Parker Palmer offers a thoughtful reflection on a phrase from a poem by WB Yeats, who writes of “the lying days of my youth”….
My youthful “lies” weren’t intentional. I just didn’t know enough about myself, the world, and the relation of the two to tell the truth. So what I said on those subjects came from my ego, a notorious liar. Coming to terms with the soul-truth of who I am — of my complex and often confusing mix of darkness and light — has required my ego to shrivel up…
Whatever truthfulness I’ve achieved on this score comes not from a spiritual practice, but from having my ego so broken down and composted by life that eventually I had to yield and say, “OK, I get it. I’m way less than perfect.” I envy folks who come to personal truth via spiritual discipline: I call them “contemplatives by intention.” Me, I’m a contemplative by catastrophe.
Cloud Messenger explores this very theme. I was a young idealistic woman who actually had very little understanding of myself or of my husband Pradeep. When I went to India, I had grand ideas that Pradeep and I would create a primary health program that would be effective, low cost and sustainable. My primary working principle about life was that if you try hard enough, you’re going to succeed eventually. This principle was challenged again and again during those years I lived in India. We did create a primary health care program, and we certainly worked hard, but ultimately it didn’t succeed – certainly not in the way I was hoping. Faced with this tremendous disappointment, I fell into a major bout of depression. This devastating experience transformed me into a “contemplative by catastrophe”, learning about myself the hard way.
Looking back on it now, I realized that I was working from an artificial sense of the self created by my own ego. When my dreams were dashed, I was forced to question myself deeply. I slowly came to a more profound understanding of who I am, realizing that my true gifts in life lay elsewhere. I was learning the “soul truth” of myself, a journey that continues to this day.