Monthly Archives: January 2015

Newsletter – January 2015













DH: “…I have just been walking on the beach with the youngest of the grandkids who are visiting from Chile. I was pondering my response to you and realized how matter of fact I am and how simple I try to keep my life. I do not spend much time thinking about the spiritual. I just want to exist within my circle of family and friends. By doing this I do admit to myself I shall have followed Jesus’ teachings, and, even though I rarely go to Church, He will let me Into His Heaven if it exists because I have been a good guy.”

RW: “…I thought David Brooks hit the nail on the head about struggling for the wrong thing in a different way when he said:  “Meaningfulness is pure and self-regarding feeling, the NutraSweet of the inner life.”  Is that a great quote to trigger a discussion about finding meaning/purpose or what?”

MO: “You are several years ahead of me in age. But much more importantly, way more serious about such issues as the meanings in our lives. Perhaps I will get it as I get a bit older, but right now I think not. Meaning is not something I get.”



January greetings, Dear Friends…

This turns out to be a very focused issue. It initially was inspired by this month’s articles which I was going to precede with these QUOTES OF THE MONTH…

     “The life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me.” (Parker J. Palmer)

     “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” (Joseph Campbell)

     “I’d chosen the regret I could live with best, that’s all. I’d chosen the life that belonged to me.” (Sue Monk Kidd)

But then I received feedback from three CTAL colleagues that turned my head around, and I saw more than I’d glimpsed before. The result is, I think, a deeper and truer appreciation of Third Age’s paradoxical gifts. See what you think about how this might all fit together…

It was my friend, Derek Harvey, who drew my attention to the Brooks “THE PROBLEM WITH MEANING” (#2); you might want to read it first and then return to these Musings.

DH: “Hi FW – think you’ll find this Brooks’ column interesting…”

FW: Thanks much, Derek, for this. While I share Brook’s concern about the individualistic interpretation of moral codes, I also remain very wary of institutionalized versions. It seems to me the quandary is a true paradox that requires a choice be individually made, especially at critical moments in life. And, unfortunately, my experience of our species is that, at the vast majority of those ‘critical moments,’ few of us are able to do so – myself most certainly included.

Whether institutionalized moral codes that lead to genocide as well as community well-being are superior to individual ‘meaning’ is unknowable to me without definition of each specific situation – and may remain so even when I am well aware of the context. How do you come down on this one?

DH: “I related to the individual sections of the column. I liked the distinction between happiness and meaning. I agree with the simple notion of happiness is receiving and meaning is giving.

     “My life has been built around loyalty to friends and family particularly to my children (and now grand children), but also to my brothers, uncles and close friends.

   “Loyalty and giving provide me with my bedrock. I have never sought the spiritual, my guiding light is to do what I can for people within my orbit.

     “I feel that I have a bond with the core tenet of Christianity as preached by Jesus. This is how the individual and society are interconnected. Without organizing principles Hobbes Leviathan would exist.

FW: I like and respect Brooks for how honestly he shares his own paradox as a personally responsible conservative and a caring, empathetic human being. Not a simple one. I identify and have erred toward both extremes being an Any Rand/Fritz Perls devotee in my 20’s and 30’s who morphed into a humanistic psychologist/spiritual seeker thereafter. While I still live the full range, I know my primary ‘Direction of Error‘ is toward being too demanding and impatient.

I, too, too have built my life around my children and family as well as a few close friends, but ‘loyalty’ is not a word I’d use for me. I give generously in the material sense, but I am quick to resent when I feel ignored or taken for granted. I’m getting better by talking with Donna, Nancy and the rest of the family when this happens, but loyalty in those moments is pretty non-existent until I can find myself again. I’ve always admired how consistent you’ve been with Mary and your kids.

I also ‘have a bond with the core tenet of Christianity as preached by Jesus’ and many others I admire, but see a difference in kind between those who actually have what Maslow called ‘peak experiences’ and the succeeding generations that attempt to institutionalize them. The latter consistently err in the direction of the letter, rather than the spirit, of that experience.

Now to return to your distinction between happiness and meaning. The simple notion of ‘happiness is receiving and meaning is giving’ also makes sense to me – and it is expanding for me in these last few years. More and more I move away from the intellectual homeland I’ve occupied for most of my life into another realm hard to describe(even if it doesn’t show in this).

As simplistic as it may sound, happiness, in the deeper sense I’ve evolved to experience, now is meaning for me – there is no dichotomy or separation. And this seems, more than anything else, to be a function of aging and solitude. I joke about having my own ‘monastery’ and being the only monk, but the joke is also truth for me…

DH: “Thanks for this dialogue. I have just been walking on the beach with the youngest of the grandkids who are visiting from Chile. I was pondering my response to you and realized how matter of fact I am and how simple I try to keep my life. I do not spend much time thinking about the spiritual. I just want to exist within my circle of family and friends. By doing this I do admit to myself I shall have followed Jesus teachings, and, even though I rarely go to Church, He will let me Into His Heaven if it exists because I have been a good guy.

FW: And thank you, too, Derek. Your wisdom of wanting to keep your life simple and to exist within your circle of family and friends fits perfectly for me, too.

And it seems we may be significantly different in our emphasis on spending time with children and ideas, but both are important to us. For me, two or three video Skypes with post-adolescent family and occasional playfulness with the little ones suffice while you seem to be much more present in person. As is obvious, I love playing with ideas about how things really work for us evolving humans and spend a lot of my time dipping into the ‘spirituality pool’ along with my enjoyment of ‘puttering.’ This is what I mean by “keeping my life simple and being matter of fact.”

But I’m no longer seeking personal meaning or cultural moral codes; both have in common the mistaken belief that a ‘right way’ can be found either internally or externally. What I do is play in growing peace with my limited puttering, thinking, relating and just being. So I feel I am shifting in similar ways to you as I also enjoy what Jane Thibault calls AGING AS A NATURAL MONASTERY (# 3)…

The second of the exchanges was with Ronn Williamson, one of Garrison Keeler’s fellow Minnesotans…

RW: “Father William! Congratulations on celebrating your 25 years of marriage to Donna and your 25 years of Third Age personal growth – not just a coincidence of timing but probably a clear connection of the two experiences, right?

     “I remember our colleague and CTAL Co-founder Bill Sadler offered us a number of paradoxes that Third Age can help us resolve. One that stands out was the seeming choice necessitated by the reality of ‘Self and Other.’ In earlier life it seemed this division meant we had to choose EITHER ‘independence’ OR ‘dependence.’ But in Third Age we’ve both discovered we can have BOTH ‘independence’ AND ‘dependence’ by opening to and living the synergistic possibility of ‘interdependence.’

     “The Huffington Post article about 25 years of marriage reminded me that quite a bit of personal and relationship growth occurred through both our Second and Third Ages.  And while many could not make relationships work in our Second Age, our Third Age growth has obviously been very beneficial for our continuing partnerships with Donna and Karen.

     “What was a paradox in our earlier life is not one now!”

FW: I couldn’t agree with you more, Ronn, and couldn’t have believed earlier I could and would turn out to be as mellow and easy to live with as I am…

RW: “On a personal note, while the first four articles this month all indicate our need to search for the ‘right’ life or the ‘meaning’ of life, I don’t feel that need to search for anything right now. Karen on the other hand is struggling with “retirement” and so is her sister Jane.  Karen was explaining her longing to still contribute the other night, but also mentioned her frustration about how she still doesn’t know what she wants to do at this stage of her life.  I said that I don’t have a longing for purpose or the frustration it brings and am simply content with my life right now. I asked her if she was not content. She quickly agreed that was the gist of her consternation.  

     “Pastor Rick Warren’s “purpose driven life” is just one of many well-meant but intimidating directives for how to live, right?  We need to find purpose – we need to find meaning!  So, on the one hand, are we supposed to (sadly?) struggle to find purpose or meaning as Karen and Jane seem to be doing or, as Maria Popova suggests below, are we to simply find contentment through letting our lives speak by  “Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess”? I think the point of these great articles is to suggest something a little different than we have been hearing lately.”

FW: The quotes and articles suggest something very different than I’ve heard for my entire life beginning with toilet training and my religious childhood that made it clear I was to be and do ‘right’ – and look to others constantly to see if I was being ‘right’ enough. Then came puberty and the counter-dependence of my teen-age years when I thought I was really changing that childish game. The truth was I didn’t change the game at all; I just changed the content from worshipping clerics to worshipping James Dean, Marlon Brando, etc. What I mean by not changing the game is that I still sought to be ‘right’ but just switched to different models to follow and imitate. This pattern continued until into my sixties with only the models (like Ayn Rand, Summerhill, Marshall McLuhan, Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, Synanon, Stephen Covey, ad infinitum) rotating through the same unchanging process of finding ‘the right way’! Why would anyone in his right mind pursue such absurdity for so long?

Ego is an obvious answer – “I” wanted to be “right” because then “I” would be “superior.”

But this is too pat, too easy. Now I can see “I” was simply scared to death most of the time – poor “I” actually just wanted to be safe. And he’d been brainwashed to believe being “superior” would bring him that.

How sad.

RW: “I thought David Brooks hit the nail on the head about struggling for the wrong thing in a different way when he said:  “Meaningfulness is pure and self-regarding feeling, the NutraSweet of the inner life.”  Is that a great quote to trigger a discussion about finding meaning/purpose or what?”

But maybe there’s an upside here. Now that I’m here in my ‘natural monastery’ puttering and, as Elder Ed would say, “relaxing into participation,” I can see how inappropriate I might have been knowing this at an earlier age but not having the maturity to guide that knowledge. It would have been very difficult, probably impossible, to get me to travel those paths that did bring me understanding and wisdom. I might still be living off relatives!

So many thanks, Ronn, for getting this dialogue rolling. You’ve gotten me to drop another bit of earlier brainwashing…

     “We grow too soon old and too late schmart!”

It does seem that technological cultures are replacing respect for maturity and wisdom with cravings for youthful ‘schmarts’, wealth and power…

From The New Republic, The Brutal Ageism of Tech, March 23, 2014:

Years of experience, plenty of talent, completely obsolete

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. ‘Young people are just smarter,’ Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: ‘We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.

…and that such dismissals of experience and wisdom are major threats to the future of our planet. Of course I do not suggest that age equals wisdom. It is one thing to experience thirty years of learning; it is quite another to repeat one year of experience thirty times.

As Richard Bach wrote in “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”…

     “It’s good to be a seeker,
     but sooner or later
           you have to be a finder.
     And then it is well
     to give what you have found,
     a gift into the world
     for whoever will accept it.”

And what old FW has found is that paradox is a more mature and useful way to view reality than my youthful EITHER/OR righteousness. And in response to my CTAL colleagues and the articles included, I offer my latest learning – to help us all balance BOTH supporting respected cultural moral systems AND finding our own unique paths as we mature.

Few do this better than my friend, Mark, who can BOTH know who and where he is AND be open to different worlds that others inhabit, too…

MO: “You are several years ahead of me in age. But much more importantly, way more serious about such issues as the meanings in our lives. Perhaps I will get it as I get a bit older, but right now I think not. Meaning is not something I get.”

So thank you Derek, Ronn, Mark, David Brooks, Jane Thibault, et al., for helping me unfold more of my evolving meaning in life…

Much love, FW




FW NOTE: This piece by David seems to dispute the validity of the two that precede it, but I see it as presenting more fully another dimension of the paradox of BOTH opening to subjective meaning AND living lovingly in community with others. See how you put three articles together for you…

Not long ago, a friend sent me a speech that the great civic leader John Gardner gave to the Stanford Alumni Association 61 years after he graduated from that college. The speech is chock-full of practical wisdom. I especially liked this passage:

“The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent but pays off on character.

“You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you; they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.”

Gardner goes on in this wise way. And then, at the end, he goes into a peroration about leading a meaningful life. “Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you. … You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life.”

Gardner puts “meaning” at the apogee of human existence. His speech reminded me how often we’ve heard that word over the past decades. As my Times colleague April Lawson puts it, “meaning” has become the stand-in concept for everything the soul yearns for and seeks. It is one of the few phrases acceptable in modern parlance to describe a fundamentally spiritual need.

Yet what do we mean when we use the word meaning?

The first thing we mean is that life should be about more than material success. The person leading a meaningful life has found some way of serving others that leads to a feeling of significance.

Second, a meaningful life is more satisfying than a merely happy life. Happiness is about enjoying the present; meaning is about dedicating oneself to the future. Happiness is about receiving; meaningfulness is about giving. Happiness is about upbeat moods and nice experiences. People leading meaningful lives experience a deeper sense of satisfaction.

In this way, meaning is an uplifting state of consciousness. It’s what you feel when you’re serving things beyond self.

Yet it has to be said, as commonly used today, the word is flabby and vacuous, the product of a culture that has grown inarticulate about inner life.

Let me put it this way: If we look at the people in history who achieved great things — like Nelson Mandela or Albert Schweitzer or Abraham Lincoln — it wasn’t because they wanted to bathe luxuriously in their own sense of meaningfulness. They had objective and eternally true standards of justice and injustice. They were indignant when those eternal standards were violated. They subscribed to moral systems — whether secular or religious — that recommended specific ways of being, and had specific structures of what is right and wrong, and had specific disciplines about how you might get better over time.

Meaningfulness tries to replace structures, standards and disciplines with self-regarding emotion. The ultimate authority of meaningful is the warm tingling we get when we feel significant and meaningful. Meaningfulness tries to replace moral systems with the emotional corona that surrounds acts of charity.

It’s a paltry substitute. Because meaningfulness is built solely on an emotion, it is contentless and irreducible. Because it is built solely on emotion, it’s subjective and relativistic. You get meaning one way. I get meaning another way. Who is any of us to judge another’s emotion?

Because it’s based solely on sentiment, it is useless. There are no criteria to determine what kind of meaningfulness is higher. There’s no practical manual that would help guide each of us as we move from shallower forms of service to deeper ones. There is no hierarchy of values that would help us select, from among all the things we might do, that activity which is highest and best to do.

Because it’s based solely on emotion, it’s fleeting. When the sensations of meaningful go away then the cause that once aroused them gets dropped, too. Ennui floods in. Personal crisis follows. There’s no reliable ground.

The philosophy of meaningfulness emerges in a culture in which there is no common moral vocabulary or framework. It emerges amid radical pluralism, when people don’t want to judge each other. Meaningfulness emerges when the fundamental question is, do we feel good?

Real moral systems are based on a balance of intellectual rigor and aroused moral sentiments. Meaningfulness is pure and self-regarding feeling, the NutraSweet of the inner life.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 6, 2015, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: The Problem With Meaning. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe




FW NOTE: Jane’s thinking has had an enormous impact on my Third Age, and I can’t thank her enough for it. As a First and Second Age extrovert, it has helped me accept and understand my metamorphosis into Third Age lover of solitude…

An increasing number of my days are spent encouraging and accompanying adults on their spiritual journeys. When I was first invited to engage in spiritual “companioning” and counseling with elders, I had a traditional paradigm of spiritual growth in mind. I had been trained experientially and cognitively from an early age in Carmelite spirituality, specifically through studying the works of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and my own experience of Carmelite spiritual direction. Later I added Benedictine and Ignatian concepts and James Fowler’s theories of stages of faith development. I was oriented to a linear approach to developmental stages of faith and spiritual growth and was rather dogmatic in my thinking that the spiritual life “should” be a lifelong process of increasing awareness and experience of the transcendent within and without, culminating in a specific, ongoing sense of union with God in later life. Colleagues joked that I was trying to “make mystics out of out people” and I retorted with, “Why not? Can you think of anything more exciting to look forward to?”

With that thought in mind I began and intense search for elderly mystics. I wanted to see how mysticism “played out” in later life. I was sure I would find many models among aged monks, nuns, and devout lay people of all faiths. I wanted to hear the stories of their inner experiences and understand the influences on and patterns of their development.

What I found was at first very disappointing. Not one person told of experiencing those phenomena described in the classic literature on mysticism, such as the sense of luminousness, a deeper sense of reality and meaning, a feeling of “oneness” with God or reality. In addition, most of the people I interviewed did not seem to be able to relate to the words I used. For example, the question, “have you ever had what you felt was an experience of God’s nearness?” met, more often than not, with blank stares. I could not understand these responses and the seeming lack of “mystical” signs and symptoms in people for whom the spiritual had played a large and significant part in their lives. In addition, there seemed to be a concreteness to their spirituality that even seemed “anti-mystical,” if there were such a thing. What had happened to these people—had they not grown into the later stages of mystical development as described in the literature? Were there no elderly mystics? Was mysticism an obsolete concept in the final years of the 20th century?

Disappointed, I went back for a second look, this time throwing away my preconceived notions of what constituted “mysticism” in later life—or any other time of life. What I found was far more refreshing that visions and ecstasies and profound, isolated experiences of union with God. What I discovered were people who had ceased reflecting on themselves and even on God, but who definitely had the Zen-like ability to enter into an experience of the immediate moment. For these people, all of life was present to them in what the late theologian Karl Rahner termed “everyday mysticism.” For these people, late life had become a kind of “natural monastery,” where all the changes that the young rail against and describe as losses and diminishments had become opportunities to clear away the obstacles to experiencing and appreciating each moment with its own special beauty and/or pain. It was as if life had been stripped down to its barest essentials, so that the real could shine through and be appreciated, even if the real involved pain and suffering.

One of the primary reasons that young people choose to live in monasteries—even in this day and age—is to act on a desire to strip their lives of as many external obstacles to God as possible. Their lives are deliberately physically circumscribed, with emphasis on minimizing rather than maximizing outer experience. To do this, hey practice forms of self-denial that include simplification of lifestyle and relinquishment of ownership of (and concern for) may things. This is thought to free them from hectic, everyday harassments so they can contemplate and experience transcendent reality that shines through natural things, simplicity of lifestyle, deep presence to one another, solitude and quiet.

In a very real sense the experience of old age, especially frail elderhood, is an experience of living monastically. Solitary life in one’s own home or common life in a nursing home is an experience of winnowing, of paring down to the barest essentials. One 90-year old woman shared her life with me in these words:

I really don’t think about God very much any more, even though I used to. In the past my spiritual life was very complicated, and a distinct compartment of my life as a whole. I was always wondering if I were pleasing God, always concerned that I wasn’t doing God’s will “just right,” always thinking that I was not quite good enough. As I look back on it now, I realize that what was important to me was how I was performing for God. The emphasis was really always on me and what I was doing, even though I thought it was on God.

Now, in my very old age, I’ve given up all of that performing stuff—probably because I don’t have the energy for it any longer. I can’t do much any more and I can’t even think much, either; I forget a great deal. Now all I can do is look out at my little world—my house and cats and my dog and the people who bathe me and bring me food and the sky and everything, and I just spend my time loving them. I just look at it all and I love it. Even though my eyesight is bad, in my mind’s eye I see everything. It is all so very beautiful, even the bad things somehow get washed in the beauty of everything. I am so grateful for it all, grateful for all of my life, even the little things like—please excuse me—being able to have a bowel movement. Am I neglecting God because I don’t think about him much anymore? I don’t think so. Somehow, I feel that my looking and loving is enough for God—that that’s all God ever really wanted from me in the first place, to love what he gave me. Don’t you think so?

Jane Thibault (1993). A Deepening Love Affair” The Gift of God in Later Life. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, p.95).




FW NOTE: Thanks again to Maria Popova for distilling this wisdom into an essence we can grasp in these too busy times. Palmer’s life and learnings certainly echo mine – and I imagine many of yours as well…


“Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney,” young Vincent van Gogh wrote in a letter as he floundered to find his purpose. For the century and a half since, and undoubtedly the many centuries before, the question of how to kindle that soul-warming fire by finding one’s purpose and making a living out of meaningful work has continued to frustrate not only the young, not only aspiring artists, but people of all ages, abilities, and walks of life. How to navigate that existential maze with grace is what Parker J. Palmer – founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal and a man of great insight into the elusive art of inner wholeness – explores with compassionate warmth and wisdom in his 1999 book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (public library | IndieBound).

In his own youth, Palmer had come to know intimately the soul-splitting rift between being good at one’s work and being fulfilled in one’s purpose. As an aspiring “ad man” in the Mad Men era, lured by “the fast car and other large toys that seemed to be the accessories [of] selfhood” – something supplanted today, perhaps, by the startup-lifestyle fetishism afflicting many young people – he awoke one day to a distinct and chilling realization:

   “The life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me.”

Speaking to the notion that a large part of success is defining it for ourselves, and defining it in terms as close to Thoreau’s as possible, Palmer reflects on his youth:

   “I lined up the loftiest ideals I could find and set out to achieve them. The results were rarely admirable, often laughable, and sometimes grotesque… I had simply found a “noble” way to live a life that was not my own, a life spent imitating heroes instead of listening to my heart…

   “My youthful understanding of “Let your life speak” led me to conjure up the highest values I could imagine and then try to conform my life to them whether they were mine or not. If that sounds like what we are supposed to do with values, it is because that is what we are too often taught. There is a simplistic brand of moralism among us that wants to reduce the ethical life to making a list, checking it twice – against the index in some best-selling book of virtues, perhaps – and then trying very hard to be not naughty but nice.

   “There may be moments in life when we are so unformed that we need to use values like an exoskeleton to keep us from collapsing. But something is very wrong if such moments recur often in adulthood. Trying to live someone else’s life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail – and may even do great damage.”

Thirty years later, he arrives at a deeper, more ennobling, hard-earned interpretation of the old Quaker phrase after which the book is titled:

   “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”

To be sure, this way of relating to life isn’t about passivity or resignation or an illusory belief in fatedness, but about deconditioning our tendency to try to bend the world to our will and instead hear the quieter, deeper voices that speak to us from behind the ego’s proclamations of will. In fact, the disposition Palmer advocates is something akin to Jeanette Winterson’s notion of “active surrender” – the same paradoxical state we need to attain in order to experience the transformational power of art appears to be the one needed in discerning our true vocation. Palmer writes:

   “If the self seeks not pathology but wholeness, as I believe it does, then the willful pursuit of vocation is an act of violence toward ourselves – violence in the name of a vision that, however lofty, is forced on the self from without rather than grown from within. True self, when violated, will always resist us, sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check until we honor its truth. Vocation does not come from willfulness. 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.”

Listening, Palmer suggests, is a matter of shaking off the tyranny of “should” – whether socially imposed or self-inflicted. He offers a beautiful definition of what vocation really means and what it stands to give:

   “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling the who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live – but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.”

In a sentiment reminiscent of Thoreau’s famous lament about borrowed opinions and one particularly poignant in our culture of confusing repetition and regurgitation for reflection and integration, Palmer adds:

   “We listen for guidance everywhere except from within.”

And yet, Palmer cautions, what we hear might not always be a mellifluous serenade by our highest selves – but giving voice to the parts of ourselves we least like is essential to the process:

   “My life is not only about my strengths and virtues; it is also about my liabilities and my limits, my trespasses and my shadow. 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.”

Let’s take a necessary pause here to acknowledge that few words in our culture elicit more cynicism when mentioned publicly and more profound longing when contemplated privately than “soul.” We wince at soul-speak as the stuff of misguided mystics or, worse yet, motivational speakers. And yet hardly anyone with even the slightest semblance of aspiration toward happiness can deny the existence of this delicately sensitive, stubbornly resilient core of our humanity. What makes Palmer’s writing – Palmer’s mind – especially enchanting is the tenderness with which he holds both sides of this cultural duality, yet remains unflinchingly on the side of the soul:

   “In our culture, we tend to gather information in ways that do not work very well when the source is the human soul: the soul is not responsive to subpoenas or cross-examinations. At best it will stand in the dock only long enough to plead the Fifth Amendment. At worst it will jump bail and never be heard from again. The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions.

   “The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.”

With gentle compassion for our tendency to begin twenty years too late, Palmer writes:

   “What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been! How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity – the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.”

He issues an especially passionate admonition against buying into the myth that a vocation is something bestowed upon us by an external force, some booming voice outside ourselves that does the “calling.” Instead, echoing Picasso’s proclamation that “one must have the courage of one’s vocation and the courage to make a living from one’s vocation,” he dismisses such misleading models of externalizing the quest for a calling:

   “That concept of vocation is rooted in a deep distrust of selfhood, in the belief that the sinful self will always be “self-ish” unless corrected by external forces of virtue. It is a notion that made me feel inadequate to the task of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I was supposed to be, leaving me exhausted as I labored to close the gap.

   “Today I understand vocation quite differently – not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be.”

And yet, Palmer is careful to acknowledge, accepting that innermost gift “turns out to be even more demanding than attempting to become someone else” – overwhelmed by its demands, we often hide or flee from it, bury it in busywork, or simply ignore it. But, reflecting on his granddaughter’s distinct personality even as a baby, he assures that this gift is in each of us awaiting discovery:

   “We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then – if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss – we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.”

Let Your Life Speak remains an indispensable read. Complement it with philosopher Roman Krznaric on how to find fulfilling work and some thoughts on making a living of doing what you love, then revisit Palmer on the art of inner wholeness.




FW NOTE: Here Weber shows how this perspective is very similar to Palmer’s in #1 and Paul’s in #5 because I do believe in the importance of seeing that many paths do lead to the same mountain top…

In the Thomas gospel, Jesus is presented as a spiritual guide whose words (when properly understood) bring eternal life (Saying 1). Readers of these sayings are advised to continue seeking until they find what will enable them to become rulers of their own lives (Saying 2) and thus to know themselves (Saying 3) and their legacy of being the children of “the living Father” (Saying 3). These goals are presented in the image of “entering the Kingdom” by the methodology of insight that goes beyond duality. (Saying 22). The Gospel of Thomas shows little or no concern for orthodox religious concepts and doctrines. Scholars have traditionally understood the Gospel of Thomas as a Gnostic text because it was found amongst other gnostic texts, was understood as being prone to a Gnostic interpretation by the early Church, and emphasized knowledge as the key to salvation, particularly in Saying 1. However this view has recently come under some criticism by suggesting that while it is possible to interpret the text in a way that aligns with Gnosticism there is nothing inherently Gnostic about the text itself.

The Gospel of Thomas emphasizes direct and unmediated experience. In Thomas saying 108, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.” Furthermore, salvation is personal and found through spiritual (psychological) introspection. In Thomas saying 70, Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” As such, this form of salvation is idiosyncratic and without literal explanation unless read from a psychological perspective related to Self vs. ego. In Thomas saying 3, Jesus says,

   “…the Kingdom of God is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty, and it is you who are that poverty.”

In the other four gospels, Jesus is frequently called upon to explain the meanings of parables or the correct procedure for prayer. In Thomas saying 6, his disciples ask him, “Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give alms? What diet should we observe?” For reasons unknown, Jesus’s answer is found in saying 14, wherein he advises against fasting, praying, and the giving of alms (all contrary to Christian practice of the time), although he does take a position similar to that in Mark 7: 18–19 and Matthew 15:11 that what goes into the mouth will not defile a person, but what comes out of the mouth will. This is just one example in Thomas in which the hearer’s attention is directed away from objectified judgments of the world to knowing oneself in direct and straightforward manner, which is sometimes called being “as a child” or “a little one” through the unification of dualistic thinking and modes of objectification. (For example, Sayings 22 and 37) To portray the breaking down of the dualistic perspective Jesus uses the image of fire which consumes all. (See Sayings 10 and 82).

The teaching of salvation (i.e., entering the Kingdom of Heaven) that is found in The Gospel of Thomas is neither that of “works” nor of “grace” as the dichotomy is found in the canonical gospels, but what might be called a third way, that of insight. The overriding concern of The Gospel of Thomas is to find the light within in order to be a light unto the world. (See for example, Sayings 24, 26)

In contrast to the Gospel of John, where Jesus is likened to a (divine and beloved) Lord as in ruler, the Thomas gospel portrays Jesus as more the ubiquitous vehicle of spiritual inspiration and enlightenment, as in saying 77:

   “I am the light that shines over all things. I am everything. From me all came forth, and to me all return. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there.”

In many other respects, the Thomas gospel offers terse yet familiar if not identical accounts of the sayings of Jesus as seen in the synoptic gospels.[64]

Michel Weber has attempted, in his Essai sur la gnose de Harvard, a Whiteheadian interpretation of the Gospel of Thomas.[65]




FW NOTE: It has taken this old man a lot of years to see most of the roles he believed were real when he played them. Mack Paul suggests, “We can only observe the endless stream of stories and witness our desire to believe them without actually believing them…”

We seem so very real. But our bodies are really not our own and we have no control over either their coming or going. We have roles that we play and try to convince ourselves that they are real. It is illuminating to watch this process in kids because with them, the process is very transparent. They try on identities like they are trying on t-shirts. When they find one they like, they identify with the narrative that supports it and then they split up into mutually antagonistic groups. Adults do the same thing but adult identities are covered up under thick layers of justification that appear reasonable.

Shakespeare had it right it when he said that “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players.” Roles are a good thing that give us structure and purpose. But when we really begin believing in the roles we play we become more and more willing to sacrifice ourselves and others to them.

Sports are a perfect example. They are popular melodramas that are absolutely meaningless and of no consequence whatsoever. We invest huge amounts of emotion in them involving a relatively mild form of human sacrifice. Thankfully, we don’t drag people up on an altar to cut their throats and tear out their hearts any longer but we do dress them up in football uniforms and cheer as they beat their brains out. I saw a picture of Brazilian fans after their World Cup loss to Germany. Had I not known better I would have thought they were watching their children being torn apart by wild dogs.

The purpose of religion and spiritual practices is to see beyond our individual dramas to a greater, transcendent truth. Everyone who practices a religion understands this. Nevertheless, the practice of religion largely consists of bitter fighting over competing mythologies.

Mindfulness isn’t about what we believe. It is the simple act of paying curious and non-judgmental attention to the present moment. The present moment sounds pretty good. We hear that and imagine a state of bliss. Then we spend a little time in the present we find that is mainly made up of one thought after another. We hate that and complain that we can’t get the mind to stop. Minds don’t stop. Minds think. We can only observe the endless stream of stories and witness our desire to believe them without actually believing them. That isn’t so easy.




FW NOTE: Just as we must work at our relationship with our Self/Soul, so must we work at our relationships with loved ones, especially partners. Old FW is about to celebrate 25 years of his fourth marriage with Donna. She has helped me finally understand and live what Sharon describes here…

Have you heard the joke that goes like this?

   I’ve been married for 25 years. It’s been the happiest 6 months of my life.

Like most good jokes, there’s a kernel of truth in that statement. Much of marriage isn’t simply about being happy, just like after the age of about 11, much of life isn’t simply about being happy either. Most of us, if we’re not either incredibly wealthy or incredibly irresponsible, spend much of our lives in the most ordinary of pursuits, the most pedestrian of activities — and while we may have moments, hours, even entire days when we’re giddy with happiness, for most of us, being happy all the time just isn’t possible.

There’s too many other things we have to do.

The same goes for marriage. Being happily married is not the same thing as being happy all the time. Being happily married is understanding that marriage is a contract and a commitment. Being happily married is putting the success of the marriage above either person’s individual needs or desires. The marriage has to be bigger than either person. The marriage has to take priority over anything else in your lives — at least most of the time.

   – I did not know this when my husband proposed to me one Friday night, drunk and naked, having bought me a ring that afternoon (he’s such a romantic).

   – I did not know this 25 years ago at our wedding, at a yacht club overlooking the Pacific Ocean where we were not members (we have never owned a boat, much less a yacht).

   – I did not know this when, three weeks after our honeymoon, I discovered that I was pregnant and my husband could barely speak to me for three days (like it was all my doing).

I did not know this for a long time.

We were so caught up in the whirlwind of our lives — wedding … baby … house … another baby … that the reality of us being a couple was almost an afterthought. We went from newlyweds to new parents in eight months. We went from two of us to four of us in three years. We never had those years “before kids” like most couples do — in fact, between his demanding job and pursuing his MBA at night, I didn’t really spend much time with my husband the two years we were together before our wedding.

Maybe that’s why he fell in love with me. Maybe a little of me goes a long way.

Becoming a family so quickly did not get in the way of our growth as a couple, it just took it in a different direction — one we both loved. We loved being parents (we still do).

But here’s the thing — we really didn’t know each other very well. For as much intimacy as we shared, as much love as we felt for each other, for our kids, we were just starting to get to know each other about five years in. Maybe that’s true for lots of couples — I don’t know. I remember suddenly realizing how different we were, how differently we were raised, how much I didn’t know about him. It was kind of shocking. And I’m sure I was a bit of a surprise to him, too.

When we were dating, we went to see the film On Golden Pond. This scene has always been one of my favorites…

I remember looking over at my husband (then my boyfriend) and thinking, “Yes. I can see feeling like this with you.”

There have been days … even months … when it’s been rough. There were moments we weren’t so sure we’d made the right choice — and sometimes we felt this way at different times. Not a lot of moments, but we’ve had our share.

The most challenging things we’ve been through together — the deaths of our fathers, the stomach-clenching thrill ride of owning a business, raising two wildly different children, our personal ups and downs — those are the things that have brought us closer together, have taken us from being two people to being one couple. The wonderful moments — the days our children were born, the family gatherings, the vacations, the football games and choir shows, the amazing friends … those things have given color and shape and background to our lives. But the most difficult days, the ones that exhausted us and kept us up at night, that scared us or made us desperately sad — those are the days that made 25 years possible.

Those are the days that, oddly enough, I appreciate most of all, because those are the days when I learned the real secret to being married:

You have to be there for each other, no matter what. No. Matter. What. There’s no choice. The moment you hesitate or turn your back, you’re doomed.

That’s what makes me happy. Knowing that he’s there for me, all the time. Knowing I can always count on him to come through, to be my “Norman,” my knight in shining armor. Knowing his hand is there to hold in the middle of the night. And knowing I can — and will — do the same for him.

Previously published on Empty House Full Mind








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Newsletter – New Year’s Day 2015






     Learning is remember what you already know.
     Teaching is reminding others they know as well as you.
     Doing is proving you can remember.



Happy New Year, Dear Friends…

May your beginning to 2015 be a joyous one! Since New Year’s is time to reflect on pasts and futures by playing with resolutions, I thought I’d share four essays that make sense to me – and offer you five emails I make sure to open and read every day. In a way, this is a personal version of the ‘Seinfeld Strategy.’

The hardest thing I’ve found about growing into the person I hope to be is remembering that’s what I mean to do. And since I hope to grow into a good, humble and loving person, I use reminders that come from a number of spiritual traditions, all of which I support and admire. In no particular order…

…the first is doing the daily workbook for ‘A Course in Miracles’ which my friend Dean introduced me to in 1976. It’s made up of 365 lessons, one for each day of the year, and I’ve now repeated this workbook for 38 years – half my life. Clearly it is not new content that I’m looking for, but reminding of what I already know and so easily forget in the hubbub of daily life…

…the second is a daily message from Hazrat Inayat Khan with commentary by his son, Pir Vilayat Khan. They brought the Sufi message and traditions to Europe and the US from their Persian roots. I like to think of then as The Interfaith Spreader of Islam…

…the third is ‘The Daily Good’ sent out by a committed group of volunteers since 1998, and it helps me remember how much good is happening each day, every day…

…fourth is ‘Tricycle Magazine’s Daily Dharma’ reminder of how much more my compassion for all living beings can grow…

…and fifth is ‘A Network for Grateful Living’ which supports the practice of grateful living as a global ethic, inspired by the teachings of Br. David Steindl-Rast and colleagues.

If you need help remembering all you mean to be like old FW, I recommend subscribing to these emails like this so you read them daily, too.

Much love, FW




“But really, all we need is dedication to small, manageable tasks. Mastery follows consistency.” -James Clear

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all-time.

He is regarded as one of the “Top 100 Comedians of All–Time” by Comedy Central. He was also the co–creator and co–writer of Seinfeld, the long–running sitcom which has received numerous awards and was claimed to have the “Top TV Episode of All–Time” as rated by TV Guide.

According to Forbes magazine, Seinfeld reached his peak in earnings when he made $267 million dollars in 1998. (Yes, that was in one year. No, that’s not a typo.) A full 10 years later, in 2008, Seinfeld was still pulling in a cool $85 million per year.

By almost any measure of wealth, popularity, and critical acclaim, Jerry Seinfeld is among the most successful comedians, writers, and actors of his generation.

However, what is most impressive about Seinfeld’s career isn’t the awards, the earnings, or the special moments — it’s the remarkable consistency of it all. Show after show, year after year, he performs, creates, and entertains at an incredibly high standard. Jerry Seinfeld produces with a level of consistency that most of us wish we could bring to our daily work.

Compare his results to where you and I often find ourselves. We want to create, but struggle to do so. We want to exercise, but fail to find motivation. Wanting to achieve our goals, but — for some reason or another — we still procrastinate on them.

What’s the difference? What strategies does Jerry Seinfeld use to beat procrastination and consistently produce quality work? What does he do each day that most people don’t?

I’m not sure about all of his strategies, but I recently discovered a story that revealed one of the secrets behind Seinfeld’s incredible productivity, performance, and consistency.

Let’s talk about that what he does and how you can use the “Seinfeld Strategy” to eliminate procrastination and actually achieve your goals.


Brad Isaac was a young comedian starting out on the comedy circuit. One fateful night, he found himself in a club where Jerry Seinfeld was performing. In an interview onLifehacker, Isaac shared what happened when he caught Seinfeld backstage and asked if he had “any tips for a young comic.”

Here’s how Isaac described the interaction with Seinfeld…

   He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.

   He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

   “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

You’ll notice that Seinfeld didn’t say a single thing about results.

It didn’t matter if he was motivated or not. It didn’t matter if he was writing great jokes or not. It didn’t matter if what he was working on would ever make it into a show. All that mattered was “not breaking the chain.”

And that’s one of the simple secrets behind Seinfeld’s remarkable productivity and consistency. For years, the comedian simply focused on “not breaking the chain.”

Let’s talk about how you can use the Seinfeld Strategy in your life…


Top performers in every field — athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists — they are all more consistent than their peers. They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.

While most people get demotivated and off–track after a bad performance, a bad workout, or simply a bad day at work, top performers settle right back into their pattern the next day.

The Seinfeld Strategy works because it helps to take the focus off of each individual performance and puts the emphasis on the process instead. It’s not about how you feel, how inspired you are, or how brilliant your work is that day. Instead, it’s just about “not breaking the chain.”

All you have to do to apply this strategy to your own life is pick up a calendar (here’s an inexpensive one) and start your chain.


There is one caveat with the Seinfeld Strategy. You need to pick a task that is meaningful enough to make a difference, but simple enough that you can get it done.

It would be wonderful if you could write 10 pages a day for your book, but that’s not a sustainable chain to build. Similarly, it sounds great in theory to be able to deadlift like a maniac every day, but in practice you’ll probably be overtrained and burnt out.

So step one is to choose a task that is simple enough to be sustainable. At the same time, you have to make sure that your actions are meaningful enough to matter.

For example, researching good jokes each day is simple, but you’re never going to write a joke by merely researching. That’s why the process of writing is a better choice. Writing can actually produce a meaningful result, even when it’s done in small doses.

Similarly, doing 10 pushups per day could be simple and meaningful depending on your level of fitness. It will actually make you stronger. Meanwhile, reading a fitness book each day is simple, but it won’t actually get you in better shape.

Choose tasks that are simple to maintain and capable of producing the outcome you want.

Another way of saying this is to focus on actions and not motions, which is a concept that I explained in this article: The Mistake That Smart People Make


The central question that ties our community together — and what I try to write about every Monday and Thursday — is “how do you live a healthy life?” This includes not merely nutrition and exercise, but also exploration and adventure, art and creativity, and connection and community.

But no matter what topic we’re talking about, they all require consistency. No matter what your definition is of a “healthy life,” you’ll have to battle procrastination to make it a reality. Hopefully, the Seinfeld Strategy helps to put that battle in perspective.

Don’t break the chain on your workouts and you’ll find that you get fit rather quickly.

Don’t break the chain in your business and you’ll find that results come much faster.

Don’t break the chain in your artistic pursuits and you’ll find that you will produce creative work on a regular basis.

So often, we assume that excellence requires a monumental effort and that our lofty goals demand incredible doses of willpower and motivation. But really, all we need is dedication to small, manageable tasks. Mastery follows consistency.


For the last eight months I’ve written a new article every Monday and Thursday without missing a beat. Simply setting a schedule has helped me keep that pace and I plan to keep it as we move forward.

But I also want to graduate my writing habits to the next level and start writing 1,000 words each day. Some of those words will turn into books and courses, and some of will continue to be my Monday and Thursday posts.

My “1,000–words–per–day” chain is currently at 4. (I made it to 5 last week before breaking it for a day.)

You may have a couple false starts yourself, but eventually I’m hoping that both you and I can simply tell ourselves, “Don’t break the chain.”

This article is reprinted with permission. The article originally appeared on The author James Clear writes about using behavioral science to master your habits and improve your mental and physical health.




Gardeners are good at nurturing, and they have a great quality of patience, they’re tender. They have to be persistent. -Ralph Fiennes

What do you do when you have too many ideas and not enough time? Or similarly, what about when you have too many tasks and not enough energy?

As an entrepreneur, I feel like I’ve been battling this issue for awhile. There is always another opportunity to chase or a new product idea that sounds exciting. For a long time, I felt guilty about ignoring good ideas that came my way and so I kept adding more to my to-do list.

However, during a recent conversation with Travis Dommert, I learned about a new strategy for dealing with the issue of having too many ideas and projects.

It all comes down to treating your life like a rose bush.

Let me explain what Travis taught me…


As a rose bush grows it creates more buds than it can sustain. If you talk to an experienced gardener, they will tell you that rose bushes need to be pruned to bring out the best in both their appearance and their performance.

You see, a rose bush isn’t like a tree. It can’t grow wider and taller each year. And that means if you never trim away some of the buds, then the bush will eventually exhaust itself and die. There are only so many resources to go around. And if you really want a rose bush to flourish, then it needs to be trimmed down not just once, but each year. [1]

Ideas are like rose bushes: they need to be consistently pruned and trimmed down. And just like a rose bush, pruning away ideas — even if they have potential — allows the remaining ideas to fully blossom.

Just like the rose bush, we face constraints in our lives. We have a limited amount of energy and willpower to apply each day. It’s natural for new ideas and projects to come into our life — just like it’s natural for a rose bush to add new buds — but we have to prune things away before we exhaust ourselves.

In other words: new growth is natural and it’s normal for tasks and ideas to creep into your life, but full growth and optimal living requires pruning.


I like the rose bush analogy because it brings up something that is often lost in most conversations about productivity and simplicity: if you want to reach your full potential, you have to cut out ideas and tasks that are good, but not great.

In my experience, this is really hard to do.

  • If you’re building a business, maybe you have 3 product lines that are profitable. Your business might grow by 5x if you focus on all three, but which product line will grow by 500x if you put all of your energy into it?
  • If you’re training in the gym, there are all sorts of exercises that could make you stronger. But which two or three exercises will build a foundation of strength better than anything else?
  • If you’re thinking about the relationships in your life, there are dozens of people that you are connected to in some way. But which people bring energy into your life and which ones suck energy out of it?

Most rose buds could grow if they are given the chance. In other words, most buds are like a good idea: they have potential. But in order for the entire bush to flourish and live a healthy life, you have to choose the ones with the most potential and cut the rest.


Gardener and writer Elizabeth Roth says, “Roses that are left unpruned can become a tangled mess of old and new canes all competing for air and light.” [2]

We can say the same thing about our lives. A life left unpruned can become a twisted knot of ideas, tasks, and projects competing for your limited time and resources. If you don’t prune some of the branches from your life, the important ones will never flourish.

This article is reprinted with permission. The article originally appeared on The author, James Clear, writes about using behavioral science to master habits and improve mental and physical health.





On October 23, 2006, I sent a short email to a few friends at work — one of the four jobs I held while paying my way through college — with the subject line “brain pickings,” announcing my intention to start a weekly digest featuring five stimulating things to learn about each week, from a breakthrough in neuroscience to a timeless piece of poetry. “It should take no more than 4 minutes (hopefully much less) to read,” I promised. This was the inception of Brain Pickings. At the time, I neither planned nor anticipated that this tiny experiment would one day be included in the Library of Congress digital archive of “materials of historical importance” and the few friends would become millions of monthly readers all over the world, ranging from the Dutch high school student who wrote to me this morning to my 77-year-old grandmother in Bulgaria to the person in Wisconsin who mailed me strudel last week. (Thank you!) Above all, I had no idea that in the seven years to follow, this labor of love would become my greatest joy and most profound source of personal growth, my life and my living, my sense of purpose, my center. (For the curious, more on the origin story here.)

Looking back today on the thousands of hours I’ve spent researching and writing Brain Pickings and the countless collective hours of readership it has germinated — a smile-inducing failure on the four-minute promise — I choke up with gratitude for the privilege of this journey, for its endless rewards of heart, mind and spirit, and for all the choices along the way that made it possible. I’m often asked to offer advice to young people who are just beginning their own voyages of self-discovery, or those reorienting their calling at any stage of life, and though I feel utterly unqualified to give “advice” in that omniscient, universally wise sense the word implies, here are seven things I’ve learned in seven years of making those choices, of integrating “work” and life in such inextricable fusion, and in chronicling this journey of heart, mind and spirit — a journey that took, for whatever blessed and humbling reason, so many others along for the ride. I share these here not because they apply to every life and offer some sort of blueprint to existence, but in the hope that they might benefit your own journey in some small way, bring you closer to your own center, or even simply invite you to reflect on your own sense of purpose.

1.  Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.

Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.

2.  Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone.

As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.

3.  Be generous.

Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.

4.  Build pockets of stillness into your life.

Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.

   Most importantly, sleep. Besides being the greatest creative aphrodisiac, sleep also affects our every waking moment, dictates our social rhythm, and even mediates our negative moods. Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?

5.  When people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.

When people tell you who they are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as importantly, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.

6.  Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity.

Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

7.  “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.

This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.

Read the full article:




The building where I used to run a meditation group was on the same street as a fire station; one could almost guarantee that sometime during the meditation a fire engine would come rushing past, sirens wailing. Not surprisingly, people would afterwards complain: “How could I meditate with that going on?”

How often have we felt something similar? There’s an unspoken assumption that the mind can only become quiet if the world around is quiet. We imagine the ideal meditation setting to be somewhere far from the madding crowd—a retreat deep in a forest, a peaceful chapel, or the quiet of one’s own bedroom, perhaps. It is much harder for the mind to settle down in a noisy environment. Or is it?

I suggested to the group that the next time a fire engine came blasting by they look within and explore whether the sound really was that disturbing? After the following meditation, a participant reported how the noise no longer seemed a problem; it was there, but it didn’t disturb her. The disturbance, she realized, came not from the sound itself, but from wishing it weren’t there.

When we accept things as they are, “go with the flow,” there is ease. This is our natural state of mind — content and relaxed. Dis-content arises when we resist our experience. Our natural state of ease becomes veiled by a self-created discontent.

Thus, we can return to a more peaceful state of mind by letting go of our attachments as to how our experience ought to be and accept it as it is.

Upon hearing this, people often ask: Does this mean I should accept injustice and cruelty, the homeless sleeping on the streets, or the recalcitrant attitude of my partner? Of course not. There are numerous situations that we should not tolerate, and each, in our own way, will be called to do what we can to improve the world. “Accepting our experience as it is” means just that; accepting our experience in the moment. If we are feeling frustrated, angry, or indignant, accept that feeling. Don’t resist it, or wish it weren’t there; but let it in, become interested in how it feels.

Even more valuably, we can explore the resistance itself. It can be quite subtle, and not easily noticed at first. So I find it useful to simply pause and ask: “Is there any sense of resistance that I am not noticing?” And gently wait. I may then become aware of some resentment towards my experience, wishing it were different, or perhaps just a sense of tension or contraction in my being. Then rather than focusing on whatever I may have been resisting, I turn my attention to the resistance itself, opening to this aspect of “what is.”

Rather than dividing experience into two parts—the experience in the moment, and thoughts and judgments about that experience—any resistance is now included as part of the present moment. Not resisting the resistance, the veil of discontent dissolves, and I return to a more relaxed, easeful state of mind.

That is what is meant by a quiet mind. Not an empty mind. We are aware of the world just as before. Aware of sounds, sensations, thoughts and feelings. We are simply allowing our experience to be as it is. Not wishing for something different, not creating unnecessary discontent.


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