The extraordinary Parker Palmer wrote he was a “contemplative by catastrophe.”
Krista Tippett in an interview with Tim Ferriss talked about wisdom and age. And Alain de Botton talked with Krista Tippett about love and relationships. All the while, I struggled with my own inner demons and questioned everything…all my effort, my dedication, my persistence…why? and for what? And at what price?

Many children have wisdom beyond their years. Yet to become wise as we age is a commitment to integrating the lessons from the light and shadow as we move along the random path of life. Some of us don’t do the integration well, and become trapped in bitterness and apathy. Or we become lost to safety and a false ease that is in truth a refusal to engage with the edges of aliveness and all the risks those pesky edges offer.

And me, who has always chosen the edges, at the risk of my own safety…perhaps too much so? This question I ask. Perhaps there comes a time with age where we might relax just a little?

But no says Parker Palmer.
“For people like me the notion that old age is a time to dial down and play it safe is a cop out. We should be raising hell on behalf of what we care about.”

Hell yes, says I, to that. I will not go gentle into that good night…I will rage, rage against the dying of the light.

To become a contemplative by catastrophe (in distinction to a contemplative by mediation and spiritual commitment) has been the path I have taken. Yet even in writing this I recognise that my 20 plus years of distance running and swimming, 7 days a week, my morning practice, my journaling, my self inquiry, all this must count for some development of contemplative wisdom through practice?

The gristly lessons have come through catastrophe and break down. Through being reduced to soft fleshy nothingness by the vicissitudes of life. Through thinking that ‘falling in love’ was a path to forever glory and joy. Only to discover that FALLING in love left only one path…FALLING out. That to fall is to lose oneself. And a healthy relationship cannot endure when one or both parties have lost their essential self. Merging is not the path of love. That fudgey place where sovereign identities are indistinguishable from the alpha person. (Be that male or female)

Catastrophes of cash flow absence. Of bad financial management and being seduced by the banks to spend more on credit. Of being swallowed up by a system that thrives on parasitic behaviour…which is only now being seen for what it really is…a parasite that when it consumes to kill the host, it actually kills itself. That death throw is close now, for the world. The bad news…we are the host.

I have been lucky enough to escape the catastrophe called illness. And certainly to escape the catastrophe called being born in a war torn country.

No matter who we are, where we are from, the status of our bank account, our health, our lover/absence of lovers… catastrophe of some form is a guaranteed event in each persons existence.

We all must feel the earth beneath our knee’s as we fall down. We must know the terror of despair. That place at the bottom, where there is no more down to go. No one escapes this eventuality. Many of us experience this kind of humbling and often humiliating experience more than once.

The pathway to our knees is different for all of us. Some of us create it through our actions, others of us are reduced to our knees through circumstance beyond our control.

It matters not. Being on our knees brings us all, those kings and queens of us (in our imagination), to the same place as the imagined serfs, people with different coloured hair..with different cultures and beliefs…we all arrive at the soft broken place of knees to earth to discover that here we are human. No more or less.


If we let wisdom in…we can arise from this place..better for having fallen. Knowing that everyone is  our brother and sister for having been reduced, again, to our knees.

Photo credit: Dustin Scarpitti

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