Sunday, January 1, 2017

Five Questions for Crossing the Threshold

This year, instead of writing New Year's Resolutions, I opted to follow an approach advocated by Parker J. Palmer, a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal.

Parker describes his approach like this: he first pondered the Anne Hillman poem (below), and then he identified some questions or wonderings which the had poem evoked in him. After identifying five such wonderings, he decided to follow Rainer Maria Rilke’s famous advice about "living the questions." He wrote out responses to each of those wonderings.

Parker claims his responses inspired new growth and direction in his life in a way that typical resolutions never did. Parker implied that this approach works because it gets after the all-important "why" question. Most resolutions focus on the "what" or the "how" (lose weight, exercise more, sleep better, pay off debt, get the new job, take the trip, etc.). Such resolutions typically fail because they don't connect to purpose--to "why."

I tried Parker's approach, and I was floored by the powerful insights that I gleaned. I thought PhilosFX readers might also be moved by this novel technique, so I decided to share Parker's idea here. At some personal risk, I added my own responses to Parker's leading questions. My hope in sharing not only the process but also my own discovery is that my example will spark some of you to work through this vigorously. So let's give it a try. Read the poem, and then develop personal responses to the wonderings. Let's see what insights emerge as we prepare to cross the threshold into a new year.

We look with uncertainty
by Anne Hillman
We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.

In bold blue text are the wonderings Hillman’s poem evoked in Parker. My responses are appended in light grey text but of course I'd like you to ignore them in favor of your own personal responses.

• How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness?

I am analytical, skeptical, rational, and pragmatic. In contrast, Nature is glorious, mysterious, timeless, and unforgiving, I believe in my gifts. I also believe life is more than my gifts. I believe living out my questions involves pausing to recognize that life can be random, nature is uncertain, my attempts to bring order out of chaos may at times be quite futile, and that I will be more alive when I can release my need to control, and then be more present, more accepting, more like Nature herself. I will write in my gratitude journal daily. 

• What is my next challenge in daring to be human?

What does it mean to be fully human? What is blocking me from being the fullest realization of myself as an optimally functioning human? What can I do to overcome, bypass, or mitigate the obstacles? Doesn't "daring" to be human imply pushing out of and beyond my comfort zone? There is nothing daring about living the same old routine. For my next challenge, I need to deliberately take on experiences that force me beyond the analytical cocoon in which I've wrapped myself up.  I will go to the retirement home in my neighborhood and seek out a harmonica teacher.

• How can I open myself to the beauty of nature and human nature?

I see the pattern of my life. I awaken still tired, already late. I hustle from my condo cube to my car cube and--after a stressful commute--settle into my cubicle cube. I exchange time and talent for just enough treasure to pay for the upkeep on my various cubes. And the days, months, and years roll by. How often to I break out of the cube and wander in the forest or the park? When was the last time I caught my own food? I will learn how to fish, and catch me a nice bass.  

• Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?

This is easy. I could start by loving myself for once. It is time for me to treat myself as if I actually like who I am and care about my own well-being. Like most analysts and logicians, I am hyper-critical. As an analyst, I naturally look for gaps and shortfalls. As a perfectionist, I often focus my most critical gaze at myself. I will lighten up on the harsh inner voice and replace the nagging with more supportive and positive self-talk. 

• What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?

I am at a point in life where my construction has provided me and those closest to me some shelter and even a bit of luxury. Now I must enter into a phase of helping and enabling others to design and build their own habitats. The new creation is a shift from me and mine to yours and ours. At this point, I must consider more of an outside perspective, an outward orientation, less hands-on and more helping hands, less competitive and more networked. I will go out of my way to be of service to others. 

Conclusion and Call to Action

As we prepare to cross the thresholds that lie before us, may this meditation inspire us to wonderings of our own! Let's make the time to explore those wonderings and document our answers. In this way, those things we resolve to change will be rooted in purpose, and thus more likely to succeed. Onwards and upwards!

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments! And as always, thank you for reading PhilosFX.

H/T: I am a long-time fan of Krista Tippett and her rich, sophisticated, and ever-evolving program called On BeingParker Palmer's recent article for On Being was the inspiration for this post. 

No comments:

Post a Comment