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  • Jennie Antolak

On the Brink of Everything: Grace,Gravity & Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer


Often when clients are struggling with life it has more to do with people clinging to “what was” or “what might be” that they miss out on "what is." These people do not realize that life is happening all around them with or without them. If they could be more present, they have a greater chance to experience what they believe they missed, are missing or might miss. @Shelly Schell took the time to review the book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer. In it she highlights how Parker believes you can assist others in being active participants in their lives. Shelly's review takes you into the core of Palmer's message and belief: we can have a life right up to the very end. Shelly's comments will keep you attentive, wanting more. We trust you will get hooked and delve more fully into Palmer's book.


Book Reviewer: Shelly Schell

Book Title: On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old

Author: Parker J. Palmer


Key Point One: Be present

Palmer has a knack for conveying human behavior and brokenness in a way that speaks to the soul. His first point that resonated deeply was the need to be present or actively participative in life before striving for spiritual meaning. At first, I rebelled against his assertion. Finding deeper meaning and living from a reflective perspective is aspirational!


Key Point Two: Have a life

Palmer eloquently stated “Before you can have a spiritual life, you’ve got to have a life”. His meaning spoke to my heart and caused me to reflect. Living in a detached, observant, almost superior way is not living. It is the human means of existing without connection, without the risk of injury. Existing, void of emotional involvement in our lives or those around us, may feel safe. The truth is that we are only pretending to live and while we may avoid the mess of human emotions. We also miss the exquisite soul touching moments that make us see ourselves as we truly are. True self is a topic Palmer explores in depth in this work.


Key Point Three: Accept the shadows contrasted with light

Finding true self may be the hardest calling of being human. Ironically, it is the process of making our way back to who we were when we arrived on earth. We are born with unique and wonderous characteristics, gifts, and talents. As we grow and gain exposure to life, we create an illusion that we strive to project to be accepted, perceived as worthy, to be loved. The tragedy is that we also believe the illusion. There comes a day when the illusion feels false, we know to our soul that it is not the real true self. Then begins the journey of unwinding the narrative, finding great courage to face reality, and contemplating who we were born to be.


Contemplation of true self is an arduous journey, as Palmer vividly shares with his personal path. He is advanced in years and has accepted much of his reality. He wonderfully points out that true self is an acceptance of light and shadows. Frequently, the illusion is to only accept the light or shiny pieces of ourselves. The truth is that we contain both and in this is the beauty of humanness. Without shadows we miss the contrast of the light in both ourselves and others. Question the narrative as it drives our behavior, reactions and interpretations of other’s behaviors.


Application to Life Coaching:

There were a multitude of connections to coaching. However, Palmer’s quote “Do not marry to results, embrace the work or the value of the rightness”. He was speaking to the idea that we may begin with a goal in mind and discover that the goal does not capture the real need. Further, the goal may not be achieved, but the journey is to be valued. Finally, I will be printing the following quote to keep by my desk as I coach clients. Palmer stated, “Imparting hope in others has nothing to do with cheering them on, it has to do with the relationships that honor the soul, inspire the mind, encourage the heart, quicken the step, and heal the wounds we incur along the way”. This is truly aspirational, to partner with another human in a way that allows them to find these outcomes is a worthy calling.


Favorite Passage and Why?

“Do you like being alone? Depends upon who shows up. Welcome and entertain them all – they came from the beyond” - Rumi. In the journey to true self, courage to contemplate ourselves, even the dark recessed corners, is daunting. A journey that really never ends but finding joy and acceptance will remain out of reach until we at least take the first steps. Welcome the intrusions from divinity they are an effort to guide our path and see reality.

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