The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice

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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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 25th, 2016

As I’ve said before, the late poet Jeanne Lohmann is one of my favorite poets — and “Praise What Comes”…

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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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March 2nd, 2016

An encouragement from our house sage to see what others don’t and not be afraid to show others that vision.

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February 24th, 2016

To love life in its fullness is the key to wise living. Parker Palmer with a poem on transforming suffering and restoring life.

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February 17th, 2016

A brief meditation on the curious concept of the Möbius strip and how it relates to life itself.

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February 10th, 2016

Life, like verse, contains beauty, grit, and uncomfortable truth. Inspired by a couplet from Thoreau, our columnist reflects on the journey of life as an artistic, creative craft, in the vein of lyrical composition.

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February 3rd, 2016

We’re trained to demonize and combat those who disagree with us. But what if we cultivated better habits that didn’t unravel the fabric of our civic community?

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January 27th, 2016

What are the last things you want to cherish? The last things you want to give up? Parker Palmer on treasuring those things that anchor one to the blessings of life.

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January 20th, 2016

On a retreat at a cabin in the northern woods of Wisconsin, Parker Palmer strings together pearls of contemplation on silence and solitude. With the help of Merton and Rumi, he finds the catharsis of being forced to reckon with one’s angels and demons.

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January 13th, 2016

It’s when we sit with our silence that the world opens before us, in ways large and small. Parker Palmer reflects on Gunilla Norris’ poetic words and the regrounding silence brings.

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January 6th, 2016

Each year brings the loss of a life we loved. But what if our grief served as a conduit to community and creating a more thoughtful, interconnected world?

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December 30th, 2015

A serendipitous typo inspires our columnist Parker Palmer to come up with a list of five “revolutions” for the New Year, resolutions to counteract grim realities in order to regain our humanity in 2016.

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December 23rd, 2015

Remembering a passage from the Christmas services of his childhood, Parker Palmer finds counsel for living an honest and genuine life. We must, he says, allow the good words we speak to become incarnate in our actions.

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December 16th, 2015

Through the story of the famous Christmas Truce of 1914, a ballad and some thoughts on holding despair and human possibility.

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December 9th, 2015

The feeling of being stuck is one we all have experienced at one time or another. Beleaguered by writer’s block, Parker Palmer calls upon his beginner’s mind and encourages us to move forward with hope.

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December 2nd, 2015

Nearly 30,000 delegates from 200 nations are in Paris talking about climate change this week. Parker Palmer encourages us to open our eyes to the beauty with a poem and a challenge.

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November 25th, 2015

American democracy is illumined by multiple voices calling us to pursue questions of personal, communal, and political meaning. A Quaker reminds us to vigorously question those who say the U.S. is a Christian nation.

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November 22nd, 2015

Parker Palmer pens an elegy to mark the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination — a balm for a hurting world.

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November 18th, 2015

In the wake of the Paris attacks, Parker Palmer highlights the importance of “wounded healers” and what we can do to let heartbreak open ourselves to suffering and the kindness necessary for social change.

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November 11th, 2015

There are those people who know how to get ahead of the train wreck and those folks who are called to their senses after the collision has happened. But, catastrophe, too, can be a contemplative path if you choose to accept it.

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November 4th, 2015

What makes each child unique cannot be measured or scored. A nourishing story from a school principal on the “many ways of being smart” and testing children.

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October 28th, 2015

In response to Courtney Martin’s letter, Parker Palmer corresponds with his dear friend about the uncertainty of life. A contemplation on the value of being vulnerable and open to supportive friends.

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October 21st, 2015

Has technology failed to deliver on its promise: to lighten our load? A wry meditation on play, gratitude, and the gift of life.

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October 14th, 2015

With the visual glories of autumn, the living is hidden within the dying. A pondering about this season of paradox and the “the endless interplay of living and dying” we all must embrace.

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October 7th, 2015

The metaphors we use matter. Parker Palmer claims the metaphor of seasons to gently remind us that we’re not in charge, that we’re not alone, that it’s possible to transform and be transformed in this world.

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September 30th, 2015

Politics can divide more often than unite. But, deep involvement in the civic sphere doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice empathy and civility.

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September 23rd, 2015

Summer’s passing and earth’s decay can elicit a deepening melancholy for some. A pondering on the “paradoxical dance” of darkness and light and giving oneself over to its endless interplay — with lyrical assists from Rainier Marie Rilke and Thomas Merton.

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September 16th, 2015

With the words of Rilke, an encouragement to ask life-giving questions and create new pathways.

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September 9th, 2015

The politics of rage so often focuses us on lack of action and despair. But, the broken heart is an important political and personal reality, one that can liberate the mind if exercised properly.

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September 2nd, 2015

Each summer, our columnist has been making a pilgrimage to one of nature’s great treasures: the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In his twilight years, he ponders the resurrection that takes place under the most destructive circumstances and the “vast web of life in which body and spirit are one.”

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August 26th, 2015

Generosity and gratitude don’t require extraordinary means, just the gift of time and attention. Parker and Wendell on giving yourself away.

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August 19th, 2015

Gardening is replete with metaphors for living well. With the help of a May Sarton poem, Parker Palmer builds on a less-obvious metaphor.

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August 12th, 2015

With the words of Rumi echoing loudly, Parker Palmer invites us to explore a “field” of sound ideas and right relationship with one another.

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August 5th, 2015

External “oughts” and “shoulds” can create impossibly high aspirations — and equally high levels of guilt about falling short. A personal exploration sharing the delicate experience of “befriending” depression and ways of reframing our expectations of self.

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July 29th, 2015

How might we summon “the better angels of our nature” as political shenanigans ensue? The ever-wise Parker Palmer offers a few suggestions (and a poem, of course!) to reclaim our commons — and our humanity — during this election season.

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July 22nd, 2015

The imprint a father leaves on his child remains. Parker remembers his deceased Dad and the values he imparted with a poem.

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July 15th, 2015

Thomas Merton and Lao Tzu make compelling cases for flowing around obstacles rather than butting up against them. If we do so, we fight inequities in the world with equanimity and make a life worth living for all.

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July 8th, 2015

“How can we learn to embrace with love the whole of who we are?” Parker Palmer with three tools to help us show up as we really are and live and love fully as we engage with the world.

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July 1st, 2015

As we celebrate the Fourth of July in the States, Parker Palmer contemplates the hope, the promise, and the opportunity of “we the people” with a song from Leonard Cohen.

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June 24th, 2015

Recent events in the life of the world have made it challenging to engage in trust and hope. Parker Palmer turns to another type of knowing that leads to grace.

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June 17th, 2015

Father’s Day is just around the corner in the U.S. Parker Palmer shares some of his dad’s most humorous gems and a poem by Dana Gioia to celebrate all the men in our lives.

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June 10th, 2015

In remembering a great civil rights leader not many know of, Parker Palmer shares a story about a man of few words.

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June 3rd, 2015

With Gerard Manley Hopkins as his guide, Parker reflects on the sacredness and beauty of life and difference.