Inside and Out

In high school in the late 1960s, I took a semester-long class in psychology.

On the first day of class, Mr. Williams had someone draw on the chalkboard (yes, that was a “thing” in those days) a cartoon depicting a rocket blasting off to begin its journey to outer space. The caption said something like “We have mastered exploring outer space, but we have not yet mastered inner space.”

In the fifty+ years since that first day of class, I have come to see the spiritual journey as a journey inward, a journey to understand better who we are. I noticed a long time ago that there is a difference between who I am on the inside and what I let others see on the outside. Sometimes the difference is intentional; sometimes, I am completely unaware. I don’t think I am alone.

Spiritual writers have given different names to these different aspects of our lives. Some refer to our “True Selves” and “False Selves.” Others refer to the Ego Self, the Little Self and the Separate Self. Sometimes, these labels sound a bit judgmental to me.

I have grown to prefer the terms that Parker Palmer uses in A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. Palmer uses the metaphors of an “onstage” self that we can safely let others see and a “backstage” self that we keep hidden behind the curtain. It’s not that we are different selves; rather, we become aware of impulses, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that we are afraid to have others see and are afraid to see ourselves. We erect what Palmer calls a “wall of separation” in our journey to adulthood.[1]

Developing an awareness of our movements from the inside to the outside and back again is part of what we call soul work. In this journey, we seek to re-connect the innermost parts of our souls to our everyday living and experience. This journey leads us to encounter the One who already knows us, the One that the Psalmist described in saying,

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.[2]

It is a journey that we must take for ourselves, but we need not take it by ourselves. I invite you to join me as we journey together.

[1] Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 40. [2] Psalm 139:1-6.

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