The Courage to Hold Tension in Life-Giving Ways
When the World is Going to Hell in a Handbasket
I took this photo on November 19, 2016. The world felt volatile, uncertain and almost hopeless. Here in 2022, it’s feeling almost more so. The fallout of 2016 has led to a Supreme Court that is rescinding freedoms for women and making the planet less safe. And there’s the war in Ukraine. Shootings, shootings and more shootings. Burning Sequoia trees. The list keeps growing.
I’m waking up daily nearly in tears about all this. The complexity of issues ties up my tongue and tangles my heart.
No matter what side of beliefs and opinions you fall on, you may have said lately that it feels like “the world is going to hell in a handbasket” or “what is the world coming to?” As William Stafford says in his poem, A Ritual to Read to Each Other, “the darkness around us is deep.” I want to live in a world that isn’t so deeply dark.
If you know me by now, you know when the going gets rough I wonder what poetry and quotes will give me words to live by. Back in 2016, I dug into the quote archives to find words of wisdom from Parker J. Palmer to share with our virtual Courage & Renewal community:
“The spiritual life is lived in a balance of paradoxes, and the humility that enables us to hear the truth of others must stand in creative tension with the faith that empowers us to speak our own.”
Trusting in the balance of both/and can be challenging when right vs. wrong and us vs. them provokes so much anger, fear, violence, and hatred. Breathing in & out helps. Remembering shadow & light, morning & night—practicing paradox—can be heartening. Remember that courage means “strength of heart.”
So I’m not without hope. I am truly heartened by the recent swearing in of Ketanji Brown Jackson as the 116th Supreme Court justice and the first Black woman to serve on the high court. May her intelligent, experienced presence make a difference.
A Book on Stamina for Transforming Self and Communities
I’m also heartened by a book coming out in August by professor Sherry K. Watt (a leader whose wisdom I turned to when writing The Courage Way chapter called The Courage to Connect and Trust in Each Other” and when George Floyd was murdered— see my July 2020 blog) and her research team at the University of Iowa. Her new book, based on her life’s work, called The Theory of Being: Practices for Transforming Self and Communities Across Difference. (I am honored to have had a consulting/editing role in the book’s publishing journey.) Their book offers strategies for embarking on constructive dialogue around the issues that drive us apart, both individually and collectively—whether around racial, gender, and/or social class inequity, core beliefs, uses of power or other points of cultural conflict.
Among their key practices are the welcoming of paradox and asking of open, honest questions for solo and group reflection. A key concept we can learn is what the team calls Us-and-Them-exploring-IT instead of Us-vs-Them. There are so many ITs to explore when it comes to polarized positions. Can we find common ground? What I love about The Theory of Being is that it reveals pockets of possibility where the answer is Yes.
Being is as important as Doing, and this book does a good job of showing us why that matters. It matters that we make time to be with our own feelings, to gain self-awareness, so that have more capacity to listen to others with different beliefs, different experience. We have to prepare ourselves to have stamina for the hard work of social change, and that starts with our own inner work. The Theory of Being provides tools and practices, with stories to show Being (and stamina) in action. The book doesn’t promise quick fixes. It prepares us for the long haul.
The Theory of Being launches in August. For now, I highly recommend pre-ordering this groundbreaking (and common-ground-creating) book from the publisher Stylus, from Bookshop so you can pick which independent store you’ll support, from B&N or from Amazon — AND ask your library to order it!
Take A Chapter from My Playbook
In the meantime, if you’re curious about practicing paradox, I’d like to share an excerpt from a kindred book, The Courage Way, which I happened to write. Chapter 9: The Courage to Hold Tensions in Life-Giving Ways, is based on conversations with Parker Palmer and features three amazing women leaders sharing how they deal with complexity. Download a free PDF of The Courage Way, Chapter 9.
The thing about writing a book is that Life then asks you to live into the ideas you wrote about, like this from page 142:
Invoking my creative courage is one way I can contribute a heart-opening response to hold the tension of this collective moment. I’m collecting and sharing stories (with Creative Courage Live interviews, for example). I’m shining the light on new books by remarkable authors. I’m also exploring words that end with ing as actions I can take when no other action seems possible or effective just yet.
My inner artist is posing not only for snapshots. My inner artist is posing good questions so I can reflect and be with questions that have no immediate answers. Supposing you explored them with me?
TENDING: What needs pulled into the light? What needs tucked away for safekeeping? (Perhaps the pic isn’t really about going to hell in a handbasket.)
HOLDING: What do you hold close to you heart? Where would an open-heart take you? How do you stay aware of the whole?
What are YOU doing to hold tensions in life-giving ways? How are you Being as well as Doing?
P.S. One more thing I found heartening lately was seeing the beautifully redesigned website of the Center for Courage & Renewal. Check it out, as well as the many Circle of Trust programs in person and virtually where you can explore your own values and vocation in a community held together with trustworthy practices.