The Unfolding of Your Soul (A Post About Becoming Your Truest Self)

Life is about becoming who you already are. How can you be something and also become it, all at the same time? I usually have to answer that question with a metaphor. A piece of paper, for instance…   

true self

Photo Credit: Bigstock (igorr)

The myth: you can’t fold a piece of paper in half more than seven times.

In fifth grade, a friend challenged me to debunk it. We sat in the back of the classroom, wasting trees, trying to fold sheets of notebook paper at least eight times. We couldn’t do it.

Recently, though, Mythbusters accepted the challenge. They started with a sheet of paper the size of a football field. A team of people—along with a steamroller and a fork lift—folded the piece of paper eleven times. It turns out, if a piece of paper is big enough, you can fold it more than seven times. The real problem is, ironically, its growing thickness and weight.

Yet, there is one piece of paper that does not get thicker as it gets folded. There is a piece of paper that feels thinner and smaller and less consequential with each crease. Sometimes, it seems to disappear altogether.

This particular piece of paper is your soul, or, if you prefer, your true self.

Each soul enters the world inside several pounds of wrinkled skin, tiny bones, and wispy hair. However, though our body may initially be wrinkled, our soul is birthed as smooth and as unwrinkled as a crisp, new piece of paper.

Your soul is your truest you.

It harbors your eternal identity, your most beautiful self. It possesses all the love you have to give, and it has the courage to risk actually giving it. It has an energy that feels like passion. It has dreams preparing to be lived. Its temperament is redemptive. Its personality is inclusive. Carried within the tininess of a body, your soul is a living mystery as big as the universe.

Yet, souls get folded in upon themselves. Repeatedly.

I remember a summer afternoon before my third grade year. Our family was penniless at the time, living in a mobile home in the hills of Missouri, and just barely scraping by. A local theater was showing Benji for free, so my mom and I were planning to enjoy the free entertainment and the free air conditioning.

When we arrived, we parked beside the towering brick façade of the theater. I got out and my mom lingered in the car for a moment—just long enough for me to pick up a pebble and wonder how high up on the wall I could throw it.

My first throw was a decent one. The pebble tapped the wall innocently and fell harmlessly to the pavement. I picked it up again, knowing I could do better, a soul enjoying the abilities of the body it was in. I put a little something extra into my next throw, but rather than hitting higher on the wall, the pebble went harder at the wall. It rebounded off the brick, ricocheted over my head, and landed with a tinkle on the hood of the car behind us.

Just as the owner of that car walked around the corner of the theater.

She lit me up. She screamed. She berated. She said things about me that had never occurred to me before. She found the edges of my paper soul and folded it in half. Then she did it again. And again. As she did, I felt smaller. And smaller. And smaller.

Each of us can recall at least one moment in which our soul was folded in upon itself. Most of us can remember many.

Your true self is like a piece of paper that gets folded in half by life, again and again, until it becomes almost invisible. And yet. The good news is, the folding of your soul is not the end of the story.

A soul that can be folded in on itself can be unfolded, too.

Your true self folded in upon itself never ceases to be your truest you. And just as a piece of paper unfolded is becoming once again what it originally was, when your soul finally comes out of hiding and expands once again, it is becoming what it already is.

Your soul is bigger and more beautiful and more mysterious than you can possible imagine. It has been folded in upon itself by people and by experience and by life. But it need not remain that way.

You can become what you already are.

You can unfold.

You can smooth out.

Until one day, many years from now, you are once again a big, beautiful, ageless soul traveling inside of skin gone from one kind of wrinkled to another, bones gone from tiny to brittle, and hair gone from wispy to wispy-and-gray.

Let the unfolding begin.


*This post didn’t make it into my upcoming book—Loveable: Embracing What Is Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life—because I had better stories to tell and, I think, even better metaphors to share. If you’re interested in those stories and metaphors, I’d be thrilled to share them with you, and you can click here to find out more about the book.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

20 thoughts on “The Unfolding of Your Soul (A Post About Becoming Your Truest Self)

  1. Very nice analogy…however don’t forget that a soul, like a piece of paper retains the wrinkles, creases and tears of the folding over process. One might be able to unfold their authentic self after years of mistreatment, but their soul will retain the evidence forever. It’s how we deal with the inevitable scars that is the real challenge in finding our true selves.

  2. Brilliant! I had 2 visuals while reading this. Michael Angelo remarking that the sculpture already exists in a piece of stone and he just chips away the extra to reveal its truth AND the folding and unfolding resembling origami 🙂 thanks for sharing your truth and encouraging us to get reacquainted with ours!!!!

  3. Yes! I have felt this analogy too… when I discover things from myself, that definitely were me and have been with me since “always”, I just have the thought that whatever that is, was hidden in a crease… And also, as unfolding, light comes in… and that is the great present that comes with the effort of unfolding… (because it is an effort). Thank you for the chance to review this “tip” again.

    • Love this addition, too, Cris! The parts of us we find in the creases, and that the creases are always the thinnest places on a piece of paper, the place where more light can be seen. Lovely!

  4. Nice reminder…elegant in its simplicity. It pains me when the ones we love want to stay folded up. They unfold a fold or two, then fold back up again. We bear witness. We pray that finally, finally they will unfold fully and that it’s not so scary. We promise to hold the paper delicately, as if rice paper. After too long, however long is too long, the paper yellows and fades. It is a painful lesson.

    However, there are many other pieces of paper that will risk being unfolded. That is the hope, at least.

    • David, your extension of the metaphor is elegantly simple and beautiful as well. It resonates deeply with me and with one of the themes of my new book, which is that no one can unfold us for us. We can’t force or be forced into that. It is our work to do. And the pain of watching someone not do it resonates with me deeply as well. Thank you.

  5. Wonderful analogy, Kelly! I have not had that thought about the soul, but rather that of a Masterpiece of art that has had garbage and trash thrown at it, covering it up and how we also need to work gently to restore it to its original magnificence. However, in reading the comments, I noticed Mary’s who said that the creases and the wrinkles stay on the paper and then need to be dealt with, which is so very true. It’s what we do with those creases, tears and wrinkles that then determine the real strength and beauty of the paper (soul) and Masterpiece.

    I look forward to your new book! I hope at some point you also make it into an audio-book as I really do more audio-listening than reading nowadays as I have less time to read. But your book might bring me back to the paper! Congratulations and many blessings to you!

    • Hi Jenny, thank you for that additional metaphor, it is a very good one and one that Bob Goff illustrates magnificently in a chapter of his book, Love Does. Like you, I appreciated Mary’s reflection on how we handle our remaining creases and wrinkles. BTW, the book will be available in audio on day one, so no worries!

  6. I cannot wait to read your book.
    I have been following you for a while now and have to say that almost every post you have written had something that enlightened or encouraged me.
    As I have commented before, so I do again-thank you so much for the beauty and breath of your words that flow with a candid honesty that reassures and reminds us we are all broken and beaten souls traveling this thing called life-together. “Same”.

  7. How does one differentiate between valuable experiences which serve to protect one from repeating past mistakes, causing pain or harm, and and those past experiences or “folds” which prevent one from “unfolding”? I hate to use the cliche “baggage” but how does one “unfold” without being dangerously vulnerable? I realize that a certain level of vulnerability is necessary in life but repeating past mistakes is just plain foolish and detrimental.

  8. Hey! Since I’ve left dispatching, my soul has been unfolding. It’s like I’ve rediscovered feelings i suppressed for so long. I am beginning to feel love for others, compassion and caring in a way that I have never had before! I’m living and loving life now!

  9. Reminds me of the line from that Rilke poem …

    ” … I want to unfold.
    I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
    because where I am folded, there I am a lie. …”

    (Whole verse is awesome too:

    “I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough
    to make every moment holy.
    I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
    just to lie before you like a thing,
    shrewd and secretive.
    I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will,
    as it goes toward action;
    and in those quiet, sometimes hardly moving times,
    when something is coming near,
    I want to be with those who know secret things
    or else alone.
    I want to be a mirror for your whole body,
    and I never want to be blind, or to be too old
    to hold up your heavy and swaying picture.
    I want to unfold.
    I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
    because where I am folded, there I am a lie.
    and I want my grasp of things to be
    true before you. I want to describe myself
    like a painting that I looked at
    closely for a long time,
    like a saying that I finally understood,
    like the pitcher I use every day,
    like the face of my mother,
    like a ship
    that carried me
    through the wildest storm of all.”

    Thank you for reminding me of it.

  10. I experienced a moment with a coworker where he essentially flipped out. He accused myself and others of undermining his work efforts and of hating him and the organization he represented all with a flare of gestures and language that shocked all within earshot. It was a tremendous folding of my soul and basically set me uneasy for the whole day after the fact. I chose to write a letter of apology and explanation about how I did not personally or professionally say or do anything to undermine him. I also offered some suggestions on where to find a good laugh or seek for some comfort in stressful moments. He accepted my letter and even apologized for the outburst noting that a lot was going on with him and that he appreciated my willingness to “take the high road”. I felt like I was just saving myself from the stress of confrontation, but appreciated his eagerness to make amends. I often find myself in need of unfolding and wish I wasn’t so easily folded up. Even so, I know that with a deep breath, a pause before release, and a controlled effort to show empathy, I can increase my “unfolding” power and even set up others for a bit of unfolding as well.

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