We began this new year with wisdom from Parker Palmer — both in last week’s post and as he graced the gathering of participants at the Wisdom Conversation event on Jan. 6 in a conversation via the joys of technology. And so I offer more of his insight as we consider how to engage in the world.
Parker began a recent Facebook post with the words of poet, Mary Oliver: “To live in this world, you must be able to do three things … Love. Hold what you love close to you. And — when the time comes — be ready to let it go.”
Parker continues, “I’m no Mary Oliver, but I want to suggest that, after the ‘letting go,’ there’s one more step we can take toward living well in this world. When we’re ready, we can ask, ‘What do I want to give myself to next?’
“Trying to hang on to what we once had is a needy and clinging way of life, rooted in a fear of scarcity and loss that can lead only to personal diminishment.
“But asking what we want to give ourselves to is rooted in a sense of abundance and generosity. It opens onto paths with a heart that take us to places where we can both give and find new life.”
He was writing in the midst of the holiday season and the emphasis in our culture on gift giving. But these words are helpful here in the new year. At the time when we think about making new year’s resolutions, we think in terms of giving up or taking on. We will give up old habits. Or we attempt to take on new patterns of behavior, such as an exercise routine or change of attitude.
But what if we asked ourselves Parker’s question: What do I want to give myself to next? Just asking the question forces us to see beyond our own desires and wants. To give myself to something, to some cause, to some endeavor, mandates that I go outside of myself and engage with others.
To ask the question means that I must acknowledge that I have something to offer the world. It is rooted in the concept that every life, no matter who you are, where you have been or how many years you have been alive, has something to offer the world. That is an expansive understanding of the self.
Resting on the foundation of Mary Oliver’s three mandates for living — to love, to hold and to let go — this idea of giving requires us to relinquish the fierce grip that we adopt in the holding. It also changes the attitude with which we let go. For giving myself can best be experienced when done from an attitude of grace and not resentment. It flourishes when done from point of gift and not obligation.
Our acts of giving to something need not be large. They must just come from our authentic hearts. We give from the well which we carry in each stage of life. It is not the size or the impact, but the very act itself that matters.
As you think about new patterns and opportunities before you in this new year, may you find an answer to Parker’s question. “What do I want to give myself to next?” And in finding the answer, may your heart be blessed with the abundance of love that returns from giving beyond yourself.