Parker Palmer on Contemplative Leadership
Mindful publisher Jim Gimian and I were recently invited to take part in a special gathering of a group of people doing work in contemplative leadership that convenes periodically at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The group was the brainchild of Arthur Zajonc of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (and now president of the Mind & Life Institute) and Jerry Murphy, a current faculty member in the grad school and a former dean.
The event, a three-hour workshop with Parker Palmer, was held in Longfellow Hall in a towering room with a lovely view of the sky through a series of eyebrow windows just below the ceiling. Full-size oil paintings of all the Grad School of Education's deans, since its founding, lined the walls. All the grandeur of Harvard.
Parker Palmer is a leading light in contemplative education and quite a wonderful man. He’s been very helpful for many years to teachers who have been trying to rediscover their mission and motivation in mid-career. I've been reading his work for years and admire him. He spent 11 years in a Quaker community with a real commitment to contemplative practice, and it shows in his demeanor. What he had to teach was instructive and inspiring.
Just a few of the great takeaways from the workshop include the following:
- Everyone is a contemplative. We need to make contemplative approaches more accessible, so they recognize it as a natural human gift.
- When people say they are disillusioned, we ought to congratulate them! They are piercing the veil of appearances and glimpsing reality, and isn't that what the contemplative wisdom traditions are about?
- Leaders need to do this. They need to move from the illusion of me to the reality of us, from the illusion of scarcity to the reality of abundance, from powerlessness to the presence of power, from institutional self-protection to embracing the mission, from fear to trust.
- To do this together we need to learn to ask each other genuine open questions, not advice or fix-it programs masquerading as questions. We need to grope along, moving forward alone together.