Reflections about Broken-Heartedness – Friday, August 26, 2016

This post is different than those I normally share, but I felt this resource was important. Thanks to one of my former students who continues to teach me new things, I discovered Parker Palmer’s work on How to Deal with Broken-Heartedness (published by the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis).

The following video provides helpful information for understanding one of the challenges many of us are facing in these times. Palmer discusses life in the “tragic gap” between the world as it is now and the world that we know could be because we’ve seen glimpses of it. How does one live in a world of suffering without selling out or becoming immobilized by despair? In Palmer’s language, if we aren’t able to balance the tension of walking and working in the tragic gap, we may flip out on one side or the other, to “corrosive cynicism” or “irrelevant idealism.”

He argues that the standard we should apply to measure our successes in life is not whether we’ve been effective or not in our efforts to make a difference. Instead, we should measure our faithfulness “to our gifts, to our perception of needs in the world, and to those moments when our gifts intercept with those needs in a way where we can make meaningful service.”

“Standing in the tragic gap is going to break our hearts in one of two ways.” Our hearts can shatter into a million pieces, or they can break open giving us greater capacity to hold the world’s pain or joy. Palmer briefly describes the strategies he uses to stay the course. I hope you find his ideas thought-provoking and valuable.


27 thoughts on “Reflections about Broken-Heartedness – Friday, August 26, 2016

  1. When you are in the gap these proposed ways out(as meaningful as they may seem) are mere silly fairy dust. I would say get angry, get stubborn, rage and survive in spite of. As we choose to survive I think these suggestions my help prevent a return to the gap.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thanks for sharing this. There’s been a lot of broken-heartedness lately so this is an interesting viewpoint. My thoughts have been provoked!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I agree that a person needs to make choices how they will handle heartbreak and tragedy and you can choose to have your heart broke open to goodness.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I need more time to process this. I need more time to process me! But I don’t have a billion years left;-)

    But the part about an inner voice really resonates with me, since I have found that my intuitive sense, although not perfect, is something that I can rely on to a great extent.

    Many of us have been programmed not to listen to our selves, our inner voices and trust them. Even in the religion I followed for years, I was told that my “heart was desperately wicked, who can know it?”

    The hard part for me is, I have always struggled with being “open-ended”. I have gotten better with age, but on major issues, I still want to tie everything bothering me up into nice neat little packages and stow them away somewhere, where they can no longer trouble me And because of this, I am still miserable quite often.

    “Broken-heartedness” is the key I think. I guess I never thought of these feelings of frustration, anger and pain as being brokenhearted, but I believe this is what I have been feeling. I just wonder if I can ever find a place of peace like this wise individual?

    Thank you, Carol! As usual, you have given me something to ponder deeply!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is painful to live broken-hearted, Dave. Anger, frustration, despair are constant companions poised to consume us if we let them. I appreciate Palmer’s insights about attending to process without needing to judge the effectiveness of a final outcome we will probably never see – being faithful to our gifts by using them when opportunities arise. A paradox when I consider the purpose and methodologies of research and program evaluation. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A paradox indeed.

        I believe most of us were raised up to believe the outcome/product was the main goal, while process/journey was merely the means to a “productive” end. Completely backwards, as far as I am concerned.

        The process, for me, was always more beneficial than the outcome or product. The process was where I was busy and felt fulfilled, and where I could see progress being made, especially as a teacher. The product/outcome was just the icing on the cake.

        Why have lost track of this? I guess this is one of those moments he was referring to, when speaking of his writing.

        I may be fooling myself, but I don’t believe I am as concerned about feeling (in the end) as though I have accomplished some predetermined task for the good of others, as I am concerned about the extreme suffering of others right now, and desiring to see this suffering end as soon as possible.

        Or maybe this is the same thing? I don’t know?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Process can be transformative. I’m reminded of a plaque some of my students gave me years ago: “The joy is the journey: Help – Support – Inspiration. Thank you – You are the best!” Well, I need to finish detailing my next assignment – reading the NIH material on Institutional Review Boards and passing the quizzes so I can I can explain it to my students. Be well, dear friend. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing this video clip, Carol. I’ve been living in the “tragic gap” for many years now and needed that direction. Like you, I take away his advice that, instead of trying to measure our effectiveness in making a difference, we should measure our faithfulness “to our gifts, to our perception of needs in the world, and to those moments when our gifts intercept with those needs in a way where we can make meaningful service.”

    I was heartened by his encouragement to develop a “subtle heart” so that, in the face of tragedy, our heart would break open into greater capacity to compassion and connection, rather than shatter into a million pieces.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your astute and thoughtful comments, Rosaliene. I’m so grateful that I found Palmer’s concepts and language for better understanding and describing the heartbreak and challenges of trying to find balance between incomprehensible suffering and joy.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This interview shows a great depth of reflection. Thank you, Carol, for pointing me to this post which addresses my concerns so well. One of my greatest fears to do with my intensity of feeling is the possible alienation of close friends when they see my frustration (anger?) at the failure to persuade them of the validity of my concerns. Palmer refers to building bridges instead of walls, a great way of putting it. I thought I had recently gone too far toward alienating a very close friend. He had the class to let it go and understand. You are a regular source of sensitivity, help and insight. I’m very grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading this and watching the video, Bob. I’m so glad you found Palmer’s insights helpful. His work struck a deep chord for me, too. It’s not something I would ordinarily think of sharing, but these are certainly not ordinary times. We need to help each other keep sanity and hope alive 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for this Carol. I really appreciated his words on dwelling in the “tragic gap” which describe something I’ve sensed but never really heard spoken about in this way. Wonderful encouragement to keep going and keep an open heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Jackie. I found Palmer’s clear explanation of the “tragic gap” helpful as well. It gave me a way to make sense of the balancing act I seem to cycle through – dealing with suffering one day and focusing on a moment of simple beauty the next day. Both seem necessary for open-heartedness.


Comments are closed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: