The other night I opened up a copy of Parker Palmer’s book Let your Life Speak and the first chapter felt like sinking into the warmest of parental hugs. I nearly cried from the relief and gratitude that his words evoked in my heart.
Let your Life Speak.
This is a Quaker saying that Palmer defines as “Let the highest truths and values guide you. Live up to those demanding standards in everything that you do.”
It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
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.
I’m reading this, asking myself – is this man writing especially for me?
It feels that way.
Are you comfortable with who you are being?
How many of us, at some point in our adulthood, reach a point of discomfort with who we are being?
It’s taken twenty years for me to realize that I’ve been striving. Striving to be something that I had never even taken the time to sit down and define.
I knew I wanted to have purpose. I knew I wanted to be successful. I knew I wanted to be good.
But what any of that even mean? And how is it quantified? I realized that I was seeking to measure up somehow, but to whom?
When you don’t know the goal, consider the activity
The best way that I’ve found to (begin to) strip away some layers of manufactured being is to ask myself the question:
What activities bring you joy?
For many years I neglected to ask myself this question. (Or really any other kind of gentle questions that might take me closer to the best version of myself.)
Now I ask the question often.
What activities bring me joy?
What activities bring YOU joy?
All of us are on a journey, and as they say, the journey IS the destination. So how are you checking yourself to make sure you’re on the right path?
Do you expect the right path for you to be the most difficult path?
The most flashy path? The path which is most crowded with people?
How do you assess where you are and who you are being, and make decisions for the future?
Many of us don’t bother with this at all. We just go along, carried by the flow.
To whom are you listening?
What would it take for you to stop for a while, sit down, and listen to the quiet voice of your life?
Palmer made the observation that when he would lead retreats, many participants would furiously take notes on the words of the presenter, sometimes take notes of the comments of others, and yet almost never take notes on what they themselves have to say.
What stops us from listening to our own words? Is it not fair to say that often the guidance we share with others would be well-suited to our own selves as well? Palmer encourages his retreatants to take notes on their own words, to listen to themselves.
The clues are there, laying about in our lives
“From the beginning, our lives lay down clues to self-hood and vocation, though the clues may be hard to decode.”
Palmer reflects on how as a child, he thought he would go into aviation or aeronautics. His younger self was fascinated by flight, and by the mechanics of airplanes. He would make books on these subjects by hand, painstakingly assembling and synthesizing the content, drawing diagrams, typing definitions, folding the pages, binding them into a books, and illustrating the covers.
In retrospect, Palmer discovered that it wasn’t aviation or aeronautics that he wanted – it was to create books.
If you were to reflect upon your childhood and youth, where would you find the clues, and what would they show you about yourself?
Perhaps you feel just fine about who are you being, and what you are doing. Perhaps you know that you are on the path which brings you joy. If this is the case, I salute you.
For all the rest of us, there are keys to finding the answers in Palmer’s book.
Are you ready to let your life speak?