I love hearing stories about people who leave a job, a city or a career to grow lavender and make candles, build a tiny cabin and craft boats, get rid of the trappings of competition to write poetry; or who are fired because they told the truth at the board meeting, said what the corporation needed to do to change. It takes courage and guts. But one thing these actions shout out—I know who I am—this is me. I am not living a divided life, but my dream. Finally.
And of course if there are struggles while achieving this new life, there will always be someone who will say I told you so. But at some point in our lives, we all have to tear off the masks that we created to become accepted in society. We all need to reveal who we really want to be, who we really are. Parker J. Palmer is a writer and activist passionate about helping people escape from what he calls “the divided life.” He stresses that as children we are an integral whole, our emotions governed by our deep and real feelings. We hide nothing. We are authentic beings. But as we enter society and school, we learn to hide those feelings, alter our behaviors. We do this because we discover the world is not safe. We might be mocked, ignored, picked on. A minor example: I was mocked when I used vocabulary words that I heard in my home. A few of my peers didn’t like “sophisticated” language and so I avoided it, learned to dumb things down, skip the highfalutin words. As a kid in junior high it’s called preservation. But it’s damaging because we are pulling away from who we really are. We are beginning to live “the divided life.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons I became an English teacher—I could use those words in my classroom to my advantage and with no hesitation. Parker J. Palmer provides these very real and true examples as to how “the divided life” begins:
- At work we don’t truly invest ourselves, diminishing the quality of our work and distancing ourselves from those whose work is truly service
- We take jobs that violate our basic values, even when our survival doesn’t absolutely demand this of us
- We make or remain in relationships or locations that little by little kill our true spirit
- We hold secrets that help us achieve personal goals at the expense of others
- We hide our beliefs from those who don’t agree with us so as to avoid any conflict, challenge or change
- We basically conceal who we truly are for fear of being criticized, shunned or attacked.
One of the arguments that might be raised is how can I tear off my mask, or reclaim my true goals when I have a family to support? Tough question. But Palmer relates story after story of people he has worked with who woke up to realize that the need to drink, or gamble or take drugs for depression—were overt symbols that they weren’t living the life they wanted to live—the life that was meant to be theirs. Palmer writes: No one wants to suffer the penalties that come from choosing to live divided no more. But there can be no greater suffering than living a lifelong lie. As we move closer to the truth that lives within us—aware that in the end what will matter most is knowing that we stayed true to ourselves—institutions start losing their sway over our lives…This does not mean we must abandon institutions. In fact, when we live by the soul’s imperatives, we gain the courage to serve institutions more faithfully, to help them resist their tendency to default on their own missions. He acknowledges that this road won’t always be easy. Sacrifice might be necessary and certainly change and adjustment. “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” Parker J. Palmer
I think Parker’s ideas are truly important and that as we age, more and more we are face to face with all the decisions we have made. We have either firmly covered our souls with a mask or we have enhanced our true selves. Sacrifice might be necessary–but as we give some things up and take others into our lives–as we fix our own basic self, we are at the center of the goal. And isn’t it wiser to become a whole person, than a face in the mirror that feels more like a stranger? Have you made significant changes in your life to be your true self?
For more from this writer and thinker go here. Listen to what he says about THE DIVIDED LIFE. I think it would be lovely to raise lavender, but I know that’s not my true calling. Thanks to Google Images