crashing through the woods

Posted on July 17, 2010


“the soul is like a wild animal”

“Just like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, savvy, resourceful and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. Many of us learn about these qualities in the darkest moments of our lives when the faculties we normally depend upon utterly fail us—the intellect is useless, the emotions dead, the will impotent, and the ego shattered. But sometimes, way back in the thickets of our inner lives, we sense the presence of something that knows how to stay alive and helps us to keep going. That something, I suggest, is the tough and tenacious soul.

“And yet the soul, despite its toughness, is also essentially shy—just like a wild animal. It will flee from the noisy crowd and seek safety in the deep underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out! But if we will walk into the woods quietly and sit at the base of a tree, breathing with the earth and fading into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek may eventually show up.” (Parker Palmer in Teaching with Heart and Soul)

“We may see the soul only briefly and only out of the corner of an eye — but the sight is a gift we will always treasure as an end in itself.” (Parker Palmer in A Hidden Wholeness, p. 59)

I find that it is quite rare in our culture to encounter the soul of another. We encounter their minds, we encounter their beliefs, their opinions, their prejudices, their intelligence, their ignorance, their emotions. We encounter their consumptive habits, their fancy cars, their fashion, their facade, their masks. But mostly, I find, we encounter their elusiveness. We say, “How are you?” They say, “Fine.” It is quick and easy and comfortable and secure. But to build meaningful relationships, we have to go beneath the surface. We have to open up. We have to listen. We have to become vulnerable. But when we do, we are taking a big risk; the risk of being shut down and shut out, of being made wrong, of being fixed, of being saved, of being advised, and being set straight. When this happens, the shyness of the soul becomes evident, scurrying away into hiding, reminding itself all over again how dangerous it is to come out of hiding, and becoming less and less willing to open up and share the deeper things of the soul.

If we are to learn to build community in a society hostile to community, to build relationships in a society hostile to relationships that go beneath the surface, then we need to create safe spaces for the soul to emerge. This is what a circle of trust is. This is what the book, A Hidden Wholeness is about.

As we were studying circles of trust in our Friday night group, there is another dimension of “crashing through the woods” that I’m just now becoming aware of. A very insightful group member said maybe the biggest problem is not crashing into the woods of others and scaring their soul into hiding. Maybe we must first pay attention to how busy we are crashing into our own woods and scaring away our own soul. This crashing can be done by simply turning on the TV or radio. When what we really need to do is to walk into our own woods and sit at the base of a tree, breathing with the woods of our own lives and blending into the surroundings of our own lives as we give our soul a chance to emerge. This resonates deeply with me. Our lives are designed around the crashing of noise and flashing lights and busyness. This is why it has taken me 52 years to notice what was missing in my life . . . my soul. I never learned to create the space for the soul emerge.

So then, how will I hear that still small voice? the voice of vocation? the voice of compassion? the inner teacher? the inner light? . . . unless I become very intentional about silence, prayer, contemplation, meditation, awareness, consciousness, mindfulness? . . . unless I become very intentional about living my life with soul?

How do we practice this with each other?

How do we practice this with ourselves?