Anam Ċara – A Book of Celtic Wisdom

In our time, there is much obsession with spiritual programs. Such spiritual programs tend to be very linear. The spiritual life is imagined as a journey with a sequence of stages. Each stage has its own methodology, negativity, and possibilities. Such a program often becomes an end in itself. It weights our natural presence against us. Such a program can divide and separate us from what is most intimately ours. The past is forsaken as unredeemable, the present is used as the fulcrum to a future that bodes holiness, ntegration, or perfection. When time is reduced to linear progress, it is emptied of presence. Meister Eckhart radically revises the whole notion of spiritual programs. He says that there is no such thing as a spiritual journey. If a little shocking, this is refreshing. If there were a spiritual journey, it would be only a quarter inch long, though many miles deep. It would swerve into rhythm with your deeper nature and presence. The wisdom here is so consoling. You do not have to go away outside yourself to come into real conversation with your soul and with the mysteries of the spiritual world. The eternal is at home--within you.

The eternal is not elsewhere; it is not distant. There is nothing as near as the eternal. This is captured in a lovely Celtic phrase: "Tá tír na n-óg ar chul an tí--tír álainn trina chéile" -- that is, "The land of eternal youth is behind the house, a beautiful land fluent within itself." The eternal world and the mortal world are not parallel, rather they are fused. The beautiful Gaelic phrase fighte fuaighte, "woven into and through each other," captures this.

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. Yet ironically our sense of familiarity often militates against our homecoming. When we are familiar with something, we lose the energy, edge, and excitement of it. Hegel said, "Das Bekannte überhaupt ist darum, weil es bekannt ist, nicht erkannt" -- that is, "Generally, the familiar, precisely because it is 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 familiarization. We reduce the wildness and mystery of person and landscape to the external, familiar image. Yet the familiar is merely a facade. Familiarity enables 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 that it masks. Familiarity is one of the most subtle and pervasive forms of human alienation.

In a book of conversations with P. A. Mendoza, a Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, when asked about his thirty-year relationship with his wife, Mercedes, said, "I know her so well now that I have not the slightest idea who she really is." For Márquez, familiarity is an invitation to adventure and mystery. Conversely, the people close to us have sometimes become so familiar that they have become lost in a distance that no longer invites or surprises. Familiarity can be quiet death, an arrangement that permits the routine to continue without offering any new challenge or nourishment.

This happens also with our experience of place. I remember my first evening in Tübingen, Germany. I was to spend more than four years there studying Hegel, but that first evening Tübingen was utterly strange and unknown to me. I remember thinking, Look very carefully at Tübingen this evening because you will never again see it in the same way. And this was true. After a week there, I knew the way to the lecture halls and seminar rooms, the canteen and the library. After I had mapped out my routes through this strange territory, it became familiar, and soon I did not see it for itself anymore.

People have difficulty awakening to their inner world especially when their lives have become overly familiar to them. They find it hard to discover something new, interesting, or adventurous in their numbed lives. Yet everything we need for our journey has already been given to us. Consequently, there is great strangeness in the shadowed light of our soul world. We should become more conversant with our reserved soul-light. The first step in awakening to your inner life and to the depth and promise of your solitude would be to consider yourself for a little while as a stranger to your own deepest depths. To decide to view yourself as a complete stranger, someone who has just stepped ashore in your life, is a liberating exercise. This meditation helps to break the numbing stranglehold of complacency and familiarity. Gradually, you begin to sense the mystery and magic of yourself. You realize that you are not the helpless owner of a deadened life but rather a temporary guest gifted with blessings and possibilities you could neither invent nor earn.

--John O’Donohue in Anam Ċara – A Book of Celtic Wisdom

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