Too Much of a Good Thing, II

I just began reading John O’Donohue‘s Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World, and I am quite impressed with it so far. He might be compared favourably with William Irwin Thompson, for those of you who are a fan of the latter.

Anam Cara is Gaelic, and translates as “soul friend”, as O’Donohue explains in the Prologue. (The Anam Cara is also quite evidently the “Friend” of Rumi’s mystical poetry). And it’s from the Prologue that I want to quote, rather extensively, to illustrate and highlight the themes of the previous post, for it was  tremendously serendipitous to take up O’Donohue’s book, and read his Prologue, after posting “Too Much of a Good Thing”. So the following is an excerpt from the Prologue to Anam Cara.

It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No-one else can bring you news of this inner world. Through our voices, we bring out sounds from the mountain beneath the soul. These sounds are words. The world is full of words. There are so many talking all the time, loudly, quietly, in rooms, on streets, on TV, on radio, in the paper, in books. The noise of words keeps what we call the world there before us. We take each other’s sounds and make patterns, predictions, benedictions and blasphemies. Each day, our tribe of language holds what we call the ‘world’ together. Yet the uttering of the word reveals how each of us relentlessly creates. Everyone is an artist, Each person brings out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.

Humans are new here. Above us, the galaxies dance out towards infinity. Under our feet is ancient earth. We are beautifully moulded from this clay. Yet the smallest stone is millions of years older than us. In your thoughts, the silent universe seeks echo. An unknown world aspires towards reflection. Words are the oblique mirrors which hold your thoughts. You gaze into these word mirrors and catch glimpses of meaning, belonging and shelter. Behind their bright surfaces is the dark and the silence. Words are like the god Janus, they face outwards and inwards at once.

If we become addicted to the external, our interiority will haunt us. We will become hungry with a hunger no image, person or deed can still. To be wholesome, we must remain truthful to our vulnerable complexisty. In order to keep our balance, we need to hold the interior and exterior, visible and invisible, known and unknown, temporal and eternal, ancient and new together. No-one else can undertake this task for you. You are the one and only threshold of an inner world. This wholesomeness is holiness. To be holy is to be natural; to befriend the worlds that come to balance in you. Behind the facade of image and distraction, each person is an artist in this primal and inescapable sense. Each one of us is doomed and privileged to be an inner artist who carries and shapes a unique world.

Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace. No-where else is there such intimate and frightening access to the mysterium. Friendship is the sweet grace which liberates us to approach, recognize and inhabit this adventure. This book is intended as an oblique mirror in which you might com to glimpse the presence and power of inner and outer friendship. Friendship is the creative and subversive force. It claims that intimacy is the secret law of life and universe. The human journey is a continuous act of transfiguration. If approached in friendship, the unknown, the anonymous, the negative and the threatening gradually yield their secret affinity with us. As an artist, the human person is permanently active in this revelation. The imagination is the great friend of the unknown. Endlessly, it invokes and releases the power of possibility. Friendship, then, is not to be reduced to an exclusive or sentimental relationship; it is a far more extensive and intensive force.

The Celtic mind was neither discursive nor systematic. Yet in their lyrical speculation, the Celts brought the sublime unity of life and experience to expression. The Celtic mind was not burdened by dualism. It did not separate what belongs together. The Celtic imagination articulated the inner friendship which embraces nature, divinity, underworld, and human world as one. The dualism which separates the visible from the invisible, time from eternity, the human from the divine, was totally alien to them. Their sense of ontological friendship yielded a world of experience inbued with a rich texture of otherness, ambivalence, symbolism and imagination. For our sore and tormented separation, the possibility of this imaginative and unifying friendship is the Celtic gift.

The Celtic understanding of friendship found its inspiration and culmination in the sublime notion of the anam cara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul; cara is the word for friend. The anam cara was a person to whom you could reveal the hidden intimacies of your life. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara, your friendship cut across all convention and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the friend of your soul…. Central here is the recognition and awakening of the ancient belonging between two friends. Since the human heart is never completely born, love is the continuous birth of creativity within and between us. We will explore longing as the presence of the divine and the soul as the house of belonging.

…..The body is your clay home, your only home in the universe. The body is in the soul; this recognition confers a sacred and mystical dignity on the body. These senses are divine thresholds. A spirituality of the senses is a spirituality of transfiguration…. When you cease to fear your solitude, a new creativity awakens in you. Your forgotten or neglected inner wealth beings 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 the inner landscape.

….The invisible hungers to become visible, to express itself in our actions. This is the inner desire of work. When our inner life can befriend the outer world of work, new imagination is awakened and great changes take place…. We will explore memory as the place where our vanished days secretly gather and acknowledge that the passionate heart never ages. Time is eternity living dangerously…. We will reflect on death as the invisible companion who walks the road of life with us from birth. Death is the great wound in the universe, the root of all fear and negativity. Friendship with our death would enable us to celebrate the eternity of the soul which death cannot touch.

The Celtic imagination loved the circle. It recognized how the rhythm of experience, nature and divinity follows a circular pattern. In acknowledgement of this the structure of this book follows a circular rhythm. It begins with a treatment of friendship as awakening, then explores the sense as immediate and creative thresholds. This builds the ground for a positive evaluation of solitude which in turn seeks expression in the external world of work and action. As our outer energy diminishes, we are faced with the task of ageing and dying. This structure follows the circle of life as it spirals towards death and attempts to illuminate the profound invitation it offers….”

Very eloquent and wise words of an enlightened mind which, I hope, might help shed further light on the themes of the last post.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Anam Cara as I work my way through O’Donohue’s book.


17 responses to “Too Much of a Good Thing, II”

  1. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Re-reading? I thought we’d read that already. : )

  2. mikemackd says :

    Digging through my files to finding a copy of my favorite O’Donoghue poem, Vespers, I found that I discovered Anam Cara 13 years ago last Tuesday.

    Anyway, Vespers:

    As light departs to let the earth be one with night
    Silence deepens in the mind and thoughts grow slow;
    The basket of twilight brims over with colours
    Gathered from within the secret meadows of the day
    And offered like blessings to the gathering Tenebrae*

    After the day’s frenzy may the heart grow still
    Gracious in thought for all the day brought,
    Surprises that dawn could never have dreamed,
    The blue silence that came to still the mind,
    The quiver of mystery at the edge of a glimpse,
    The golden echoes of worlds behind voices.

    Tense faces unable to hide what gripped the heart,
    The abrupt cut of a glance or a phrase that hurt,
    The flame of longing that distance darkened,
    Bouquets of memory that gathered on the heart’s altar,
    The thorns of absence in the rose of dream.

    And the whole while the unknown underworld
    Of the mind turning slowly in its secret orbit.

    May the blessing of sleep bring refreshment and release
    And the angel of the moon call the rivers of dream
    To soften the hardened earth of the outside life,
    Disentangle from the trapped nets the hurt and sorrow
    And awaken the young soul for the new tomorrow.

    • mikemackd says :

      * “Tenebrae” means night-darkness.

    • Scott Preston says :

      What I particularly like about this passage I quoted from O’Donohue’s Prologue is his statement that the soul is not so much IN the body, as the body is IN the soul, so that the soul is the “field” as it were, or the soil from which the body springs forth. That’s a very Blakean understanding as well. The “field” is, in effect, Jung’s “collective unconscious”, and not something “inside” the body so much as we are inside it.

    • Dwig says :

      Puts me in mind of a song refrain:
      Just a song a twilight, when the lights are low,
      And the flick’ring shadows softly come and go,
      Tho’ the heart be weary, sad the day and long,
      Still to us at twilight comes Love’s old song,
      comes Love’s old sweet song.

      Something appeals to me about this post and comments. Perhaps it’s the focus on a kind of re-integration of soul and body; maybe it’s the hint of the emergence of a new form and dynamics of awareness/consciousness.

      Another from the Celtic well:
      Is it far to go?
      A step — no further.
      Is it hard to go?
      Ask the melting snow,
      The eddying feather.

      What can I take there?
      Not a hank, not a hair.
      What shall I leave behind?
      Ask the hastening wind,
      The fainting star.

      Shall I be gone long?
      For ever and a day.
      To whom there belong?
      Ask the stone to say,
      Ask my song.

      Who will say farewell?
      The beating bell.
      Will anyone miss me?
      That I dare not tell —
      Quick, Rose, and kiss me.

      Cecil Day-Lewis

      The 3rd stanza was used by J.T. Frazer to name the five sections of his book “Time, The Familiar Stranger”.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I might mention in this connection a Celtic prayer recorded by O’Donohue, variously called either “St Patrick’s Breastplate” or “The Deer’s Cry”

        I arise today
        Through the strength of heaven:
        Light of sun,
        Radiance of moon,
        Splendour of fire,
        Speed of lightning,
        Swiftness of wind,
        Depth of sea,
        Stability of earth,
        Firmness of rock.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    This is interesting. O’Donohue quotes Emerson: “No-one suspects the days to be gods”. But I did write something about that earlier, how the word “days” is related to the word deus — a god. Emerson’s remark brought back to mind the Arabic Jahiliyyah or pre-Mohammedan “dark age”. It’s reported that there were 360 gods for each Arab tribe, and the icons of these gods were kept in the Kaaba in Mecca (the Kaaba symbolising the omphalos or “navel of the world”). Mohammed smashed the idols when he seized Mecca, and so “there is no god but God” dates from that time. The many gods of the tribes were demoted to demons or to the djinn (“genies”), or became “the ninety-nine names of God” listed at the end of the Qur’an.

    360 is a very odd number, though, as it is the number of days in the old Babylonian year as well as degrees in a circle, so in effect each of those days/degrees were once a god. Emerson still knows the days as gods likewise.
    But then, the names of the week are the names of the gods also — Thors-day, Wotan’s Day, Friga’s Day. This all belongs to what is called “astrotheology”.

    • mikemackd says :

      Yes, I go into that in my Star Key page, which seems to have disappeared again.

      Coincidentally, as he is visiting Iceland, I just sent my son a joke about Thor about 15 minutes ago. .

      As it’s Saturday here, I’m sure the god of the day won’t mind me posting it here as well.

      One day Thor was galloping about on his mighty steed, wielding his mighty hammer, when he saw a peasant from afar.

      Thor thought he would awe the peasant by bestowing a visitation. So up he galloped, made his horse gallop back and forth before the peasant, rear up onto its hind legs, and in general look as awesome as only a god could look.

      The peasant seemed unimpressed.

      So Thor tried even harder, looked even more awe-inspiring.

      The peasant seemed bored.

      So eventually, Thor road up to him and shouted, “I’m Thor!!!”

      The peasant replied, “And tho you should be, pranthing about on a horth like that without a thaddle.”

      Dad joke. We dads are obliged to tell jokes like that.

  4. obably says :

    I had a serendipitous moment today too. I think it kinda fits along with this part of O’Donohue’s writing:

    “There are so many talking all the time, loudly, quietly, in rooms, on streets, on TV, on radio, in the paper, in books. The noise of words keeps what we call the world there before us. We take each other’s sounds and make patterns, predictions, benedictions and blasphemies. Each day, our tribe of language holds what we call the ‘world’ together.”

    So yesterday I wrote a story, breaking language and rearranging apart. I only halfway understood what I was doing and it just felt like it needed to be like that. Then today I read most of Mikhail M. Bakhtin’s “Discourse in the Novel.” I don’t know much about Bakhtin, but I agreed with some of what he said. Here’s some of what he said:

    “But no living word relates to its object in a singular: between the word and its object, between the word and the speaking subject, there exists an elastic environment of other, alien words about the same object, the same theme, and this is an environment that is often difficult to penetrate. It is precisely in the process of living interaction with this specific environment that the word may be individualized and given stylistic shape.

    Indeed, any concrete discourse (utterance) finds the object at which it was directed already as it were overlain with qualifications, open to dispute, charged with value, already enveloped in an obscuring mist– or, on the contrary, by the “light” of alien words that have already been spoken about it.”

    And then a few pages later:

    “But this does not exhaust the internal dialogism of the word. It encounters an alien word not only in the object itself: every word is directed toward an answer and cannot escape the profound influence of the answering word that it anticipates.

    …Forming itself in an atmosphere of the already spoken, the word is at the same time determined by that which has not yet been said but which is needed and in fact anticipated by the answering word. Such is the situation of any living dialogue.”

    I thought it interesting this Bakhtin guy encountered so many aliens and their language habits while i have not seen one (I don’t think) but it is fine. An interesting read.

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