Monday, March 9, 2009

Habits Of The Heart

With the ground shifting beneath our feet in so many ways, feeling a bit unsettled is to be expected. Our choice of how we respond to the turmoil around and within us, though, is ours alone to decide.

Some of us may react with fear, withdrawing into cynicism or despair. Others might instead cling to idealistic notions that are unable to withstand the tumult of real~world application. While these responses may appear to be in opposition, they are actually twin temptations, linked by the truth that both prevent effective action.

In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, author and educator, Parker Palmer, articulated the need to “hold the tension” between these two poles, recognizing the value each contains but succumbing wholeheartedly to neither.

Notice the phrasing. Palmer did not encourage us to tolerate the tension or to withstand it. He urged us to hold that tension, for holding requires us to grow larger than either pole, greater even than both together. As we enlarge ourselves, we achieve the vision that allows us to assess both extremes, discern the truth lying within each, and conceptualize a viable path forward which incorporates the best of both.

Whenever we confront a choice between seeming opposites, it is wise to search for the synthesis between them. This has been described as going through the horns of a dilemma~~which certainly beats being impaled by either!

As we consider the current state of our world, though, how do we negotiate between the horns? This middle way includes facing head~on the very grave difficulties before us, but doing so with trust that effective solutions can be found and enacted through our hard and sustained efforts.

Simplistic and emotionally~laden thinking is the easy way. Far more is required of us now~~to fully appreciate the serious difficulties we face, accept that there are no simple, easy, or perhaps even already envisioned answers, and nevertheless trust that we can develop a viable strategy for moving forward.

With this in mind, Palmer also spoke of the challenge to cultivate appropriate “habits of the heart.” The ability to hold the tension between despair and idealism is one such habit. But there are many others, including...
  • Commitment to substantive discourse with those with whom we disagree.
  • Tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Compassion, meaning literally “to suffer with”.
  • Appreciation for diversity.
  • Conscious use of our unique energy, in ways minute and grand.
  • Trust in the inherent goodness of ourselves and others.
We live in turbulent times, to be sure. Our response, though, is anything but certain. We could use these times to nurture precious habits of the heart.

In Parker’s words, we could then “take (this) broken~hearted experience in a new direction, not towards the shattering into a million pieces but toward a heart that grows larger, more capacious, more open to hold both the suffering and the pain of the world.” And, I would add, its piercing beauty and possibility, as well.

Whatever challenges we face personally and collectively, we could see in them opportunities, fodder in our quest to grow a healthier, more soulful heart.

Have a lovely week growing your own heart!


Loanne Marie


Jay said...

The ending reminds me of my favorite of Dad's quotes, appropriate for the greatest of challenges: "Just what I needed, another f$&*ing learning experience!"

No, no, I am not succumbing to the cynical. This is a quote I remember often and share generously as advice for enduring something big. It is my humble reminder that even in the worst difficulties, some good will probably result. A humble reminder that I don't always know best, and that's okay. (This is DYING for a Father Knows Best joke right???)


Loanne Marie said...

Thanks for the reminder. An AFGE is the abbreviation I learned~~another f$&*ing growth experience. And I agree, it needn't be cynical. In fact, I find it imbues the whole thing with some much needed humor, a reminder to not take myself so seriously.

And I will leave alone the Father Knows Best joke!

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