To Instruct Myself Over and Over in Joy

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 9:52am
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To Instruct Myself Over and Over in Joy

"Every day," says Mary Oliver, "I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight."

For me, late one night, it was seeing a full moon through the latticework of winter-stripped trees. I don't know what it will be today. But I do know that keeping my eyes and ears open for something that will "kill me with delight" is — to quote Mary Oliver again — "to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation." There's always something, and it's a good way to live.

It requires no special talent or effort to look at our world and point out the things that numb us, or dumb us down, or depress us. In fact, it's a no-brainer! But becoming keenly and consistently aware of what's good, true, beautiful, and life-giving around us and within us demands a discipline: we must open our eyes, minds, and hearts. And we must keep them open.

The reward for that discipline is great: as we open up, we start to see beauty everywhere, not only in nature, but in human nature. There's a lot of bad news out there, but there's a lot of good news as well. Pass the word and help keep hope alive!

by Mary Oliver

Every Day
   I see or hear
         that more or less

kills me
   with delight,
      that leaves me
         like a needle

in the haystack
   of light.
      It is what I was born for—
         to look, to listen,

to lose myself
   inside this soft world—
      to instruct myself
         over and over

in joy,
   and acclamation.
      Nor am I talking
         about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
   the very extravagant—
      but of the ordinary,
         the common, the very drab

the daily presentations.
   Oh, good scholar,
      I say to myself,
         how can you help

but grow wise
   with such teachings
      as these—
         the untrimmable light

of the world,
   the ocean's shine,
      the prayers that are made
         out of grass?

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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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Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem. These lines resonate with me so deeply:

Every Day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for—
to look, to listen,

Wonderful - to find the exceptional in the ordinary does require extra attention and training one's self to 'notice'.

What a lovely reminder of the ordinary gifts of everyday life!
Having a grandchild has brought these very things into my awareness as well!

when my daughter was born I use to whisper to her " I love you more than life itself" and after my grandchildren were born I realized that there was a whole firmament of love that I did not know about.

Starting from the bottom always gives a strong base....


Thank you, Parker, for sharing these gentle reminders. It really is a choice on what to look for. I'm so thankful for you and Mary Oliver for pointing out the ordinary beauty that surrounds us every day rather than what's painful and hopeless.

Reminds me of this quote - sorry I don't know who said it...."Blessed are they who see beautiful thing in humble places where others see nothing."

I liked the quote so much I googled it and this is what I found. Thank-you for sharing it.

May we all continue to "grow wise with these teachings"... remembering what is at stake if we don't.

It's easy for me to find joy in the moon, the ocean, an expansive view of nature. What is more rare for me is to discover the joy I can feel when I am more mindful of connections being made between brothers and sisters. I get the impression that some of the work of the Center for Courage and Renewal is a focus on mindfulness of our connections with each other?

It's easy for me to find joy in the moon, the ocean, an expansive view of nature. What is more rare for me is to discover the joy I can feel when I am more mindful of connections being made between brothers and sisters. I get the impression that some of the work of the Center for Courage and Renewal is a focus on mindfulness of our connections with each other?


Why is this awareness so elusive? Why must it be a deliberate practice? Why...the easy question, indeed. My fingers on these computer keys: killing me with delight. :)

Mindful that with five feet of snow and more coming, the snow is pristine, reflects the sun on the days it peaks through the gray skies, gives time to pause and enjoy.
A roof over my head, food to sustain,heat to keep warm, the company of my love of more than 50 years enriches the hush that the snow brings to the days.
Grateful with joy!

Joy in the five feet of snow with more coming, a warm home, food to nourish, roof over head, icicles to watch grow and the company of my love. When the sun shines, glorious and when the gray skies quiet the air, tunnels to find a way through. Gratitude and compassion for those the storms have made life even more challenging.

What a beautiful reminder. It is a discipline, a daily practice, to seek out beauty and truth in the ordinary. Thanks for encouraging us to keep our eyes and hearts open.

I never cease to be amazed at confluences in life, when things come together in unexpected ways, casting light on each other, creating moments of true surprise. Like hearing the voice of my mother on a tape I'd thought was long lost; finding a forgotten letter in an archive; seeing the palimpsest of one drawing hidden beneath another. These moments make me feel as if I'm transported out of the everyday into something larger than myself, like discovering a fragment of shell from the depths of the ocean, a shard from an ancient civilization, a bit of antimatter from a star far, far away.

The arrival of this reflection was perfectly timed for me today. I had just mentioned to a friend this morning that I am being invited to gently renounce the temptation to engage and tether myself to distorted thoughts, choosing instead to allow joy to transform and awaken me from the inside out.

Dear Parker Palmer,thank you so very much once again!
What a delight and joy it is to read your instructions to yourself,just as our region waits for storm number 4 within 2 weeks!!!
Mary Oliver,s poem:MINDFUL is one of my favorite one,s.
I like to share 3 of my favorite quotes:

1.Fyodor Dostoevsky said:"Beauty will save the world!"

2.The fine art of Life is to make another soulvibrate with a song of joy."
by Edwin Leibfreed,from: The Song of the Soul.

3.Words by Salmon Rushdie:"Live on,for the earth gives forth wonders.
It may swallow your heart,but the wonders keep on coming.
You stand before them bare headed,shriven.
What is expected of you is attention."
With gratitude for all that is given.

My eyes blink and blind as I see sunlight shattered over frozen ice. And I pray.

I am reminded once again of these thoughts as well. And, while the author is unknown to me, I would like to share them.

Make the Ordinary Come Alive

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

All too often we can get swept away in the flash flood of despair and ugliness; after all, as you point out, it is everywhere around us and can easily suck the joy out of life. Thanks for the reminder that there is an equal amount of joy and beauty; it just speaks in a softer voice.

Glad someone sent this to me today. As Mary says, it does take discipline to look beyond and around all the bad news, to find at least one thing everyday that moves you in a peaceful and positive way. Thank you!

I do not know much about life, I'm only a college student. I think this poem, makes us think, about the reason we're here in the first place. Right? And because we read this, we're re-assured that life can work in mysterious ways, life can bring stuff to us, life can be bad but can be good. Simple though, I think we just think too hard about all this & we should just not, and just sit back and admire everything life has to offer us.

My friend and I saw snowflakes the other dat that appeared to sparkle. We both thought, "Am I the only one who noticed this?" When we shared this experience that "killed us with delight," we experienced the joy all over again. Thank you for the words that truly described how we felt!

I needed this gentle reminder

Today is my 68th birthday. What a wonderful gift. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Happy Birthday Scott Kimbel on your 68th birthday. Mary Oliver has more to say. Her words will decorate the cake, the room and your world. Best of wishes, Nancy S.