…the public “I”

—photo by Mike Young

“…everyone has a life that is different from the ‘I’ of daily consciousness, a life that is trying to live through the ‘I’ who is its vessel.   …there is a great gulf between the way my ego wants to identify me, with its protective masks and self-serving fictions, and my true self.”   —Parker Palmer, from Let Your Life Speak

Parker Palmer’s book is difficult for me to take in at times.  Each line resonates deeply leaving me wanting to highlight everything I’m reading.  The power and profundity stem, I think, from the modesty inherent in Palmer’s proposal…rather than selling himself as the expert, he merely plays the role of servant guide giving the reader permission to delve into the stream of the true self flowing free below the frozen surface of the public “I”.

I find Palmer’s lines above very provocative.  It moves me to look beyond the public persona and move deeper into myself.  Thomas Merton speaks to the same idea with the metaphors of a fire or a ship: “We are warmed by a fire, not by the smoke of a fire. We are carried over the sea by a ship, not by the wake of a ship.  So too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.”  —Thomas Merton, from No Man is an Island

Often of late, I have engaged in conversations with people (mostly men) who are struggling deeply with issues concerning vocation.  So much of our identity is wrapped up in our vocation and our performance in that vocation.  Much of my current struggle with my identity is centered on the public “I”…the role, vocation, and social face of my life.  But that revolves around job, career, resume’, public perception and performance.  It is much more difficult for me to articulate what is happening in the stream of my self flowing below that sheet of ice.

The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy.  If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out.  But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.    —Parker Palmer, from Let Your Life Speak

I guess what I’m saying is that I am entering the woods.  Quietly.  I’m going to find a tree and sit down for a while…

One thought on “…the public “I”

  1. I am amazed at Stephen’s ability to listen to me complain and then pluck a book off of his shelf that, of course, holds the answer. It was in this way that I was introduced to Parker Palmer, and it was absolutely life-changing for me. His view of life is almost completely opposite to everything I had been taught growing up. There is a myth in our culture that says you can be and do anything you set your mind to, and while I guess this is technically true, there is no joy to be found there. I have discovered that, instead of being freeing, the endless possibilities this mindset allows can be crippling. How do you choose your course in life among so many options without giving thought to your own affinities? I remember being at LC and hearing students spout their parents’ attitudes often, being proud of majoring in something “practical” and deploring those with less solid plans for their future. This is how I ended up a teacher, because it was the “smart” thing to do. I taught for six years and hated almost every minute of it.

    Well, now I can say THANK GOD we moved to Austin, and that I wasn’t able to find a teaching job, and thereby forced to stay home. It has taken all of that, plus Parker Palmer and two years of slow living to soul search (and day dream) enough to find a tiny glimpse of myself. Without all of these things, I don’t know that I would have had the strength or wisdom to choose a new path.

    I am now convinced that not everyone is meant to lead a practical life! And honestly, when have I ever???

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