Jailbreak Into the Blossoming of Spring

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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March 22nd, 2017

A poem from Maya Spector is an encouragement to push open the doors that hold us in when the light of spring breaks.

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March 15th, 2017

Parker stands in awe at the extraordinary patience of nature. What if we centered as much care and attention on its grandeur as we do on our own selves?

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March 8th, 2017

A simple invocation amid the world’s frenzy: that we maintain the quiet discipline of seeking delight hiding in plain sight.

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February 28th, 2017

Parker looks fondly on the moments he spent as a child with his grandfather — whose life-giving hands brought forth craft and nurtured a little boy into the world with a fierce and stoic tenderness.

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February 22nd, 2017

On the approach to his 78th birthday, Parker offers up a gift: six learnings that prove that our personal evolution spans the whole length of life, and continues in the generations we nurture forward.

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February 15th, 2017

Life’s tragedies can make the road ahead seem like a barren vista. But our losses can also clear space for courageous new beginnings.

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February 8th, 2017

Animated by solitude in the winter woods, Parker J. Palmer on seeing the hidden and potential beauty beneath what’s superficial in the world we face.

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February 1st, 2017

Our dreams can be great motivators. But what if what we aspire to is already within our grasp? A poem on letting go of the stress of ambition and embracing our innate potential.

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January 18th, 2017

What would it look like to quarrel with our country in a way the soul would affirm? A contemplation of patriotism turned inward, and the “fierce-love truth-telling” that will help us become the democratic community we aspire to be.

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January 11th, 2017

With the wisdom of Jane Kenyon, a contemplation on gratitude and ordinary grace in our own finite lives.

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January 4th, 2017

After an exchange with an angry man, a poem about a woodland encounter bestows unexpected guidance — about how acknowledging the spaces we share can be what closes the gaps between us.

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December 14th, 2016

A return to the gritty heart of the Christmas season, and a vision for a holiday celebration that does real and practical good for those around us.

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December 7th, 2016

As we turn the seasonal corner to the longest nights of the year, a reflection on the time we spend in the darkness, and what we can learn from it before turning back to the light.

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November 30th, 2016

Even at our most broken and scattered, Mary Oliver seems to say, we can uncover new wholeness by examining each shattered piece.

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November 23rd, 2016

An appeal to move beyond anger and reactiveness, and to concentrate instead on the immediate, crucial work of embodying justice.

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November 16th, 2016

Leonard Cohen’s timeless lyrics are a beacon of hope for even the most broken among us. An expression of gratitude to our latest lost legend.

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November 9th, 2016

Our body politic suffers from deep wounds, seen and unseen, and all real. Wisdom gleaned from a beloved baseball team on resilience in the face of heartbreak, and the spirit of unity that will move us into a new age.

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November 2nd, 2016

November in the upper Midwest often feels like a “fifth season” to me — different from autumn and winter in…

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October 26th, 2016

A life doesn’t have to be extraordinary to have an impact in the world. A reminder that we can build lives that have meaning, no matter what cards we’re dealt.

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October 19th, 2016

What if our disenchantment is an opportunity? This moment calls us not to fall backward into cynicism, but to face difficult truths, and to work together to create a new reality.

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October 12th, 2016

Compassion is a virtue, but do we direct it inward as much as outward? Parker Palmer gleans wisdom from Mary Oliver on mending ourselves so that we might be better companions to loved ones in need.

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October 5th, 2016

An autumnal poem from Linda Pastan guides Parker Palmer to a realization: that we can become enraptured with the world around us once again, if only we revive our childlike capacity for wonder.

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September 28th, 2016

Genuine communication is a collaborative process marked by respect. Parker Palmer reminds us of the importance of what we say, how we say it, and how we listen — in politics as in life.

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September 21st, 2016

As the days grow shorter and the air grows crisp, Parker Palmer invokes Rainer Maria Rilke on lessons from the season: on having faith when we fall, and trusting in the mysterious resilience of life.

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September 14th, 2016

The violence of our culture can trap us in a spiral of fear and paralysis. Parker Palmer on the importance of centering our minds and hearts in sacred spaces of our own, wherever we may find them.

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September 7th, 2016

Weary of political correctness, but wary of its opposite, Parker Palmer offers up some practical wisdom on owning our shadow selves with grace and asking the same of our leaders.

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August 17th, 2016

Parker Palmer shares the poetry of a president: a testament to the healing power of words, and embracing the shadow and light within.

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August 10th, 2016

Is a life made, or grown? A contemplation from Parker Palmer and Marge Piercy on the quiet, joyful work of tending to ourselves as wild, flourishing thickets of life.

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August 3rd, 2016

An invocation for gratitude — for the open spaces around us, for the quiet resilience of nature, and for the power of vulnerability to open us to new possibilities.

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July 27th, 2016

Parker Palmer offers up a remedy for feeling adrift: embracing surprise, and taking on sense of reverence to mystery.

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July 20th, 2016

Can we be more generous in understanding those who are different from us? Parker Palmer recounts lessons learned over a lifetime on our true proximity and kinship with “the other.”

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July 13th, 2016

When the weight of the world is heavy, music can be a balm. A musical offering for this uncertain moment, for mercy and the courage to walk together toward the beloved community.

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July 6th, 2016

Learning from our mistakes doesn’t mean we have to obsess over our failures. Parker Palmer and Mary Oliver on the space nature provides for catharsis, so that we can move on to self-forgiveness.

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June 29th, 2016

The enduring beauty of nature can be a comfort, but sometimes our pain needs a more empathetic salve. Parker Palmer turns to the unique, healing power of language in times of darkness and hardship.

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June 22nd, 2016

It’s easy to blame Donald Trump for the fear and anger in this election cycle; it’s much harder to see the deep roots of prejudice in ourselves and in our culture. Parker Palmer seeks a political reckoning beyond the language “us” and “them,” toward a language of shared responsibility.

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June 15th, 2016

Loss and trauma can cast us into uncertainty. Parker Palmer finds solace in the words of William Stafford, and wonders if being lost is the first step on a path to something better.

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June 8th, 2016

Guided by Naomi Shihab Nye’s beloved poem “Kindness,” Parker Palmer reflects on our capacity to emerge from the depth of suffering, into the fullness of compassion.

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June 1st, 2016

Involvement is exhilarating, but saying yes to everything can be unhealthy in its own way. Guided by a poem by William Stafford, Parker Palmer points to the value of knowing when to engage, and when to let go.

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May 25th, 2016

Walk straight into your not-knowing. Exercise your heart. Live as variously as possible. In this season of graduations, Parker Palmer offers six suggestions for traversing the savage and beautiful terrain of life.

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May 18th, 2016

Trying to answer the existential question of worth is inevitable, but flawed. With words from Czeslaw Milosz as his guide, Parker Palmer on the question we need not answer and the ultimate definition of love.

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May 11th, 2016

Parker Palmer examines the guiding principles of care and healing at the center of a physician’s practice, and wonders how they might revive the heart of political life.

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May 4th, 2016

Facing fear is easier said than done. Parker Palmer on having an empathetic imagination for the inner battles we’re all fighting, especially those we can’t see.

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April 27th, 2016

A helpful word can be a salve, but it’s not always what we need. Parker Palmer on the power of quiet, unobtrusive presence to heal in troubled times.

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April 20th, 2016

Being part of the human race means embracing the fullness of people’s behaviors. Parker Palmer on the demanding path toward wholeness with Rumi, Merton, and other mystics as his escorts.

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April 13th, 2016

Wisdom isn’t exclusive to folks with more years under their belts. Parker Palmer invites older generations to celebrate the gifts of the young — energy, vision, and hope — and recognize the valuable knowledge contained within in every age.

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April 6th, 2016

A story of travel gone bad and the catalyst for generosity, sharing, and making good on circumstances beyond one’s control.

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March 29th, 2016

The beauty of spring is as much in its muddiness as in its blooms. An encouragement to revel in the dance of mess and lavishness in this most colorful season.

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March 23rd, 2016

What we need is within us and between us. With Wendell Berry at his side, Parker Palmer on the amazing abundance of self and community, and identifying what each of us has to offer.

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March 16th, 2016

The best education is one in which we listen to each other. Parker Palmer tells the story of a New York City cab driver and how he exhibits the many qualities necessary to be a good citizen today.

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March 9th, 2016

The greatest threat to American democracy doesn’t come from outside but from within. Parker Palmer serves up three traits to look for in a fascist leader — and words and a poem from Abraham Lincoln and W.H. Auden.

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