Surviving and Thriving…

In my journal each morning I write down my goals, big and small. I draw my circle and put my number-one focus inside it. Then the day unfolds–or (as it seems lately) unravels. What’s the nature of this message for me? What’s my assignment in the face of this?

Even on those mornings when I lose faith in my ability to handle any of it, Parker Palmer continues to inspire and nudge me along a path of compassion and understanding. For the people around me. And for myself.

In The Circle the sixth element is Coherence. One correspondent gave me a call, and told me all she was doing to work on congruence. Ah, I said.

Laura Day writes about finding ways to make your outer life look like your inner life–that’s congruence. And congruence is something Parker Palmer writes about in A Hidden Wholeness, too.

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“We can survive, and even thrive, amid the complexities of adulthood by deepening our awareness of the endless inner-outer exchanges that shape us and our world and of the power we have to make choices about them. If we are to do so, we need spaces within us and between us that welcome the wisdom of the soul–which knows how to negotiate life on the Möbius strip [our inner and outer life at once] with agility and grace.” (A Hidden Wholeness 49)

Both Day and Palmer are encouraging their readers to make a journey of awareness and choice. When I falter, they encourage me to keep becoming aware, to keep making small, good choices.

“The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings.” Palmer, 83)

The gift of Coherence, Laura Day explains, is “Right Action.”

What do you need to do? If it’s huge and overwhelming, what one thing do you need to do next?

What needs to be healed, Parker Palmer asks, before you can go forward, before you can go deeper?

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before — ”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)

(May Sarton, qtd. in Palmer, 90-91)


I have been walking through my Writing The Circle series with a small group of followers, and sharing a bit about a personal crisis that I’m dealing with at present–my husband is ill, diagnosed thus far with depression and anxiety–which has taken me and my family completely by surprise. It’s taken over a lot of the space I thought was going to be devoted in 2019 to my writing, and I have my moments of bitter resentment. I also have moments of great patience, kindness, and fortitude–and I hope that it is these moments that will prevail.

One of my readers from the small group challenged me to share on the blog at least some of what I’ve been dealing with. Her thinking (I think) was that the newsletters get lost in email-land pretty quickly, but the blogposts create a more permanent and retrievable record.

And…I sit with my fingers on the keyboard for a long while, considering whether or not I should…

Somehow–I’m just not ready. Not today.

I imagine the health crisis at my house has affected me at least a little like the great snowstorm of 2019 has affected all of us–this snowstorm that Cliff Mass says we’ll be telling our grandchildren about. We believe that we have control of our lives, and then life itself catches us by surprise, knocks us down, and dares us to get up again.

But I remember how I began this series, in Prompt #1–life does happen, terrible things happen. The only actual control we ever have is of our own response.

One response I’ve made, thus far, is to dig out my copy of Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. As much as anything else, this is a book about Palmer’s debilitating depression and how he came back from it. I found it on a shelf with books about teaching; I had forgotten it was about depression–well, entirely apt!

Here’s just one of the passages that, in previous readings, I’ve underlined and highlighted and annotated:

I pay a steep price when I live a divided life–feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood. The people around me pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by my dividedness. How can I affirm another’s identity when I deny my own? How can I trust another’s integrity when I defy my own? A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open–divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within–things around me get shaky and start to fall apart. (5)

And here’s a passage I copied into my journal this morning:

“This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know,” says Mary Oliver, “that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.” But we live in a culture that discourages us from paying attention to the soul or the true self–and when we fail to pay attention, we end up living soulless lives.” (34-35)

I once heard the poet Chana Bloch say, in regards to her brush with cancer, “I am going to survive this, and I am going to write about it.”

That’s what I’m going to do, too.

Begin at the Beginning

“Beginnings are times of grandiose dreams of escape, success, change, and possibilities. This is true not only for the protagonist of your story, but also for you.” –Martha Alderson, The Plot Whisperer (25)

Maybe you’ve heard this before, as I seem to see it everywhere lately:

The first step to getting out of prison is to know that you are in prison.

Substitute any situation you feel trapped in–your extra 30 pounds, your stack of unfilled blank notebooks that you thought would inspire you to write, the relationship that hurts more than it helps, your extremely unhelpful attitude about ______. Whatever your prison is, no amount of shovels or ladders or files-baked-into-cakes will get you out if you haven’t looked around and become 100% conscious of where you are and how you got there.

In a novel, the beginning is sometimes called “the ordinary world” (See Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.) It might take up as much as the first quarter of a novel, which is utterly necessary if readers are to understand the main character’s subsequent transformation.

But if there is to be a book, a story with not only a beginning but a middle and an end, the characters can’t stay where they are.

In your own life, too, the next step to beginning is re-imagine your present circumstances as the place you set out from, your launching pad, your sturdy ground on which to set your ladder, the dock where you untie your boat and push away.

That’s what I’m thinking about today. Where am I now? Where do I go next?





Where am I? What is this place?

I’m a pretty busy person. Despite my teaching schedule this quarter, I’ve managed to get away for poetry weekends and readings. I’ve met friends for coffee or lunch (if they could drive to Everett!). But there’s something about my mother’s final days, about her death, about her burial and her memorial that has made me I feel as though I’m driving through a long tunnel. I’m aware that there’s a world “out there,” and yet to get through these days and weeks I’ve had to focus on staying in my lane and moving forward. There’s light, somewhere up ahead, but no scenery or detours or flashy billboards to entertain or distract me.

This morning (Friday, when I drafted this) I have been reading some poems — getting ready to do a Veteran’s Day poetry unit for my daughter’s fifth grade class — and this poem by D. H. Lawrence twice crossed my path. I think there’s a message for me here, but I’m not quite sure what it is.

The White Horse

The youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on
and the horse looks at him in silence.
They are so silent they are in another world.

–D. H. Lawrence

What we know about tunnels is that they feel dark and endless, but they do end. Tunnels are thresholds. They lead us to what comes next. In her book, The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred, Christine Valters Paintner calls thresholds, “liminal times when the past season has come to a close but there is a profound unknowing of what comes next.” She continues:

“Thresholds are challenging because they demand that we step into the in-between place of letting go of what has been while awaiting what is still to come. When we are able to fully release our need to control the outcome, thresholds become rich and graced places of transformation. We can become something new when we have released the old faces we have been wearing, even it means not knowing quite who we are in the space between.”

I don’t know quite who I am just now. I want to stand still in this place, to be silent. I want to let all that is becoming, come.