My latest trip to the Half-Price Books store ended with me purchasing two books, one of which being Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness. Those familiar with writings on vocation know Palmer’s work well, as he is a leader in helping people tap into themselves to unlock their life’s work and meaning. In A Hidden Wholeness, Palmer used his skills as a circle of trust facilitator to show the damaging effects of living with a divided soul. Palmer weaved in his personal experience with depression and offered tools on how one can overcome a division between the soul and the outer life.
Parker said, “I pay a steep price when I live a divided life, feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood” (pg. 5). This is an honest self-examination that most of us can relate to at one time or another in our lives. For many of us, once we reach the teenage years, we learn that in order to survive we need to project some sort of image to the outer world. Palmer encouraged readers to construct a physical model of this by taking a sheet of paper and cutting a 1″ wide strip down the side. By flipping the strip vertical, we see the wall many often construct to protect our soul from the often damaging effects of the outside world. Palmer then instructed readers to connect the ends of the strip with tape, forming a circle. This, Palmer said, is what many people refer to as centering, a practice made popular with the brand of mainstream spirituality often found in the United States. Palmer pointed out that although this practice is often helpful, the wall remains between the soul and the outer world.
Palmer broke down the wall by telling readers to disconnect the ends of the paper strip, half-twist one end, and reconnect the ends again. The resulting model is called a Mobius strip. If one follows the shape with their finger, they find the inside and outside of the strip to be mysteriously connected. Palmer used this as a physical model for how we can break down the wall between our soul and the outside world and start to live an undivided life.
Palmer then went on to explore how people can reconcile their soul with the outside world by participating in a Quaker group known as a circle of trust. Palmer illustrated techniques like structured silence and asking honest, open questions to help people explore their soul and let it out safely. In the circle, Palmer said participants are governed by this countercultural rule: “No fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting each other straight.” (pg. 114). The circle gives the shy soul courage to emerge and interact, a fundamental step to becoming an integral person.
Palmer’s circle of trust is a fine example of helping people live undivided lives. However, we can all advocate for integrated living by giving other souls safety to emerge in this violent world by using Palmer’s techniques in everyday living.