Palmer is founder and senior partner of the Center for Courage and Renewal, which offers long-term retreat programs to help teachers, physicians, clergy, and others to “rejoin soul and role.” His most recent books are A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life; The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life; and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. For more information, visit


Of course, this experience is paradoxical—how can indifference and compassion coexist? I’m reminded of a Hasidic tale where the rabbi says to his disciple, “Everyone needs a coat with two pockets. In one pocket, carry dust to indicate that you are nothing. In the other pocket, carry gold to indicate that you are precious.” We shrug off the burden of the self-obsessed ego by realizing that we are nothing, and we transcend self-denigration by realizing that there is something of ultimate value about each of us.

Author PARKER J. PALMER experiences an epiphany about the workings of the universe while hiking in the high desert of New Mexico.

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Photograph taken by Dan Kowalski