Thursday, September 20, 2012

Habits of the Heart

An invitation: Read Healing the Heart of Democracy, The Courage to Create A Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by writer, teacher, and activist (and resident of Madison) Parker J. Palmer. I have read other books by Palmer and therefore, knew the quality of his writing and thinking, but I was attracted me to the book in hopes it would help me approach this contentious presidential campaign without raising my blood pressure to dangerous levels. It has done that for the most part, however, there are days when the "you've got to be kidding" factor has to be addressed! 
     Early in the book Palmer reminds the reader of the ideal purpose and nature of politics.
     Politics "is the ancient and honorable human endeavor of creating a community in which the weak as well as the strong can flourish, love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day. 'We the People' must build a political life rooted in the commonwealth of compassion and creativity still found among us, becoming a civic community sufficiently united to know our own will and hold those accountable to it."
     Furthermore, "Democracy gives us the right to disagree and is designed to use the energy of creative conflict to drive positive social change. Partisanship is not a problem. Demonizing the other side is."
     Palmer invites us to approach our life as citizens in a democracy with our hearts, for the heart is where our knowledge becomes more fully human. He is fully aware that at times we will be brokenhearted as with the recent killings in Libya, but here is what is so striking to me. Palmer draws the distinction between a heart broken apart and a heart broken open
     "If it breaks apart into a thousand pieces, the result may be anger, depression, and disengagement. If it breaks open into greater capacity to hold the complexities and contradictions of human experience, the result may be new life." 
     There's where the reading of this book as a context for the current campaign became a window into my life as a spiritual being. Am I living my life with an open heart, even when my heart breaks? As I look back on my life at times of deep sorrow and disappointment or grief, did I linger in the shattered pieces mired in fear and anger or was I able to use the reality of my broken heart to become more compassionate and to heal, truly heal? In what circumstances does my heart remain broken apart and how do I encourage a more open heart even as it breaks?
     Palmer suggests five Habits of the Heart for American citizens in our current life.
     1.   We must understand that we are all in this together.
     2.   We must develop an appreciation of the value of 'otherness.'
     3.   We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
     4.   We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency.
     5.   We must strengthen our capacity to create community.  
You'll have to read Palmer's book to get a full discussion of these habits, but I started thinking about how to develop these habits. What are the spiritual practices I can encourage in my own life that will support these habits of the heart? Here's my list for myself:
     *  Meditation and prayer,
     *  Opportunities for silence and solitude,
     *  Listening more and speaking less,
     *  Reflection through writing and reading,
     *  Stretching the body and the mind,
     *  Participation in community,
     *  Living in the present and with the Presence,
     *  Being aware of all the blessings in my life.
Almost every conversation I have had this week has presented an example of the choice between a heart broken apart and a heart broken open. There is no escaping heartbreaking situations. We all suffer losses, and as we age we will lose more. More and more grief will enter our life. And, in fact, with each day we are closer to our own death. Now is the time to build and reinforce the habits of the heart which not only can support us as we face inevitable challenges, but also can enhance our life, even create new life.  
     I invite you to share your experiences of being heartbroken and the habits of the heart that sustain you. 

Note: Here are other Parker Palmer titles I have in my library and have found to be thought-provoking and helpful:
* The Active Life, Wisdom for Work, Creativity, and Caring
* Let Your Life Speak, Listening for the Voice of Vocation
* A Hidden Wholeness, The Journey Toward and Undivided Life, Welcoming the Soul and weaving Community in a Wounded World

Check out Palmer's website:


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