Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer

The other night I watched Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man. It's a documentary about this poet-singer-songwriter's life and work that interweaves clips of Cohen reflecting on his life with great performances by a variety of musicians who've been influenced by his work. I've seen it three times, and that night, as always, I was moved by almost every song. This time around, the song "Anthem" spoke to me with special power:

If I didn't have the idea of "holding paradox" to help me understand myself and the world around me, I'd be more lost than I am! For me, holding paradox means thinking about some (but not all) things as "both-ands" instead of "either-ors."

Each week I write a weekly column trying to capture and replay a tiny bit of the incredible conversations and efforts taking place behind the scenes at On Being. Sometimes it's a listener's response on our Facebook page or a gorgeous photo on Instagram, but it's often intriguing. If you'd like to receive my column in your email inbox, subscribe to our weekly newsletter!

"Why Should I Ever Be Sad" came to me a few months when I was hiking the Aspen Vista Trail not far from Santa Fe. I was feeling my age, as they say, feeling melancholy about the brevity of life, when I stopped to rest, sitting on a rock and silently taking in all that was above, below, and around me.

Suddenly I felt joy in being there, simply being there! As that feeling settled in, I wrote the first draft of this poem as a way of taking the feeling home. I can still feel it…

It's hard to decide which Mary Oliver poem is my favorite. There are so many! But this one's a strong candidate.

Every wisdom tradition I know urges us to cultivate active awareness of our mortality — because keeping that simple reality before our eyes enhances our appreciation of life, even when things get tough. It also increases the odds that we will come to some new resolve about how we want to live.

"Artistry" is not confined to folks who create verbal, visual, or musical forms of beauty. I know people who are artists at parenting, friendship, gardening, manual labor, teaching, leadership, problem-solving, care-giving, peace-making, or just plain living!

So Wendell Berry's words about the creative process apply to all of us, no matter what "medium" we work in. Berry, 80, is not only a brilliant writer of novels, short stories, essays, and poems. He is also a life-long farmer who farms with the same artistry he brings to his writing.

To feel at home in my own skin... To feel at home on the face of the earth...

I sometimes think that those are the two deepest yearnings in our lives. What I know for sure is that life becomes very painful when I don't feel at home with who I am, or with the rich diversity of beings with whom I share this planet.

When I was in my twenties and living in NYC, I volunteered at a Catholic Worker house on the Lower East Side. The Workers at Mary House lived with the poorest of the poor, providing food, shelter, health care and other forms of direct aid, while also working for economic justice.

One of those Workers was Kassie Temple. A brilliant writer with a Ph.D., she could have had a comfortable academic career. Instead, she devoted her life to doing what she could to keep hungry and homeless people from starving or dying of exposure to the elements.

Each week I write a weekly column trying to capture and replay a tiny bit of the incredible conversations and efforts taking place behind the scenes at On Being. Sometimes it's a listener's response on our Facebook page or a gorgeous photo on Instagram, but it's often intriguing. If you'd like to receive my column in your email inbox, subscribe to our weekly newsletter!

I don't know anyone who'd recommend living "a divided life" — a life in which our words and actions conceal or even contradict truths we hold dear inwardly. And yet our culture counsels us to do exactly that:

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