I have mixed feelings about social media, and often feel more assaulted than supported by what turns up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. But there are always exceptions, and I’ve noticed that Maria Popova’s thoughtful and far-ranging blog Brainpickings is usually one of them.
Her post on The Elusive Art of Inner Wholeness and How to Stop Hiding Our Souls popped up on my Twitter page the other day, and maybe because it was the end of my work day I stopped to actually click on the link and read it.
“Do not despise your inner world,” she begins, quoting the philosopher Martha Nussbaum, and goes on to describe the 2004 book by Parker Palmer: A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. Palmer observes that we tend to live split lives: an internal life we rarely acknowledge or share, and an external life that often seems foreign to us.
Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.”
This struck me because it’s something I think about often; it also highlights beautifully the purpose of coaching and why I was drawn to it: to help people see and bring together their inner and outer identities, to create a life that brings those inner and outer worlds into alignment, so instead of feeling divided, we feel, act and live as one unified whole.
Coaching isn’t about handing someone a key to “success” or self-improvement; it’s about acknowledging, accepting and flourishing with all of the various parts of ourselves.
As Parker writes: “Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness — mine, yours, ours — need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.”
Critical to creating that new life is understanding our own sense of integrity: not an imposed set of ethics or standards, but what each of us as individuals actually cares about and values most. The alternative is to chase other people’s imposed ideas of success and importance, and to feel dull, listless, and disconnected from our own lives.
“Not knowing who or what we are dealing with and feeling unsafe,” Parker writes, “we hunker down in a psychological foxhole and withhold the investment of our energy, commitment, and gifts … The perceived incongruity of inner and outer–the inauthenticity that we sense in others, or they in us — constantly undermines our morale, our relationships, and our capacity for good work.”
To me, reconnecting with our full selves in a way that allows us to crawl out of that foxhole and live a full and authentic life, and to thrive in that, is what coaching is all about. Of course, this is a lifelong process, not a simple problem to be “solved” in a few coaching sessions. And perhaps it’s impossible to achieve complete “wholeness,” for more than a few moments at a time, at least, because we’re always changing. But coaching sets that sort of inner and outer integration as a goal, and provides tools for navigating the journey, including ways to keep coming back to our own inner compass when we inevitably get lost along the way.