The Sacred Lessons in the Mess

Courtney E. Martin

is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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March 11th, 2016

The things a parent is willing to do for, and put up with, her child is beyond comprehension. A thriving, non-religious mother talks meaningful about the spiritual experience of raising a child.

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March 4th, 2016

What has your grandest adventure been? Between adventure and safety lies a world of possibility. Courtney Martin’s case for gutsy endeavors, big and small.

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February 26th, 2016

A mentor-mentee relationship, like any good one, requires commitment, openness, and honesty. Courtney Martin gives counsel on building relationships of mutual joy and learning with those in our lives whom we admire.

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February 19th, 2016

The big stage of TED can provide a platform for dreaming big, talking big, and a big ego. As our columnist prepares to present at TED2016, she looks to Pema Chödrön and the bigness of her own ideas to make a difference through the massive platform.

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February 12th, 2016

Cross-generational relationships may be one of our greatest untapped resources today. But, people in their “third act” of living are creating new encounters and meaningful differences among youth and our communities.

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February 5th, 2016

What happens when our sense of identity doesn’t line up with how others see us? Our columnist reflects on the complicated work of asserting our identity, which often means wearing the parts we’d like to shed with pride.

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January 29th, 2016

The uproar over the Academy Awards failure to nominate any actors of color this year is surfacing questions of the value of “diversity.” But, as our columnist points out, in trying to adjust our aperture of belonging, we must describe the fullness of one’s identity.

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January 22nd, 2016

The most romantic relationships just may be our platonic friendships. But, as we age, it gets more difficult to establish new friendships with those of the same sex. Our columnist celebrates the inimitable joy of platonic courtship and female attachment.

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January 15th, 2016

Courtney Martin delivers a host of solutions focusing on how you can make our government and our politics better again.

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January 8th, 2016

For a brief, unexpected moment this past Tuesday, politics let down its guard. And so did much of America. President Obama’s display of a emotion opens up our columnist to her own humanity and faith in politics… if only for a fleeting moment.

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January 1st, 2016

There is no norm when it comes to the prototypical family unit. And, family as we all know is at once our breaking point and our healing refuge. With the holiday season behind us, Courtney Martin asks us to embrace the family we have and resist the idealized version that never existed.

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December 18th, 2015

2016 is around the corner. What’s the question you’re putting to bed and what’s the one that’s just being born within you at this transitional time of year?

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December 11th, 2015

In periods of fear, the catalysts of panic can sometimes be ourselves. Courtney Martin on the importance of mitigating our own fight-or-flight response in order to retain our compassion and humanity toward one another.

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December 3rd, 2015

Becoming invested in too simple of a moral story about others can lead to dehumanized outlooks. Our columnist remembers her childhood home and the lessons she carries with her today.

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November 26th, 2015

Genuine gratitude isn’t necessarily about happiness or a soft, warm glow. It’s messy and gritty and physical. From appreciating the glowing moon to marveling at the strange miracle of the human body, a celebration of thankfulness.

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November 20th, 2015

What are the mysteries that remain once our well-crafted lives take a detour down uncharted narratives? A reflection on the messiness of a life less authored and more lived.

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November 13th, 2015

Being a mother is an act of transformation and discovery. Courtney Martin examines the gifts of obliteration of motherhood, and the maternal love that rushes in as responsibility beckons.

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November 6th, 2015

To turn down an opportunity seems counterintuitive. But how can we transform an excess of asks into opportunities for other people to shine? A column on living the less-harried life that “keeps us weighted down with self-importance.”

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October 30th, 2015

In the absence of a religious tradition, is there a fundamental need for prayer? Courtney Martin on finding comfort in praying to her late, burly grandfather rather than a god to whom she couldn’t relate.

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October 23rd, 2015

Courtney Martin reclaims the lost art of letter writing with this epistolary correspondence to Parker Palmer about purpose and how we can seize it while still acting with integrity.

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October 16th, 2015

It’s easy to mentally sanitize and romanticize the creative process, but the real work is done in the clutter and the mess of daily living. An enconium on imperfection, self-doubt, and the importance of pushing through.

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October 9th, 2015

We often think of “genius” as a belonging to individuals, not as something nurtured by community. Courtney Martin challenges this idea, thinking back on the writers group that continues to inspire her work today.

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October 2nd, 2015

The once thick, black line between personal and professional connections appears to be fading. Its replacement is a new kind of network rooted in our relatedness and built on the generosity authentic friendships.

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September 25th, 2015

What if we stopped focusing on scale so much, stopped equating size with success? Courtney Martin looks to a new better off where we invest in people and businesses within walking distance for a more stable economy and community.

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September 18th, 2015

Studies show that increasingly fewer people are friends with our colleagues at work. Longing for more authentic work lives, a new wave of workers are shedding their corporate personas, turning to freelance work, and curating their own working communities in refreshing new ways.

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September 11th, 2015

Success so often is identified by how children transcend their parents’ class and collar. Rather than continuing this cultural narrative, could the future of work in America be more than just pulling up our bootstraps and climbing the ladder?

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September 4th, 2015

The frenetic pace of life can be overwhelming, making ritual even more necessary. But it doesn’t have to be religious, or even spiritual in nature. Daily tasks can ground and center us, clearing our minds and helping us focus on the profundity in the seemingly mundane of this world.

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August 28th, 2015

Does destiny and fate truly exist? An age-old question, to be sure. Courtney Martin ponders that question and traces how each of our paths may be shaped by willful action and serendipitous encounters along the way.

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August 21st, 2015

In an age of iPhone and Instagram ubiquity, we capture and curate in ways unimaginable only a few decades ago. And this connects us in unexpected ways. But, it also can have a cost, one that pulls us out of the moment.

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August 7th, 2015

Rituals provide structure for the full spectrum of our emotional lives – but for those who don’t identify with an organized religion, how are rituals developed? Courtney Martin ponders the “muddy, sacred” experience of creating rituals.

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July 31st, 2015

We acquire and we accumulate. But why? What is the story we’re trying to tell through the possessions we own. Our columnist Courtney Martin considers the multiple philosophies of ownership — and points toward that which is truly valuable.

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July 24th, 2015

In a culture of accumulation and hoarding, many are experiencing a growing exasperation with owning things that, as it turns out, aren’t necessary. Could the “sharing economy” help restore spiritual calm?

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July 17th, 2015

Women and men so often beat themselves up when it comes to work/life balance. But another story is playing itself out, one about the unacknowledged gifts that help clarify the meaningful choices of being a person, and a parent.

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July 10th, 2015

In times of trauma, modern-day technology connects us instantly. But could it be that genetic memory metabolizes much more slowly? Courtney Martin juxtaposes modern day urgency with a long view of legacy.

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July 3rd, 2015

An inspirational profile of one of those modern-day heroes, SAS, a doctor whose key insights turned the tide of the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone — an exemplar of quiet commitment and unending courage who saved thousands of lives by bridging worlds.

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June 26th, 2015

A passionate, grounded plea to recognize white privilege and the gut level pushback — the “white fragility” — that happens when talking about race.

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June 12th, 2015

Compartmentalizing can be a useful tool — whether dealing with the empty voids of our working lives, or the prolonged absence from the ones you love — in making it possible to live a whole life.

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June 5th, 2015

How can we encourage our children (and ourselves) to work hard at mastering skills that evade us? Courtney Martin on delaying judgment, giving time to develop grit and resilience, and flailing at those things we’re not naturally good at.

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May 22nd, 2015

More than 25 percent of us may be jeopardizing the “good life” by blindly pursuing more to keep up with the Joneses? Courtney Martin on operating on income autopilot and re-interpreting our financial wealth.

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May 15th, 2015

Rilke asks us to live the questions. Socrates says the unexamined life is one not worth living. But, staying awake to the moral complexities of one’s actions is not a quiet prospect.

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May 8th, 2015

Becoming a mother can be a startling experience — a belonging to a communion of motherhood and the stark reality that one’s identity will never be the same again. For this upcoming Mother’s Day, Courtney Martin contemplates the fragility, fierceness, and myopia of motherhood and the ineffable beauty of being a mother.

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May 1st, 2015

To bear witness means to be present. Beyond the truncated arc of our broken news cycles and the busyness of our lives, Courtney Martin suggests that we root ourselves in a deeper commitment in our own humanity — and of others — and continue to stand up against injustice.

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April 24th, 2015

While eavesdropping, our columnist witnesses the intimacy of two strangers generously listening to one another — without an intent to save, fix, or advise. A lesson in witnessing over chicken wings.

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April 17th, 2015

A daughter’s embarrassment of her mother’s alternative approaches to healing turns into a letter of admiration and an apology.

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April 10th, 2015

The term “scale” is the buzzword in social entrepreneurship circles. But, as Courtney Martin Often shows us, changing the world is about changing systems and helping others one person at a time.

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April 3rd, 2015

Forgiving yourself for your stupid mistakes can be really difficult. By doing so, though, Courtney Martin argues that you will not only honor those who love you deeply and you will stop beating yourself up in the process.

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March 27th, 2015

When we get too attached to habits, we risk losing our sense of wonder and our potential for catalytic experience. Courtney Martin’s encouragement for the job of being alive: “May I see what I do. May I do it differently. May I make this a way of life.”

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March 20th, 2015

In an Internet age, we create highly curated versions of ourselves. But how do we reflect the full spectrum of our own humanity and not a collection of status updates?

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March 13th, 2015

Sometimes it takes a fire hydrant turning into a geyser to remind us that there is somebody there to fix it. In seeing all of the people around us who make systems and services work, we begin to understand what it takes to make a community thrive.

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March 6th, 2015

Part of becoming an adult is learning how to lower your expectations. But parenting a toddler brings different gifts — of rediscovering discovery, reuniting with awe, and finding where the mundane becomes miraculous.

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