Well this is the first time in a long time that I decided stop after reading a book and reflect back on it. Usually I’m hurrying off to the next book, but now that I’ve reached the 200 book milestone, I think I can silence that part of my ego to hit a certain number of achievement and now I can focus on what should be the true objective: enlightenment. Don’t get me wrong, going fast has great advantages in that I have absorbed so much information, and is efficient to stuff a whole lot of knowledge down my throat and let the important stuff get stick. But ever since my Operations Management class last year, and hearing Dr. Rand give a whole lecture on purpose by using “Man’s Search for Meaning” and “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” as his source material, I realized that there was an application gap between myself and Dr. Rand. Because I have read both of those books before and yet I felt like I was learning something new when Dr. Rand gave his lecture.
I casted a wide net of attracting knowledge, now I want to dive in deeper. So I’m going to write out my thoughts on the book “Let Your Life Speak.” By Parker J. Palmer. I actually read this book last year, but it was one of those books that hit me in the gut, but before I could let is sink in I was off to the next book.
If I could describe this book in one word, it would be: Transparent. It is a book that is brutally honest about taking the microscope and investigating one’s heart and soul. For me, there are two primary themes of this book, vocation and depression.
What Palmer starts off focusing on is that we can’t will ourselves to our calling in life; we can’t manufacture it and we can’t fake it. There is a gap between what we feel we should do with our lives and what our hearts are calling us to do. We get put on a career path either because of circumstance or because we’re trying to fulfill some need in our life that our direction aims to fulfilling, but if it isn’t part of our true intrinsic passion, we will always feel a sense of emptiness. Even if we have good intentions, if that path isn’t true to ourselves, we risk hurting others as well as ourselves.
I think my favorite quote is this: “When the gift I give to the other is integral to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself-and me-even as I give it away. Only when I give something that does not grow within me do I deplete myself and harm the other as well, for only harm can come from a gift that is forced, inorganic, unreal.”
What this quote says has been something that I have always sensed and have put it in other words for myself, but further validated this theory of mine, which is I am to be a resource. I have pursued this in many ways and I have even tried to capitalize it in the past by trying to make a name for myself as a source of information. I think there will eventually be an intersection between what I love to provide for others and it crosses with my community’s greatest need. Until I find that, I’m just going to give unconditionally. I share thoughts, ideas, insights, questions, tips, etc because I enjoy doing that. It is the fruit that I bear and if someone plucks a piece off, I can just as well produce another fruit and I became stronger and the recipient has been nourished as well.
I don’t want to give with strings attached. Giving with the expectation of something in return (even if it is gratitude) makes it a transaction and means that I’m being deprived of a resource, therefore I can burn out. But if the giving is the joy, then I can’t be burnt out.
The second part of Palmer’s book is about depression. What I love about his narrative of depression is again it is very honest of how he felt and the reality of the situation. Since every depression is different, it is a very difficult topic to tackle, but Palmer does it excellent since he talks about his experience primarily. There is very little blanket statements that can be made for action items, but the one piece of advice he gives when dealing with someone who is in the depths of depression is true empathy. We live in a society of the self-made individual, and when everything falls apart we believe there is set of actions that must be taken to get back on track. When we talk to someone who is depressed, we feel that it is our part to provide those steps so that they can move forward, but rarely does that ever work since depression is like wearing tinted goggles. You can tell me that all I have to do is go when the light is green, but if I’m wearing green tinted glasses, it does me no good. I know how traffic lights work and how to drive, but I just can’t see the light! I know it is right there but no matter what I do I can’t see it! Not until the goggles have been removed can I take your practice advice to use.
If there was anything you can do with someone dealing with depression is being present with them in it. You don’t need to tell them that something is wrong, believe me, they know. What they need is someone who is willing to sit there helpless with you in that moment.
Crawling out of depression is like a crab walk: it isn’t something that is attacked head on, but rather you side-step into recovery. It requires patience for you to rub against the solution and in the meantime you’re losing touch with reality and your community. Be willing to sit there and feel helpless with them; assure them that while everything is slipping through their fingers, you are still there, not to provide a solution, but just be a constant in the sea of shaky ground.
Below are my favorite quotes from the book:
Vocation does not come from wilfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about—quite apart from what I would like it to be about—or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.
We listen for guidance everywhere except from within.
An inevitable though often ignored dimension of the quest for “wholeness” is that we must embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of.
“Here is a sketch of who you were from your earliest days in this world. It is not a definitive picture-only you can draw that. But it was sketched by a person who loves you very much. Perhaps these notes will help you do sooner something your grandfather did only later: remember who you were when you first arrived and reclaim the gift of true self.”
From the beginning, our lives lay down clues to selfhood and vocation, though the clues may be hard to decode. But trying to interpret them is profoundly worthwhile-especially when we are in our twenties or thirties or forties, feeling profoundly lost, having wandered, or been dragged, far away from- our birthright gifts.
True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Buechner’s definition starts with the self and moves toward the needs of the world: it begins, wisely, where vocation begins-not in what the world needs (which is everything), but in the nature of the human self, in what brings the self joy, the deep joy of knowing that we are here on earth to be the gifts that God created.
When we finally escape the darkness and stumble into the light, it is tempting to tell others that our hope never flagged, to deny those long nights we spent cowering in fear.
But as pilgrim must discover if they are to complete their quest, we are led to truth by our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
There are some things I “ought” to do or be that are simply out of my reach. If I try to be or do something noble that has nothing to do with who I am, I may look good to others and to myself for a while. But the fact that I’m exceeding my limits will eventually have consequences. I will distort myself, the other, and our relationship–and may end up doing more damage than if I had never set out to do this particular “good.”
Dorothy Day was saying, expecting to get their gratitude so that you can feel good about yourself. If you do, your giving will be thin and short-lived, and that is not what the poor need; it will only impoverish them further. Give only if you have something you must give; give only if you are someone for whom giving is its own reward.”
When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless-a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for. That kind of giving is not only loveless but faithless, based on the arrogant and mistaken notion that God has no way of channeling love to the other except through me.
When the gift I give to the other is integral to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself-and me-even as I give it away. Only when I give something that does not grow within me do I deplete myself and harm the other as well, for only harm can come from a gift that is forced, inorganic, unreal.
Embracing the mystery of depression does not mean passivity or resignation. It means moving into a field of forces that seems alien but is in fact one’s deepest self. It means waiting, watching, listening, suffering, and gathering whatever self-knowledge one can–and then making choices based on that knowledge, no matter how difficult. One begins the slow walk back to health by choosing each day things that enliven one’s selfhood and resisting things that do not.
One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person’s pain without trying to “fix” it, to simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person’s mystery and misery. Standing there, we feel useless and powerless, which is exactly how a depressed person feels-and our unconscious need as Job’s comforters is to reassure ourselves that we are not like the sad soul before us.
Others may say that “embracing one’s wholeness” is just fancy talk for permission to sin, but again my experience is to the contrary. To embrace weakness, liability, and darkness as part of who I am gives that part less sway over me, because all it ever wanted was to be acknowledged as part of my whole self.
A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there.
Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility: for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.