That Friend Walking Behind Me

Parker Palmer


Awakin FeatureImagine that for many years a friend had been walking a block behind me, calling my name, trying to get my attention because he wanted to tell me some hard but healing truths about myself. But I -- afraid of what I might hear, or arrogantly certain I had nothing to learn -- ignored his calls and kept on walking.

So my friend came closer and called my name louder, but I walked on, refusing to turn around. Closer still he came, now shouting my name. Frustrated by my lack of response, he began to throw stones and hit me with sticks, still wanting nothing more than to get my attention. But despite the pain I felt, I kept walking away.

Since calls and shouts, sticks and stones, had failed to get my attention, there was only one thing left for my friend to do: drop the bomb called depression on me. He did so not with intent to kill, but in a last-ditch effort to get me to turn toward him and ask a simple question: “What do you want?” When I finally made that turn -- and began taking in and acting on the self-knowledge he’d been waiting to offer me -- I took first steps on the path to wellbeing.

Thomas Merton's name for that friend is “true self.” This is not the ego self that wants to inflate us. It’s not the intellectual self that wants to hover above life’s mess with logical but ungrounded ideas. It’s not the ethical self that wants to live by someone else’s “oughts.” It’s not the spiritual self that wants to “slip the surly bonds of Earth” and fly nonstop to heaven.

True self is the self with which we arrived on earth, the self that simply wants us to be who we were born to be. True self tells us who we are, where we are planted in the ecosystem of life, what “right action” looks like for us, and how we can grow more fully into our own potentials. As an old Hasidic tale reminds us, our mission is to live into the shape of true self, not the shape of someone else’s life: "Before he died, Rabbi Zusya said: 'In the world to come they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

Memo to myself: Stay on the ground, turn around, ask and listen! True self is true friend -- it’s a friendship we ignore at our peril. And pass the word: friends don’t let friends live at altitude!

Parker Palmer is a writer, speaker and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. He is the author of Let Your Life Speak. The above excerpt is from his article, Down is the Way to Well Being.

Seed questions for reflection: What does 'true self' mean to you? Can you share an experience of a time you felt the presence of your 'friend'? What helps you come down from altitude and connect with your 'friend'?

Add Your Reflection:

11 Previous Reflections:

  • link
    On Jun 14, 2016 rob wrote:

     what I want is the very things that cause my depression...paradox...

    1 reply: Me | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jun 14, 2016 PATRICIA CAMACHO wrote:

     Amazing one, also we can come to our true self if we listen our intuition the more we are connected with it the sooner you´ll encounter with your true self again... :D

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jun 14, 2016 Neela gupta wrote:

     I studied in a Gandhian School listening to and reading Gandhi's words-"Be true to yourself." As a child I kept on wondering what does this mean? What can I do to be true? And now in the evening of my life, I am getting a glimpse of it. I understand that When I allow my True self to speak and give space for reflection on what is being said, and then try to live that wisdom, I am  'being true to myself''. 
    I am still on the way to finding out more. 
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful write up.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jun 14, 2016 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

     Perfect timing! Just had an experience this weekend, my first sweat lodge. In that moment of entire darkness, in a supportive circle enveloped by steam we both listened to each other, called out our own prayers, intentions and hopes as well as our needs. It was extremely powerful. Depression has been my "friend" for the last several months. After 7 rounds of sweats in 2 days, I feel released, renewed and reawakened to all the universe has in store for me on this path. I was blocking myself. I feel more opened again. Grateful. It was intense to sit in darkness and allow everything to wash over and to pour forth (literally and figuratively) Hugs from my heart to yours! Kristin

    1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jun 14, 2016 david doane wrote:

    True self is authentic me, is my truth, my foundation.  True self is my friend, though I don't always treat my true self like a friend and sometimes ignore or reject my true self.  Sometimes my true self scares me because I think if I accept and identify with my true self I won't fit in, I'll be rejected or worse.  When I feel the presence of my true self, my friend, and listen to the perspective and truth of my true self, and express my true self, I am true to my true self, I feel good about doing that, and more often than not find that my true self is valued by others.  Such experiences help me have the courage to connect with my true self more often. 

    1 reply: Jo | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jun 14, 2016 akshay wrote:
    Beautiful reading! 

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jun 13, 2016 neeru johri wrote:

     such a beautiful piece

    1 reply: Nishi | Post Your Reply

Search Awakin Readings

Or search by year, author, or category.

Subscribe to Weekly Email

Every week, we send out a digest with a reading and inspiring stories to our global community of 94,112 people. Subscribe below.


Contact Us

If you'd like to suggest a thought or want to drop us a suggestion, drop us a note.