The Healing Power of a Broken Heart: Healing the Heart of Democracy

I stopped writing for quite awhile after the 2016 election. When I finally began again, I admitted I had been Speechless in my anger, frustration and discouragement. I held my tongue, resisting the temptation to heap up mountains of indignant words while my heart was so raw.

It took awhile for me to find my voice again, to find enough balance to trust myself to speak in the public sphere. There are more than enough authors of outrage these days; I want my voice to be one of hope.

To this day, I mostly avoid listening to the voices of rage; instead I seek out other writers who hold onto hope so that I can learn from their wisdom and patience. These authors of hope are still often heartbroken, angry and frustrated but instead of giving into discouragement, they are finding ways to transform negatives into positives. They are living courage during this challenging time.

Parker Palmer is one of my favorite mentors of hope. His gentle honesty written in his On Being blogs encourages me; he models bold, outspoken integrity without any vicious hyperbole.

Recently I went back to his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy; it is helping me sort through my own (still) confused thinking and feeling about the state of our nation.

“Heart” for Palmer is that part of us humans that “integrates the intellect with the rest of our faculties, such as emotion, imagination, and intuition.” When he considers the “heart of democracy,” he ponders how we together as a society might find again our common purpose with reason and imagination.

Palmer sees a tragic heart-brokenness within all types of people these days. The ugliness and indignities, the divides and distortions, the breaks and barriers to personal, communal and political relationships all reveal a pervasive brokenness. Palmer says:

When the heart is brittle and shatters, it can scatter the seeds of violence and multiply our suffering among others…

Do you see this as well? Too many of us have hardened our hearts thinking that will somehow protect us from pain or vulnerability, but this hardening only increases our temptation to lash out and hurl our own pain onto others.

The key to healing is not hardening but opening.

When the heart is supple, it can be “broken open” into a greater capacity to hold our own and the world’s pain…

When we hold our suffering in a way that opens us to greater compassion, heartbreak becomes a source of healing, deepening our empathy for others who suffer and extending our ability to reach out to them.

This kind of tension-holding can plant the seeds of justice and peace…

Palmer, Parker. Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (p. 22). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Does this sound nonsensical? Making ourselves vulnerable in this caustic current climate? Opening ourselves up to carry even more pain than we already must bear?

Yes, this is non-sense within the conventional wisdom. But it is immensely and intensely true within the deeper wisdom of our better angels.

Democracy depends on ordinary Americans…energized rather than defeated by whatever breaks their hearts, taking step after small step in local settings to contribute to the commonweal. 

Palmer, Parker. Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (p. 23). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
I choose this path.

I choose to align myself with Parker Palmer, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, Sojourner Truth and Jesus the Christ. Like them, I want to be “broken open” to help heal suffering whenever and wherever it comes my way. I want to sow seeds of justice instead of scattering thorny seeds of violence.

You and I get to choose how we respond to the current hardness within our world. May that hardness not infect us with its bitterness and brittleness.

Instead may compassion, empathy and hope inoculate us and energize us to join together in the sacred work of healing ourselves and our world.

The powerful heart image is from Karin Bartimole. See her work at A View Beyond Words.

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