Parker Palmer, author and founder of The Courage to Teach program, speaks of the shyness of our souls. Instead of “soul” you may call it your “heart”. Native American Joseph Rael calls it “the held-back place of goodness”. We may have different terms for it, but all of us have a sense of the immaterial part of us that holds our emotions and we all know the need to protect it and entrust it only to those who are trustworthy.
At the core of the workshops I lead based on Palmer’s work are the guidelines, “Invite, don’t demand” and “Put aside your need to fix, save, advise or correct others”. It’s a sad thing to say, but as a member of a “helping profession”, it’s awfully easy to think that I have what is needed to cure the ails of the world. I have lots of simple exercises up my sleeve which have helped people connect to their hearts and stitch together the broken bits. I have a Neurofeedback system which has moved mountains of emotional baggage. Yet, from this work I know that each person in front of me has their own inner wisdom which only they can access. My job is to make a space safe enough for them to poke around the edges of that wisdom, find what it has to offer and to provide the resources they want, when they want it.
This spring everything I have learned about care for a shy soul came to fruition with a boy I’ll call “X”. Most often he is lost in the music playing in his ear buds. He speaks in a whisper and uses as few words as possible. One day he appeared with his hoodie pulled up, staring at the floor and more downcast than I have ever seen him before. In a private conversation he told me he was depressed. We talked for as long as we were both able and shared the resources I knew of that could be helpful to him; but it was apparent that for the moment he was unable to mobilize himself. I saw the same boy every day for the next week, and reminding myself to give space to this shy soul, I offered him little more than kind greetings. The last day of that week he sat himself down beside me and for a full hour the story of the complexity of his life tumbled out. I don’t know for certain that sharing helped him connect with the “held-back place of goodness” in him, but I do know that in that moment, and the moments leading up to it, every single skill I had been taught in “Courage to Teach” rose up and served me in being present to his brokenness and his desire to connect with an estranged parent.