John O'Donohue (1 January 1956 – 3 January 2008)
sought 'intimations' and manifestations of beauty,
finding it in music, color and movement,
as well as some less likely locations — imperfection and death.
The Power of "Soul Friendship"
John O'Donohue, from County Clare, Ireland, was an Irish poet, author, priest, and Hegelian philosopher whose post-doctoral work was on the 13th century mystic, Meister Eckhart. His exploration of the history of the melding of ancient Irish spiritual traditions with pre-Augustinian Christian precepts in Celtic Christianity led to his discovery of the concept of Anam Chara, "Soul Friend" in Gaelic, where we enable each other to recover from past relationship disappointments by resolving to strengthen our spiritual insight through truthfulness.
"When you cease to fear your solitude, a new creativity awakens in you. Your forgotten or neglected wealth begins to reveal itself. You come home to yourself and learn to rest within. Thoughts are our inner senses. Infused with silence and solitude, they bring out the mystery of inner landscape." - Anam Cara, p. 17
In his recorded lecture series, Anam Cara: Wisdom from the Celtic World, he explained:
"According to Celtic tradition, the soul shines all around the body like a luminous cloud. When you are very open - appreciative and trusting - with another person, your two souls flow together. This deeply felt bond with another person means you have found an Anam Cara, or "soul friend." Your Anam Cara always beholds your light and beauty, and accepts you for who you truly are. In Celtic spirituality, the Anam Cara friendship awakens the fullness and mystery of your life. You are joined in an ancient and eternal union with humanity that cuts across all barriers of time, convention, philosophy and definition. When you are blessed with an Anam Cara you have arrived at the most sacred place: home."
Pages 121 and 123 through 126.
To transfigure the ego - to liberate the soul
Behind the facade of our normal lives eternal destiny is shaping our days and our ways. The awakening of the human spirit is a homecoming. When we are familiar with something, we lose the energy, edge and excitement of it. Hegel said, "Das Bekannte über haupt ist darum, weil es bekannt ist, night errant," i.e. generally, the familiar, is not known. This is a powerful sentence. Behind the facade of the familiar, strange things await us. This is true of our homes, the place where we live and, indeed, of those with whom we live.
Friendships and relationships suffer immense numbing through the mechanism of familiarisation. We reduce the wildness and mystery of person and landscape to the eternal, familiar image. Yet the familiar is merely a facade. Familiarity enebles us to tame, control and ultimately forget the mystery. We make our peace with the surface as image and we stay away from the otherness and fecund turbulence of the unknown which it masks. Familiarity is one of the most subtle and pervasive forms of human alienation.
The body is your only home
It is mysterious that the human body is clay. The individual is the meeting place of the four elements.
The person is a clay shape, living in the medium of air. Yet the fire of blood, thought and soul moves through
the body. Its whole life and energy flows in the subtle circle of the water element. We have come up out of the depths of the earth. Consider the millions of continents of clay that will never have the opportunity to leave this underworld. This clay will never find a form to ascend and express itself in the world of light, but will live for ever in that unknown shadow world.
In this regard, the Celtic idea is very beautiful; it claims that the underworld is not a dark world but a world of spirit. There is an old belief in Ireland that the Tuatha dé Dannan, the tribe of Celts banished from the surface of Ireland, now inhabits the underworld beneath the land. From there they controlled the fecundity of the land above. Consequently, when the king was being crowned, he entered a symbolic marriage with the goddess. His reign mediated between the visible landscape with its grass, crops and trees and the hidden subterranean world in which all is rooted. This balance was vital since the Celts were a rural, farming people. This mythological and spiritual perspective has had an immense subconscious effect on how landscape is viewed in Ireland. Landscape is not matter nor merely nature, rather it enjoys a luminosity. Landscape is numinous. Each field has a different name and in each place something different happened. Landscape has a secret and silent memory, a narrative of presence where nothing is ever lost of forgotten. In Tom Murphy’s play The Gigli Concert, the unnamed man loses this sense of landscape and loses the ability to connect with himself simultaneously.
The mystery of the Irish landscape is mirrored in all the stories and legends of different places. There are endless stories and legends of different places. Near my home, a magic cat minds ancient gold in a big field. One finds an enthralling weave of stories about the independence and structure of the spiritual world. The human body has come out of this underworld.
Consequently, in your body, clay is finding a form and shape which it never found before. Just as it is an immense privilege for your clay to come up onto the light, it is also a great responsibility.
The human body has come out of this underworld. Consequently, in your body, clay is finding a form and shape which it never found before. Just as it is an immense privilege for your clay to come up onto the light, it is also a great responsibility.
In your clay body things are coming to expression and to light that were never known before, presences that never came to light or shape in any other individual. To paraphrase Heidegger, man is a shepherd of being, we could say: man is a shepherd of clay. You represent an unknown world that begs you to bring it to voice. Often the joy you feel does not belong to your individual biography but to the clay out of which you are formed. At other times, you will find sorrow moving through you, like a dark mist over a landscape. This sorrow is dark enough to paralyze you. It is a mistake to interfere with this movement of feeling. It is more appropriate to recognize that this emotion belongs more to your clay than to your mind. It is wise to let this weather of feeling pass; it is on its way elsewhere. We so easily forget that our clay has a memory that preceded our minds, a life of its own before it took our present form. Regardless of how modern we seem, we still remain ancient, sisters and brothers of the same clay. In each of us a different part of the mystery becomes luminous. To truly be and become yourself, you need the ancient radiance of others.
Essentially, we belong beautifully to nature. The body knows this belonging and desires it. It does not exile us either spiritually or emotionally. The human body is at home on the earth. It is probably some splinter in the mind which is the sore root of so much of our exile. This tension between clay and mind is the source of all creativity. It is the tension in us between the ancient and the new, the known and the unknown. Only the imagination is native to this rhythm. It alone can navigate in the sublime interim where the lineaments of these differing inner forces touch. The imagination is committed to the justice of wholeness. It will not choose one side in an inner conflict and repress or banish the other; it will endeavour to initiate a profound conversation between them in order that something original can be born.
There is a gravity within that continually weighs on us and pulls us away from the light. Negativity is an addiction to the bleak shadow that lingers around every human form. Within a poetics of growth or spiritual life, the transfiguration of this negativity is one of our continuing tasks. This negativity is the force and face of your own death gnawing at your belonging to the world. It wants to make you a stranger in your own life. This negativity holds you outside in exile from your own love and warmth. You can transfigure negativity by turning it toward the light of your soul. This soul light gradually takes the gravity, weight and hurt out of negativity. Eventually, what you call the negative side of your self can become the greatest force for renewal, creativity and growth within you. Each one of us has this task. It is a wise person who knows where their negativity lies and yet does not become addicted to it. There is a greater and more generous person behind your negativity. In its transfiguration, you move into the light which is hidden in this larger presence. To continually transfigure the faces of your own death ensures that at the end of your life your physical death will be no stranger, robbing you against your will of the life that you have had; you will know its face intimately. Since you have overcome your fear, your death will be a meeting with a lifelong friend from the deepest side of your own nature.