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On letting things alone
Time-length-icon 5m 38s
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Publish-date-icon July 28, 2010
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EPISODE DESCRIPTION

(from ‘On letting things alone’, A HIDDEN WHOLENESS: THE JOURNEY TOWARD AN UNDIVIDED LIFE, by Parker J. Palmer, pp. 52-4)

But we can learn a more creative way to be present to each other, as the following story shows. It is the story of a conflicted person who was transformed because the people around her chose to trust her inner teacher, overcoming their longtime habit of pulling everything into themselves.

It happened in a long-term circle of trust I facilitated for public school teachers. One of them, Linda, was a woman at the end of her rope. After fifteen years of teaching, she had nothing good to say about her supervisors, her colleagues, or her students--all of them, by her account, were misguided and sometimes malevolent. She felt certain that she would be a happier person and a better teacher if only she could replace all these annoying aliens with actual human beings.

The teachers who sat with Linda listened to her receptively and respectfully. Occasionally, they asked an honest, open question to help her say, and hear, more deeply what was troubling her. But guided by the ground rules of this form of community, they offered no commentary, no argument, and no advice. Instead, they held her in a space where Linda was compelled to listen to herself. This turned out to be a revolutionary experience for someone whose cynical view of humanity had continually been reinforced by the people to whom she complained. I do not mean the few who agreed with her. I mean those who told her she was wrong and tried to talk her out of her cynicism, as well as those who turned their backs in disgust and walked away. See, Linda would say to herself, I was right about people. No one gets it, and no one cares. Like most of us, Linda knew how to use rejection to reinforce her view of the world.

I learned how revolutionary it had been for Linda to listen to herself when she told me, after several retreats, that she intended to drop out. "It's not that I don't appreciate the group," she said. "In fact, being here has helped me understand that I don't belong in teaching anymore. The problem is not my students and colleagues; they're decent people doing the best they can. The problem is me. I've burned out on teaching, and I'm harming myself as well as others by sticking with it. I've decided to quit at the end of this year and find a different kind of job. So I guess I shouldn't be taking up space in this circle anymore."

In fact, Linda had made courageous use of her space in the circle. She had seen her shadow, stopped projecting it onto others, come to grips with her own reality, and taken a step toward wholeness. I told her she was welcome to stay.

A circle of trust, I said, has no agenda except to help people listen to their own souls and discern their own truth. Its purpose is not to help people recommit to a particular role or even become better at it, though one or both may happen. The fact that Linda had seen her shadow and now felt led to leave teaching was no less
important than the vocational renewal that was happening for others in the group.
Linda stayed and continued to make good use of this com-munity. She emerged more fully from her shadow, grieved the loss of her longtime calling, and found clues to a new vocational path that fit her gifts. She was able to listen to herself because she was with people who knew how to let her alone without abandoning her—let her be alone, that is, wither inner teacher.

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