Life on the Möbius Strip

Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 10:45am
Photo by Eric Schaal

Life on the Möbius Strip

Here's a brief meditation on life on the Mobius strip, a curious concept to be sure, but no more curious than life itself!

The curious object pictured is a Möbius strip.

(PBS Nova.)

If you take your index finger and trace what seems to be the outside surface, you suddenly find yourself on what seems to be the inside surface. Continue along what seems to be the inside surface, and you suddenly find yourself on what seems to be the outside surface.

I need to keep saying “what seems to be” because the Möbius strip has only one side! What look like its inner and outer surfaces flow into each other seamlessly, co-creating the whole. The first time I saw a Möbius strip, I thought, “Amazing! That’s exactly how life works!”

Whatever is inside of us continually flows outward, helping to form or deform the world — depending on what we send out. Whatever is outside us continually flows inward, helping to form or deform us — depending on how we take it in. Bit by bit, we and our world are endlessly re-made in this eternal inner-outer exchange.

Much depends on what we choose to put into the world from within ourselves — and much depends on how we handle what the world sends back to us. As Thomas Merton said:

"We don't have to adjust to the world. We can adjust the world."

Here's the question I've been asking myself ever since I understood that we live our lives on the Möbius strip:

"How can I make more life-giving choices about what to put into the world and how to deal with what the world sends back — choices that might bring new life to me, to others, and to the world we share?"

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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I love the addition of Bach. I am so grateful for your presence in my life, Parker.

Could we have the source of the Merton quote in the article - "We don't have to adjust to the world. We can adjust the world"? There are so many quotes floating around without attribution. I presume this line can be found in one of his books?

Hi, Mike. As you may know, from 1955 to 1965 Merton served as Novice Master at the Abbey of Gethsemani and gave regular talks to the novices, many of which were tape-recorded. Several reel-to-reel tapes of these talks were given to me by Sr. Mary Luke Tobin (Sisters of Loretto) who was a good friend of Merton's and later became a friend of mine. The quote in question is from notes I took from one of those tapes -- tapes that, to my knowledge, are not among the cassette tape versions now available commercially. Eventually, I donated my tapes to the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. I've read most of what Merton wrote, but I've never seen the quote in a book.

Wow! Exactly what I needed to receive today! Thank you, Parker!

I have been musing on a trefoil knot made with mobius tape, you could weave a shape with that quite large. Thank you for your wonderful art in words.

Dear Parker - Using the tangible surface of the Mobius Strip as a metaphor for potential growth in "this eternal inner-outer exchange" is exciting for me. I look forward to adding this image to my current "library" of information as I continue my study of life in today's world.
Thank you for your thoughtful and meaningful column.
Marty Whitney

Just perfect for me today, and this year. Thank you! Am going to copy this and read it as my reflection a few times a week....very say it perfectly.

Simply Divine Lifting beyond the power of words to follow.

Parker Palmer, thank you for being. You have modeled so beautifully how to do just what you ask about doing.