One of the spiritual highlights of my life evolved from a kismet moment. While travelling through Ireland I walked into the bookstore in a small town where we were staying. Piled on a table were autographed copies of a book written by an Irish author and scholar who had made a book appearance the day before. The book had to do with Celtic spirituality, an interest of mine, and was autographed by a local Irish author…done deal ~ a unique memento of my trip.
The book was anam cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World by John O’Donohue. My life was forever changed by the book and the connection to John O’Donohue. The term anam cara is Gaelic meaning “soul friend.” These are the people with whom we share a sacred connection.
O’Donohue talks about our connection to the landscape. He writes, “Even in the ruins long since vacated, are the souls of those who had once lived there, still had a particular affinity and attachment to this place. The life and passion of a person leaves an imprint on the ether of a place. Love does not remain within the heart; it flows out to build secret tabernacles in the landscape.”
Throughout my life I have come upon geographic areas for the first time and felt a sense of belonging immediately upon placing my foot on the earth. There is a sense of deja vu, of meeting an old friend after many years apart. Yet, oddly, it is a connection to a place I have never been. There is a profoundly deep connection that has nothing to do with current residents, fun things to do, gastronomical delights or even beautiful landscape (which coincidentally is usually found). The connection is rooted deep within the sand, soil and clay. It rises from the ocean or lake. It is the connection to the soul(s) of the land.
This sense of belonging explains our connection to the land where deeply held religious beliefs and events have taken place. It is the reason for religious pilgrimages. Unfortunately, it is also the reason for religious wars over control of land that continues for centuries. Sometimes the connection is more subtle.
I later met John O’Donohue at Omega Institute and spent 3 days in a workshop with him centered on the concept of anam cara and Celtic Spirituality. We later met again at a poetry reading he gave at NYU. Unfortunately, John O’Donohue left this life in January 2008, far too soon.
The sense of place that John writes about leads me to question, Why do we choose the places we visit? Are we looking for a spiritual connection to the land? Are we looking for excitement and adventure? Are we content to find a life style and pace in a perfect climate? Are we looking to retrace historic places and events that have captured our imaginations? Or, do we plan our travels to give our lives a mixture of all of those situations?
Prior to my move to Maine I vacationed here for 30 years. It was a place I returned to every summer. If a vacation was for new adventure, it was always in addition to a trip to Maine. I was never able to return to my teaching/administrative position until I had breathed some Maine air. Now I get the opportunity daily.
Maine for me is my spiritual center. It is a culture and pace of life that suits who I am and where I am in my life. Aspects of Maine are a constant stable force in an ever changing life and world. It is a place that keeps me grounded and connected to my core beliefs. There needs to be a physical place of connection to that which we value and fear is slipping away from the world at large. These are our magical places.
John O’Donohue had a wonderful lyrical voice. I am grateful that the sound of that voice is deeply imprinted in my brain. I can pick up one of his books or poems and hear it in his voice. That is a blessing in itself. If you would like to hear John talk about his beloved Burren in the west of Ireland, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtEL7u1BnTQ.
For more information about John O’Donohue and his writings, http://www.johnodonohue.com.