Parker J. Palmer is the author of six previous books including the best-selling Let Your Life Speak and The Courage to Teach. Named as one of 10 key "agenda-setters" of the past decade, he has been acknowledged with eight honorary doctorates and several national awards. In this book, Palmer ties together the core themes of 40 years of work: the shape of the integral life, the meaning of community, teaching and learning for transformation, and the importance of nonviolent social change. The author observes that many adults are living a "divided life," a social problem that not only brings them heartbreak but also diminishes the vitality of communities. Taking a cue from a phrase of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, Palmer notes that we can tap into "a hidden wholeness" that embraces the brokenness of our lives and the flaws in those around us and society in general.
What are some signs of divided lives? Palmer finds evidence of this malaise when people refuse to invest themselves in their work, when they remain in spirit-stifling relationships, when they harbor a secret desire for personal gain at the expense of others, when they hide their beliefs, or when they conceal their true identity for fear of being criticized or attacked. These people have lost touch with their souls and have disappeared into roles. Palmer quotes poet Mary Oliver: "This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attention." It needs to be rooted, connected, and nourished if it is to thrive. Our revved up and distracting culture throws plenty of obstacles in the way of those who want to give focused attention to their souls.
Palmer is convinced that human beings need both solitude and community to do the inner work necessary to thrive. Using illustrations and practical experience he gained while living at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia, the author discusses the many ways in which "circles of trust" can support the quest for integrity and meaning: "The only guidance we can get on the inner journey comes through relationships in which others can help us discern our leadings." Palmer outlines the key practices of these circles, including speaking center-to-center, deep listening, asking open and honest questions, and honoring silence. The circles achieve intentionality by focusing on one topic, but they often approach it indirectly by using "third things" a poem, a story, a film that represent neither the facilitator's nor the participants' voices but speak through metaphor.
Circles of trust can strengthen our souls so that we can serve as agents of nonviolent change in society. Palmer defines violence as any way we violate the identity and integrity of another person. Hidden Wholeness is a rich and accessible resource for all who want to nurture their souls in community.