How does one come to grips with the idea of wise action in community? How does one keep from immediately feeling overwhelmed? Where does one start?
These are but a few of the questions that jump to mind. As I navigate the thousand thoughts I have about the topic, I soon realize that whatever next step I take in the direction of wise action toward some bigger improvement in society begins with me.
First, I’ve got to relinquish the ego-driven thought that I might possess within me “the solution”—as if the world (or my country, my region, my community, my organization, my unit, or my family) was something to be “fixed.” Second, I quickly acknowledge that I have little hope of making positive impact outside if I have not found some inner gyroscope spinning well and straight. So I find myself returning to the idea of “right being,” trusting that if I can be in right relation to myself I will be more likely to act with wisdom and, if led by a good heart, contribute in community in ways that produce good for others.
What is My Work?
Throughout many of my first 50 years on this earth, I thought of my work (my vocation) as the jobs I held, the titles I was given, the activities I pursued, and the accomplishments I made in those roles. I’ve come now to realize that the last 50 years of my life should be about seeing my “work” quite differently. I now see my work embedded in the theme of Conversation 2014: right being…wise action…in community. My work is about gaining and sustaining clarity of purpose and intent, which guides my behavior and deeds as I endeavor to act together with others for good. So this inner clarity and harmony becomes the guidance system for all I will do.
Writer, teacher, and activist, Parker Palmer, explores the concept of a divided life. He posits that we fear that our “inner light” will be snuffed out and/or that our “inner darkness” will be exposed for others to see. In so doing, we guard and block, keeping at bay a true relationship with ourselves and, as a result, living without real integrity and separated from our soul. He says “as soon as we succumb to someone else’s definition of who we are, we lose our sense of true self and our right relation to the world.”1 So what is the essence of my true self? What is my integrity—my moral code wiring that is unimpaired, unndistilled, and genuine? What is the source of my joy? What is my work?
Frederick Buechner defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”2 There it is; the connection of right being…wise action…in community. Therefore, my work is about listening—first inwardly to know my deep gladness and outwardly to recognize the world’s need. This won’t happen automatically and it’s not likely to happen with big loud, neon lights around what I need to hear and learn. I’ve got to be intentional, to practice listening—to myself and to the world—in ways that might be new for me. I’ve got to push through my ego to live with intention. As I do, I am more likely to find alignment of my intention and my attention—the personal integrity Palmer talks about. The better listener I become, the more likely will be good alignment of my right being with wise action.
Yet, this is not about a destination but a journey, a practice, a life’s work. Despite the alignment of intention and attention, one can’t guarantee the desired results. The beauty of this path is in the trying of it, observing, learning, “leaning into it” in order to gain deeper wisdom to be subsequently applied. None of our lives are pure linear progressions and growth curves. We get distracted, disturbed, deluded, and demoralized. Thus, it must become my work, my practice.
Some may see this path as the epitome of selfishness or self-centeredness. I tend to see this more within the framework Palmer presents. Being whole and good, being in right relation with our inner selves, being undivided so that we are living with soul is all our work. If it is this work that creates the context for all outer work, as I believe it is, then this is exactly where my focus ought to be.
Four questions help me with alignment and tend to foster greater internal wisdom about what is right being, leading to wise action. They are:
- What is the source of my nutrition?
- What must I learn?
- What disruption or disturbance will I walk into?
- Whether conscious of it or not, what does my organization need most of me?
1Parker J. Palmer (2004). A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 102.
2Buechner is the author of Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, and is quoted in Parker J. Palmer (2000). Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 16.