“Most of us can make a long list of the external enemies of the soul, in the absence of which we are sure we would be better people! Because we so quickly blame our problems on forces “out there,” we need to see how often we conspire in our own deformation: for every external power bent on twisting us out of shape, there is a potential collaborator within us. When our impulse to tell the truth is thwarted by threats of punishment, it is because we value security over being truthful. When our impulse to side with the weak is thwarted by threats of lost social standing, it is because we value popularity over being a pariah.
The powers and principalities would hold less sway over our lives if we refused to collaborate with them. But refusal is risky, so we deny our own truth, take up lives of “self-impersonation,” and betray our identities. And yet the soul persistently calls us back to our birthright form, back to lives that are grounded, connected, and whole.”
— Parker J. Palmer
From “A Hidden Wholeness”
It’s been a few years since I first read this amazing book. I was listening to the audiobook version on today’s bike ride, when this quote nearly blew me off the bike with a force as real as the south wind.
It would be easy to miss what he’s really saying here. It would be easy to chalk this up as yet another rant against “The Powers That Be.” But that’s clearly not what Palmer intends. His point is much deeper and more powerful.
It’s a point about our “internal collaborators.” The inner voices and enemies within.
I learned years ago that in every great or challenging thing I have ever done, it is winning the battle within –taking the initial step to try, to struggle, to risk– that is the most difficult step. Whether it’s writing a sermon, taking a stand for justice, writing a song, or being vulnerable with a loved one or friend, the toughest journey is the interior journey. The toughest move is not fighting fearsome “external powers,” but even more forbidding internal ones.
The toughest page to write is the first one. The hardest social justice march is when you take your first step. The first time you speak your honest truth to a powerful person, or a vulnerable truth to a loved one, is the most terrifying truth you’ll speak.
OK. Honestly? It never gets any easier. I wish I could tell you it does. Because those internal collaborators are always ready to talk us out of being our true selves.
But at least this much is true: the more we do live from our true selves, the more our soul develops its own muscle memory, and gives us courage the next time the internal collaborators sweetly whisper their lies into the ears of our soul.