The Palms Up Way of Life

“The final forming of a person’s character lies in their hands.” – Anne Frank

Ask any body language expert and they will attest to the subconscious communication cues put forward by the position of one’s palms. Throughout history, the open palm has been associated with truth, honesty, and openness. On the other hand, a palms down gesture suggests dominance, aggression, and authority. When you communicate, the position of your palms makes a difference.

But even beyond communication, the position of your palms makes a difference in your life. It makes a statement about the kind of life you have chosen to live. A “Palms Up Way of Life” embodies many of the ideals that give our life simplicity and meaning:

A Lighter Grip on Physical Things. You can’t hold on to anything very tightly with your palms open. It is a symbol of non-attachment. Since becoming minimalist, we have learned to hold our possessions much more loosely. They were not as essential to our life as we once thought. In fact, they were actually weighing us down. Freedom can be realized when we begin to hold our physical belongings with a lighter grip and release ourselves from their hold.

Humility. A palms up, shoulders-shrugged gesture is often used to indicate the absence of knowledge. It is a specific request for help. Humility causes a person to admit that, in and of themselves, they do not have all the answers. Palms up invites other to enter into our life as we journey together. It is not ashamed to ask for help and to seek wise counsel. Humility is not the absence of wisdom – it is the result of wisdom.

Generosity. Gifts are offered with outstretched arms and upward facing palms. It is a gesture of giving freely with no regard for compensation. A generous person does not look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others. They enjoy sharing with others. And when a need is recognized, it is swiftly met.

Thanksgiving. In ancient times, palms up was a symbolic gesture used to signify thankfulness or gratitude. Gratitude is a life-changing emotion. It chooses joy in life circumstances. Gratitude moves our life’s focus from what we don’t have to what we do have. It also embodies a realization that no matter where we are today, we have someone somewhere to thank for it.

Affection. My four-year old daughter will quickly understand what I mean when I fall to one knee, stretch out my arms, and open my palms. She immediately knows that I want to give her a hug, a kiss, and a reminder that I love her. We would be good to show more affection to our loved ones – to remind them that we accept them, love them, and care for them. And while a hug and kiss are not appropriate in all social circumstances, love always is.

Confession. The upward facing palm is the automatic accompaniment to an apology. It is used in admission of a wrongdoing. Confession is a healthy act that allows our life to move forward. Admitting our guilt frees us from trying to hide it or deny it. The realization and admission that we have made a mistake (intentional or unintentional) brings rest to our soul and grants us the opportunity to move forward.

Honesty. I have heard it said that subconsciously, it is nearly impossible to tell a lie with your palms up and open. Because our emotions and gestures are so closely tied, the position of one’s palms is a significant verbal clue to gauge their level of honesty. In fact, this nonverbal clue is so strong that if you want to become a more honest person, purposely speak with your palms open. Your mind will get the hint. Honesty is an important key to a simple lifestyle – it allows us to live one, consistent life regardless of who or what is around us.

Spirituality. – In many religious traditions, praying or meditating with your palms up is a symbolic position of surrender or offering. It is used in prayer to ask the supernatural to care for your soul. It is a blatant admission that we are more than flesh and blood. But instead, that we are creatures with hearts and souls who are made up of more than the physical space we occupy.

Our world would benefit from more people living intentionally with their palms up. Ask yourself where a Palms-Up Approach is most needed in your life. Perhaps the mental image of your palms up will be your first step towards achieving it.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Karen says

    Very nicely said Joshua!

    I took a week-long women’s workshop a while back. Throughout the week, whenever we were sitting and listening to something, the leader insisted we maintain open posture — straight in the chair, feet flat on the floor, and palms up on our laps. In that position I found I was much more receptive to whatever was taking place, and I retained the experience better too.

    Thanks from your Essex neighbor,

    • says

      I once read years ago about assuming meditative positions and touching one’s middle and forefinger together is used to indicate to the brain that it is time to meditate.

      Using such stimuli to perform other tasks seems so brilliant.

      Thank you. :)

  2. says

    This essay, “The Palms Up Way of Life,” is truly refreshing and deeply insightful. Thank you. I found it in a Google search for images of palms-up meditation and prayer, and I certainly found more than I was looking for! It certaionly reflects my feelings about living life as an act of gratitude. — Pastor Dan Hooper, Hollywood Lutheran Church.

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