God gave me that talent. Today one of the readers gave it a "10" and hoped I'd write a sequel. Not a sequel, but the next book is about half finished. Well, there may be another reason....My Christmas list is simple...everyone gets an autographed copy. With the intention of two more books, Christmas may mean Xerox copies but they are on their way.

I hope others are as inspired by your article as is this novice author.

Thank you, Parker.

You wrote, "Of course, nothing I eventually write
or do will solve those urgent problems I named."

How do you know this? Are you certain?

With you, beginning again, every day.

Thanks. It is never too late to begin again, or begin for the first time, and think in new ways to discern and share our gifts and talents. The world certainly needs more people who take their life experience and imbue it with a beginner's mind.

I've been in the same stuck place for months and months now with my artwork. I recently decided that the best way to move forward is to sort of step back and begin again. I have a fine arts degree, so I don't need the college credits, but I am planning to go and take a drawing course to help me move forward and expand my art experience and career. I can hardly wait to begin again!

Thank you Parker. For me "getting stuck" is brought on by fear, whatever the source. If I can lean in just enough to my fear only enough not to be overwhelmed, then I can move into my favorite Spot of luminal space, where I allow myself to be held, be fed by all that I cannot do.

The idea is never to feel stuck. We may not know what to do, say, or think right away in each and every situation, but do not go to feeling stuck. Stuckness brings us to no gain.

The only way to not feel stuck is to not get wound up in something to start. Everything is either an end or a beginning. We are never "there." In fact, being "there" is an illusion. Being a writer, a mother, a this or a that is not who we are.

When we are in the "I'm there" dream, feeling stuck is a wakeup call. We're not stuck. The feeling of stuck means we are not using our total self, our identity, so get with who we are and use it!

Our identity keeps us in motion - from one beginning to another, from one end to another, and everything in between. Note nothing says it's easy. It's big time difficult?

So why do it? Because we don't want to be stuck do we (or do we?) How can we know our whole identity and access it? I think the answer is to have a foundation, keep our backbone, and don't back away just because something is uncomfortable. Wonder. Explore. Take on the hard questions. Most of all, do something. And here's the corker: Don't do everything.

We must fulfill our own purpose and do what's fitting in our portion of the universe. How do we do this? Keep living, keep doing, and do it anyway. Get in hot water? Don't run away. Look at our assumptions. Face the situation and people modestly. Recognize, admit. We'll increase in agility, resourcefulness, and resilience, each being one antidote to being stuck.

Are we game? Are we up for it? It sounds good, but I don't see it very often.

Parker -

I believe that the words I have to offer were already offered by Wendell Berry in your piece.

I'll modify them, ever so slightly, in homage to him and to you...

Here in Boulder
I take off my hat to you, wherever you may be
in your great dignity of being necessary...I swear
it appears to me you’re one of the rare fellows
who may finally amount to something.

Great article.

In beginner's mind,

Jerome Stone

It's time to begin again for me. I can't continue locked in secure rooms connected to secure networks, helping the nation's military contractors "secure" us all for profit. Truth is, there's a whole lot of guessing, documenting, duct tape, finding, losing, finding again, filing in triplicate, and burying in the sand going on behind the scenes.

I think the hardest part of being a writer, a painter, a dancer (maybe a business mogul or mathematician? I certainly wouldn't know) is believing that whatever you have to offer is enough. Of course it isn't. And it is. You know what I'm saying?

If it's any consolation, the writing you have been doing here over the past several months has led me out of some truly dense wilderness in my own writing life. You're my trail guide, so keep going ... maybe you know the way better than you think you do. That sounds patronizing, but I mean it in the most humble, grateful, truly admiring terms.

All the best to you, Parker Palmer ... your willingness to say you're a little bit lost makes me feel braver. I bet I'm not the only one.

Marta Drew

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.”

May I forever have the heart of a beginner.....

I feel like today's tragic, challenging and difficult headlines, and all that we are experiencing in our world somehow does bring a big halt to my life. How can I be a better person? How can I heal the world? Am I barking up the wrong tree, and is it a path to refresh and renew that which is already beautiful, of service, light in my life? Thanks for your reflection. They are similar to what I've been feeling these days...

If the phrase had not been so badly co-opted as a plumb line for whether one is among the Elect or an Other, an Outsider, I'd say that what you were talking about was being Born Again. I've never thought of the term as an adjunct, if not a synonym for, beginner's mind, but there does seem a natural connection. A newborn has not arrived, in the sense of being enlightened, but has true beginner's mind: literally everything is new to them. I like the contrast between the expert and the beginner. I want to have arrived, and to be seen as having arrived. But what is gnawing at me is that maybe that isn't what life, or growing older and wiser, is. Maybe it's all about always being off-balance, seeing the new in the long-familiar, finding wonder again in what has become routine.

Thanks for the food for thought. I was hungry, and you fed me. :-)

A really good read... in a league with a great cup of coffee, a perfect piece of chocolate and that feeling one gets when the light bulb turns on in your mind... Thanks

There's a profound concept in Judaism called "teshuvah" which means "to turn, return." The sages say that "teshuvah" was created before the creation of the world :) which I think is so beautiful - because it means that built in to our world is the ability to turn around, to come back, to begin again. We often talk about "teshuvah" at the high holy day period in the context of assessing our life, correcting mistakes, apologizing to others. However, it's a bigger concept even than that. The moment that we become aware that we have strayed, or feel lost and become conscious, is the moment we have begun to turn. I so love your writing and I look forward to the new growth that will soon emerge from your "beginning again."

Transformation is a process of death and new life simultaneously. As we move from one state to the next we have to die and be reborn at the same time. As we focus on our rebirth we find it impossible to focus on what is dying in us at the same time so we are faced with what seems to be a choice. I am a mother and found that as my son fed on my body so that his new life formed from what my life could give him; the milk from my breast flowed best when I entered what I called the state of no think. Its a kind of being in the moment state where death and life swirled in an intimate dance. Life was ultimately the victor and what seemed to be death was merely the moment of giving away life in faith, hope and love for what was to become new life. This is the mystery of motherhood and fatherhood. The father knows this moment as he gloriously sheds his seed in naked ecstasy. Full of hope and exquisite joy the fathers member dies a little death. Death where is thy sting when new and everlasting life is the end of all transformation.

Thanks for sharing your vulnerabilities Parker.... it makes all of us feel so "human". Your words are already true to the mark and I appreciate the artist and your art.

As I sit here reading about beginning again, my husband and I (both 72 years old) are moving to the Seattle area to be near children and grandchildren. The beginning again starts by parting with 19 years of household goods, most of which we never knew we owned. We still do not have a place to call home there, and yet, I feel strangely at peace. A part of my heart dances with joy over such uncertainty. I have not written a word on my third novel for two months. I've been preoccupied with both the inner and outer worlds, which remain in flux. Your post reminded me of Elton Trueblood's poem he wrote upon the death of his son:

"What if we still ride on, we two
with life forever old, yet new.
Changed not in kind, but in degree;
the instant made eternity."

Maybe beginning again is just a change in degree. All the best. Rebecca

Thank you Parker. I'm in a career at age 48 and I have so much more to offer the world than what I do in it. At the very least, this has given me a needed sun break in an otherwise cloudy, somewhat rainy part of my life in Oregon.

My wife and I used to be among the most active people in our Pasadena, CA community, organizing for justice and peace work. Here in Oregon, we have yet to get any traction, both consumed by our careers here.

I'll show this to Maddie and I hope it allows us to take steps to begin something new. We need to.

I think human consciousness is at a the moment before the pendulum begins to swing back in the other direction. It's a moment of emptiness: what was manifest is no longer and what is coming is not yet manifest. It shows up in each of us who are sensitive enough to feel it, in different forms. For me, it is a time of not needing anything, not needing to do anything or be anything...and being ok with that. I don't know what will manifest. I trust.

It’s funny how we may think of similar things in different words, different ways. I don’t recall having the thought ‘I’m stuck’ but I do have thoughts like ‘OK, I’m not getting anywhere’, ‘I’m just repeating myself’, ‘Why do I seem to be experiencing the same kind of think over and over again?’, ‘Why am I not where I really want to be?’ All these kinds of thoughts are, I think, about ‘being stuck’, not feeling the aliveness and re-fresh-ing flow of Life. Sometimes it feels like treading water, doing, doing and doing more but not getting anywhere.

So, why don’t I just not do for a while? See what that feels like. I mean, really attend to that ‘not doing’, be in it fully, let it reach into every part of my being. And it does. Slowly the aliveness of the world seeps into me as I expand more and more to hold all in awareness – voices of people, birds, traffic, my heartbeat, breathing, the rain, creaking sounds of hot wooden palings expanding or contracting as the temperature changes, sensations inside my body, on its surface, thoughts, feelings and images that drive through, some staying longer if I engage instead of simply noticing. I stay here for a while marveling at each event, each happening, each phenomenon. It feels new. Familiar yet new. And then, a realization:

If I’m not where I want to be, if I’m not doing what I think I ought to be doing or would rather be doing, it’s because I’ve imposed the constricted schedules that I have drawn up for myself and the world on eternity. I expect eternity to bend and mold itself to my timelines. I expect Infinite Intelligence to limit itself to my demands and expectations. Whoa!

Thanks for being a meeting ground for all of us who have felt 'stuck' or who are feeling it Parker. Months and years from now, when we might have shifted to a different state, someone else might stumble here and be as consoled and comforted as we have been :)

Beautiful - just what I needed to read. I am also stuck. I am also a writer. I also feel overwhelmed by all that is going on in the larger world. Thank you.

Beautiful words, wonderful comments, important topic.
I wonder if we are actually stuck or whether we are simply afraid to leave the space we are in. I love L.P. Hartley's words "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

So good to read this. Hard to imagine that you too feel 'stuck' and so pleased you are telling us. I have not wanted to really 'do' anything for some time, days I think, although I can do all the little things, like reading and responding to emails and doing the work I have committed to.
But creative writing, revising an article that was due to the editor months Submitting new proposals... no.
Looking out the window at the sky and clouds, reading about new things going on in the world, just sitting... yes.
Is this giving space ofr the new to emerge or just tiredness, fatigue with the way things are going in life, fatigue with having done so many of this things I wanted to do (writing books / becoming a Feldenkrais teacher / helping graduate students create new careers).
What now do I want to do? The world and so many beings cry out, in need of help, but their cries and my listening do not meet, the key does not fit the lock.
The question remains, and I try to sit patiently and wait for the unknown to emerge and take shape.

As a yoga teacher, and human, the decision to awake every morning as a "new-born" eager to experience a new day unlike any other gives me energy and enthusiasm. Some days more than others ... as yes, we are always beginning again and will do so when we leave this life. p.s. love that movie too :-)

i can only do a fewthings at my age of 66 that can affect change. I vote, I pay taxes, and I continue to encourage my friends and former students to support progressive change.
The Millenials are our future and I believe the ones who are educated will make a better world. They have many tools to relate and pull this world together and not further apart as it seems it is going.
I have great confidence they will do this after so many over the age of about 50 and older are dead and gone. I wished I could see the world then

Thank you dearly for reflecting on an issue so common and deeply puzzling in my life. The last paragraph that you wrote carried a liberating message for me. Oftentimes I find myself spinning out of control spiritually, mentally and emotionally by attempting to take on the world's glaring issues by myself. The idea that all people have gifts that can, and should be contributed to the whole of humanity, and that this is how healing and unity come about, was incredibly freeing for me to read. Thank you for your honesty and encouragement.

Thank you for writing, and sharing this. I am going to print it out and carry it around and re-read it a few times. I am in a period of struggle right now. Having recently finished my Masters degree (as a mature student) and lifting up my head to realize I have been unemployed for a decade I am trying to figure out what to do next. My partner has recently launched himself on a new career and being supportive of him is all well and good but in many ways it is just a form of hiding from myself.

Inspiring post. I'm in sympathy with your attitude, we are all beginners, all the time, because to be truly alive we must
learn everything over and over again. I will seek out your pots as they're a help to me just now.

I'm aging, and my husband has Alzheimer's disease so I have to, and he has to, 'begin again' in many ways.

We should all aim to be useful, but it's a relatively small group of us who go on to become necessary. Parker, your writings have become a useful and necessary source of comfort and guidance for me in recent years... my sincere thanks for that.

btw... As bad as things are in the world, I have to keep reminding myself (quite often in fact) that the ugliness of the past still exceeds the ugliness of the present. We keep on keeping on... beginning again... making slow progress over very persistent obstacles. May our storytellers never stop reminding us of where we've been... a most necessary vocation.

So beautiful. I cried.

Dear Parker Palmer,
I am always so moved and inspired by your writings and I thank you deeply once again.
This time so,I feel your sharing was sent my way ,I needed to hear you well this time it all brought so much inspiration,support
and all brought forth many thoughts.

I do hope by now you also are feeling less stuck,better not stuck at all.
We all need to hear your voice in thoughts you put to words ,no matter what you yourself are experiencing.
I am so moved by your deep honesty.
We all are called to share our own gifts for the common good.
Especially, I feel,since so much suffering now is all around us near and far,we are called to be wounded healers
for each other.
Thank you Parker for inviting us to make a pact of mutual support to begin again with beginners mind and with hope.
I am such a novice regarding writing .
Having written Journals for many decades,completing Nr.47 with the closing of this year,and only NOW during this Advent
want to be faithful to what I now am ready to do this winter,write on paper about a great and deep transformation in my life,
as I was introduced to Jean Vanier,s L,Arche communities 30 years ago.
It feels like a birthing,
thanks be to God and to the people who helped form me over many years.
I have learned so much from you through your writings!
Be well,Parker ,in all you live.
with so much gratitude.

I have recently left a job as senior minister after being here 20 years under some stress and confusion. For several months I have felt stuck, unsure of what to do next, bound by the deep fear that I will never again have anything to offer to others or even myself. I resonate with the Berry poem - that if we are not beginning again we are dead. I continue to choose not to be dead. Thanks for your encouragement in this article.

That's a pact I'm honored to make with you, Parker. Thank you from another traveler.

I loved reading this. I am an Early Childhood Educator. I have been for many years and am beginning to think of my next passage. I am excited. I feel like my age has given me the courage, to say, "I don't know." It has been a gift. I couldn't do that 30 years ago, when I was a new teacher. I felt as if I had to know everything. Now I am in awe of all that I don't know and I am blessed to have the opportunity to learn and be on this path and experience all the magical moments.

Thank you for reminding me of the freedom and creativity available when approaching life with a beginner's mind. So often I find myself wanting to "nail down" answers or resolve something or complete something once and for all whatever that is supposed to mean. That way of living seems to lead to closed doors with little room for surprise, delight, and gratitude for the evolution of this precious life.

Just what I needed to read. Thank you.

Dear Parker

Your column speaks to me so personally.
After an end to a relationship of great love in 2013, I have been stuck. Deeply stuck.

I find travel gets me unstuck.

I am profoundly in awe at the power of intention and of the inner spirit to awaken something within and about one when one sets one's course, and shares honestly from the heart.

I had thought to travel to the Eastern Cape, South Africa to Bulunga Lodge, and Bulunga Incubator as a fresh start to my new year to awaken my sense of life's purpose. I have in mind to offer a 6 session inspirational vocation workshop offered in partnership with local unemployed youth.

And, then I discovered your own contribution on stuck-ness to the "on Being" Blog. It was welcome and timely.

Your searching, and your books inspire me completely, and give me hope.

My support and invitation to you is to travel to a new setting:
Travel out of winter into Summer, and escape the hibernation feeling of the last season in the year in the northern hemisphere. Head south to

I been exploring ways to be more present in the needs of the world around me, and be fulfilled doing just that.
Would you be part of the creation of an innovative, explorative mentoring project at Bulunga Lodge, Transkei.

I have explored with Bulunga Lodge to create the opportunity between 5th to 19th January, 2016. Flights are available from Port Elizabeth, East London (which has an incredible elephant sanctuary). I have a 4x4 vehicle and would probably drive down from Johannesburg.

So please consider this an invitation to travel south with your wisdom and toolbox of experience, Parker Palmer.

I have sent out an invitation to Drew Lindsay, a remarkable wise soul and artist to offer his Biodanza, transformational dance and movement sessions daily. The workshop would run for 6 days with a day or rest, inspiration, discovery, immersion into books, and nature, writing, in between, with some breathing space either side also.

I would love a collaboration to create and to run this - and hence my note to you today. I will offer a 6 session programme called More to Life programme's People on Purpose workshop but I am eager to draw in resources as needed.. I am a former journalist, youth mentor, trauma counsellor, community facilittor, who has been stuck, and thought therefore to start somewhere beautiful...surrounded by young adults, the future.

I have in mind a beginning, to launch into the new year 2016 with some sea air and generosity in my sails. I invite you to do the same.

And I would absolutely love to have you present in this workshop, please, if appropriate to your searching and enthusiasm for a life well lived. I trust the setting will inspire your new book in remarkable ways. I would also love to have ALL your books present at the volunteer workshop which will be set in a heavenly setting. Young local people could delve into your books and engage in discussion around them also as they discover their resources, and resourcefulness.

I thought to express this workshop out onto the crowdfunding realm. The community based and community owned development project has a wish list of its own on the website for some few things they conceive will help in 2016.

Please come join us - bring also your notebook, and your "book in progress", pens, and your family, or come alone.

Come to one of the most beautiful places in South Africa, a raw wilderness immersed in community, and be accommodated in celebration of an African natural wonderland. There is a contexts of the Transkei being threatened inland by fracking, and other threats to our ancient, underground water systems. As environmental awareness is key to our global consciousness "edge' at this time after conclusion of COP21, what a way to grapple with these questions, perhaps, and in presence of old, traditional values near Mandela's birthplace, and a new generation of potential leaders. In America, also I know Obama, and cities has challenged educators to find ways to inspire youth, and be inspired by youth also.

You could even extend your stay to embrace a writing retreat. I may be able to draw also from your books a mentoring and workshop process to use in wider contexts everywhere.

I write to you from another continent to thank you for living a meaningful, worthy life.

This kind of energy is critical to our world, and especially valuable in Africa at this time when young people, and old, are questioning their life purposefulness.

Thank you Palmer.

There is a way to meet some of those urgent global problems - the answer lies already in your writing.

How to bring your works to life...

Meet me in The Transkei, Eastern Cape, Transkei, in January with an open blank page, and a good heart, and a summer's glow.


Travel, nature, generosity, new contexts, an open page and a good heart invaluable to getting unstuck.

Thanks for this wonderful reflection. Beginning again is so appropriate to becoming unstuck and I really resonated with your thoughts.

The "getting unstuck" feeling described about issues in the world and each person in their "micro" world is realizing we are stuck. Which reminds me of my "busyness" in which I am stuck because of commitments I "chose" and need now to fulfill. But being "unstuck" is my new motivation as I move through this next year and make more timely management of my days and priorities. I believe the Lord is working His behind-the-scenes movements of inertia to His refreshing Spirit to fulfill where each one of us need to be engaged in life at the beginning of each day. Lamentations 3:22-24 "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'" Age 69

Thank you for this brave and heartfelt piece. I, too, communicate through words, and recent events have left me "wordless." This last weekend, I spent three days on a silent retreat in order to regain my words. While it seems odd to look for my words in silence, I did, in fact, regain them; I also realized that I was not wordless ---- I was simply, like so many of us, in utter shock at the current events that we are witnessing before us. I believe that we are all, to one degree or another, being traumatized by the rage, the violence, the injustice, the racism, the xenophobia that we're witnessing, and it is rendering us speechless and gasping for air. I asked one of my retreat leaders, the great Sharon Salzberg, about this --- about dealing with this level of emotional and physical violence and trauma when one is not, say a humanitarian aid worker, but an ordinary citizen. Her response: "Start small. Even small helps." By the end of the retreat, I regained my words. I thank you for yours, as always. Peace and good wishes.

Thank you. I appreciate the notion of "beginner's mind". In my case, it helps me to recommit myself to what I see is my mission in the world. This mission is carried out within my career, but it is not my career. I am a teacher, this is my career, but my mission springs from the center of who I am ... it is larger than my career... these thoughts are helping me to get re-energized, re-focused, thank you!

Thank you, Wendell; I SO needed this!

Parker - until I read this, I've believed that, because of my age (77), beginning again was not really an option. But now I wonder. What would I begin again if I were to begin again? Still pondering, but thanks for the inspiration to do the inner work your question has provoked!

Dear Parker, From sitting in a writer's seat poetry mainly), I thank you for your honest bearing up and reflections on "getting unstuck". It was mighty helpful to be reminded of S. Suzuki's potent words and to receive the gift of Wendell Berry's "note" to Hayden Carruth. He, Hayden, is one of the few poets who wrote a letter to me early on in my writing life to offer a word of encouragement. I've read and appreciated many of Wendell's essays and poems also. How special all these life lines weaving together in your few days of picking away. I feel heart-warmed to see and know this bigger picture. Thank you. Kathy Spivey

Exactly what I needed. Thank you.

Thank you - wonderful piece. As I ruminate in the rain today, your writing helped me remember to begin anew.

I needed to hear this!
Thank you!

I promise to engage with the pact to practice beginner's mind and be open to it's possibilities!

I just wanted to say thank you for this. At 49 with an office life and having made the choice to place my passion for writing on hold for family and children, I have been struggling with feeling stuck lately. It has caused some very dark days for me. Lately, I've been meditating on it and finding the knots, the kinks, the issues. Things have been bubbling up and I have started to receive answers. In a wonderful, magical turn of events I found this article. To be more clear, I don't remember how I found it. It was just there on one of my tabs to be read. I'm sure I clicked on a Twitter link or something to get it there but I could not find it's origins. Your words and wisdom have been inspiring and very much like the key to a lock which I 've been tumbling and rolling around in my hands. Indeed, Beginner's Mind. It's what I needed to hear. Thank you and thank you to the other commenters as well with their insight and sharing. It's heartwarming that I am not alone in this.

Thanks for the words, Parker. I'm 20 and kinda stuck, but you inspire me.

Thank you for your reminder and support. I've been reading your articles and listening to your interviews these past few years, since I also 'discovered' onBeing lol. Your voice and writing/thinking are thought provoking and your life experience calming. I had written a comment once, recently, for a suggestion of topic that's not covered much in this program. Maybe I ask you within this subject of your article regarding us to remind ourselves to begin a beginner in many aspects of life, esp the one/s we happen to feel stuck. What about in the context of marriage? Feeling stuck in this coupling? In communication? (after all this is #1 reason for divorce) in anticipated interactions that are sources of disagreement, dissatisfaction,...discontent. How would you unstuck this situation? How would you think and act like beginners again? What would help in this situation where it is obvious that there is an underlying love and goodness in the people who are involved, but old habits old ways...are in the way of refreshing relationship. I am not going to explain too much too long because I think you understand and many of us are going through this in our lives. It is our choice to continue the dysfunction per se...and contribute to this misery. What I will mention is that I am in my 12th yr of marriage and am in my early 40's (I remember reading/ hearing you re:your first crisis of depression in your 40's). Am concerned. Am stuck. Am at a lost. Please share your experience, your thoughts and maybe advice. Pls remind me how to begin again...I thank you profoundly for your presence, expertise and support.

In solidarity,

Sitting in my brothers home in Palm Springs california. My daughter just began private school. Thinking of all my should've could've and would've s. Trying so hard to move on and get past all my mistakes. Life lessons at the age of 50...oops today l am 51. Sounds so much like an excuse to me. How to move to let all of this self hatred and feeling less than go.

I too have been stuck. Reading this reminded me to begin again from the beginner's mind. Welcome the flow.

WOW. I also am being a novice again. I was a 5-star co-dependent, and now I am trying to "stay on my side of the street". It is hard to detach. I am re-reading "Addiction and Grace", by Gerald May MD, and finding it superbly helpful again, about what it is to be attached, and that the fine gift in detaching is grace and freedom. Painful, but worth it. THANKS for this reflection.