Recently, I listened to a conversation between Krista Tippett, Parker Palmer, and Courtney Martin. Their conversation was about “rebellion and the inner life.” There was one moment that particularly caught my attention. Parker Palmer is one of my mentors-through-books, and he said this about a word that some people are hesitant to use:
. . . if the word “soul” doesn’t work for you, it’s “identity” and “integrity” in the language of secular humanism. It’s the ”spark of the divine,” in the language of Hasidic Judaism. It’s “big self” or “no self” in the paradoxical language of Buddhism. Everybody has a name for it — different name — and nobody knows its true name.
A moment later, Palmer added this which made me stand still and ponder:
I think that the way you talk about the soul as a piece of intelligence in us and a compass — which is distinct from the intelligence of our minds, or even of our emotions. And there’s a line of Mary Oliver’s poetry, “This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the soul exists and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.” And that’s another thing that we have to carve — seize space for.
And so one of my mentors-through-books is quoting another, Mary Oliver. The soul is built entirely out of attentiveness.
Just like it is possible to go sailing down the road in a car and not be aware of tens of miles of landscape as they pass by, it is possible to journey through our lives unaware, dulled to the landscape of humanity and the earth that is all around us. When we are living from our souls–our big selves–our integrity–it is because we have become attentive. We are, as Palmer says later in the conversation, immersing ourselves in the substrate of being human that is always there–if we create spaces for it.
We are going, and we will get there, our song says. It strikes me that our going and getting there are often one and the same thing–especially as we are able to be present to the journey, able to sink down and immerse ourselves in the presence of life–our own lives and the landscape of other lives around us.
If we don’t run away. I notice in my own journey a tendency, sometimes, to run away from aspects of the human landscape that I find frightening or challenging or just too different from what I know. I suspect I am not alone in this. I also know from times when I’ve dared not to run away that being present to the frightening, the challenging and the too different, can be a new, deep moment in my journey. When I run away, what am I running away to? Mindless inattention to the passing landscape.