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Staying Permeable

Layers of red sandstone are seen on the face of a cliff.

Tina is the National Leader and Executive Director of L’Arche USA. This piece was originally published for the Inner Life project by LA FERME, centre spirituel de L’Arche. Explore the past 7 issues of Inner Life here!

Somewhere near Page, Arizona, in the United States, millions of years of wind and water have curved smooth lines out of red sandstone to form Antelope Canyon. Touching the curved ripples in this stony womb of Mother Nature brings tears to my eyes. At the market of Plaza de los Ponchos in Otavalo, Ecuador, the Otavaleño people brandish their woven textiles. Seeing the explosion of colors and textures, witnessing the amazement of the many tourists, fills me with joy. In the evening, the growing body of a feisty six-year-old cradles itself into mine for reading time. Holding the precious gift that is my daughter sends love into every one of my fibers. Somewhere in a small town in Germany, a family of four used to break bread at the end of the day, discuss and debate, feeding bodies and souls. Belonging to these people sources me. An ocean away, a simple light-filled octagonal structure houses a community of worshippers who sit together in silence. Listening “to that of God within” lands me in stillness.

All of these things nourish my inner life, but the question is “how”. Biologically, I am merely a bunch of cells. Cells give and receive through a permeable membrane. My soul does too. It feeds off of this world. It seeks to give to this world. My inner life is nourished when my skin is permeable, when that what surrounds me and what I belong to transcend the borders of my body to reach my core. My inner life is nourished when my essence finds its way through the layers of my being to contribute to the outer world.

Unfortunately – this might be true for you as well – that is not always the case. Parker Palmer (*) speaks of the soul as a “wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy “. My soul, more or less safely tucked away in my body, its home, is shy to the point that I sometimes lose access to it. You know, my soul has lived some things. Yours has probably too. Mine is bruised and battered, resilient and trusting, fierce and non-compliant, ugly and beautiful, all at once. When hurt, scared or unsafe, it hides and closes, it stonewalls and pretends, it angers. My body is usually the translator. If I listen, I will notice that my muscles are tight, my joints are stiff, my skin is antsy, my breathing is shallow, my voice is hoarse. My inner life is not nourished nor is it nourishing. The membrane that separates my inner and outer lives has become impermeable.

How do I stay permeable? Having a stern talk with my uptight body or my shy soul has proven to be an insufficient strategy. Parker Palmer again: “If we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge.” Yes, that. My soul will thank me with light and energy when I sit silently and tend to it with softness, patience and honesty. Soul and body exhale and release loosen up gratefully. “I am heard”, my soul says. “I am seen”, my body says. “Yes, you are”, I say. “Sorry, it took me so long.” We hug it out. And gosh, it’s worth it. Because now, skin permeable, we set out to explore. There are worlds out there and in me, there is abundance out there and in me to sense, see, taste, experience, touch and witness. There is life to be nourished, out there and in me.

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