Pittsburgh Friends Meeting Library

“A Leading to Read”
A regular column by the Library Committee reviewing books in the Meetinghouse Library
A HIDDEN WHOLENESS: THE JOURNEY TOWARD AN UNDIVIDED LIVE by Parker J. Palmer. Reviewed by Ali Aghbar
In the old days, when a blizzard was imminent, farmers in the Great Plains would run a rope from their back door to the barn, so that when they ventured out, they would not get lost and perish. Today, Palmer says, we live in a different blizzard, where we are in danger of losing our identity, integrity, and true selves. In A Hidden Wholeness, Palmer offers a way to connect our outer life to our inner life so that we may find our way back home.
Palmer takes the title of his work from Thomas Merton, who claimed, “There is in all things… a hidden wholeness.” We lose our wholeness when we lose touch with our better angels. A CEO of a company once confessed that he could think of himself as honest and at the same time do something wrong and rationalize it. We, too, can think of instances when we lose touch with our inner leading and live a divided life, lacking in integrity. The good news is that, despite our brokenness, we are capable of being restored to wholeness. (Ch. 1)
The inner self has been called by many names: true self, original nature, spark of the divine, the soul, or, as we Quakers call it, the inner teacher or the inner light. Palmer refers to it as “soul” for the most part. The strongest evidence for its existence comes from seeing what happens when we live as if we did not have a soul, a lesson Palmer learned on his journey with clinical depression. (Ch. 3)
Palmer offers Circles of Trust® as a way to regain touch with our true self. Mainstream theology holds that we are born with souls deformed by sin, but the Circle of Trust is based on the belief that we are born in perfect form. Palmer says that the soul never loses its original shape and is capable of becoming whole and revealing itself in a Circle of Trust. But, like a wild bird, the soul is shy. In order for it to show up, group members need to wait patiently and attentively, being neither invasive nor evasive. The work of a Circle of Trust is explained in several chapters. These circles can range from ten to thirty participants, but what matters is the nature of the group. The Circle of Trust helps the soul to reveal itself. (Ch. 2)
Stories, poems, a piece of music, or meaningful objects, all of which participants may bring, are used to help members in a Circle of Trust to reflect indirectly and discover their own truths for themselves. One ground rule of a Circle of Trust is to refrain from offering advice or arguing. This form of communication is strange and difficult in a culture where people want to offer quick fixes and solve one another’s problems by offering advice or using the power of persuasion. But Palmer believes that the only way we gain true conviction is when we arrive at it through our own inner teacher. (Ch. 7)
An important counterpart of the Circle of Trust is the clearness committee, composed of someone who seeks clarity on an issue (the focus person) and four to six members. It draws its process from the Quaker conviction that true guidance comes from the inner teacher with the help of a community. The members follow strict rules, such as asking only open questions that do not imply advice or suggestion and promising “double confidentiality.”
Body language, eye contact, and other reactions must not lead the focus person in any specific direction. The clearness committee creates and protects a space for the focus person only. (Ch. 8)
What we learn in the Circle of Trust has implications for living non‐violently in the real world, in which there are many instances of what Palmer calls “the tragic gap,” that is, the space between a difficult reality and a possibility. For example, we live in a world where there is war and also the possibility of peace. It takes courage and strength to stand in the tragic gap and to endeavor to make the world or the society a better place. A Circle of Trust can give us the inner strength to do so. We can apply what we learn in our Circles of Trust to living non‐violently not only against war, but also in our day‐to‐day dealings. (Ch. 10)
The book contains a chapter‐by‐chapter guide for discussion. The paperback edition comes with an accompanying DVD (Circles of Trust: The Work of Parker J. Palmer), which presents important contents of the book. Viewing it is encouraged, especially for those who do not have the time to read the book, as it presents the essence of the book.
The holdings in our Meeting library can be checked from your computer at home at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/PittsburghFriendsMtg

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