Mid-Winter Landscape of the Soul
Personal reflections and wisdom of John O’Donohue
“There is always a winter time when old dies away… Unless you allow yourself to work on that threshold, you remain a guest outside your own life.”
Today, February 1, marks the point of midwinter. This is a going within time for me. Even in the luminous sunscapes of canyon and plateau of the high Arizona desert, frigid north winds penetrate our shortened days. Temperatures do a fast plummet with the early sunset. I feel stirring underneath the surface, a kind of discontent, unease. Oh, yes, there it is, the voice of my soul putting me on notice to pay attention. I hear, too, from people in many parts of the world who are seeking new vision in the face of the unknown, of something stirring within them.
In my own winter retreat time, I have found solace and inspiration from the wisdom of John O’Donohue, Irish poet, philosopher, and eloquent spokesman from the ancient Celtic heart. I was astounded to hear of his sudden death in January. He was unafraid to be vulnerable and express the deepest longing we all carry. I am moved to tears knowing he is gone from this physical world. (Please see page I posted in his honor along with a powerful article by him about our own transfigurative journey and two articles about him). It is a reminder to me to share our precious gifts we all carry.
Excerpts from his Wisdom From the Celtic World CD set are woven into this piece that follows.
Thresholds of Light and Dark
“Within the ancient Celtic ceremonial cycle, the four major seasonal ceremonies were at the thresholds of light and dark…These fecund thresholds brought blessings…They embraced the two sides with energy and celebrated time and the differences.”
As with this cycle of nature, O’Donohue says, “There is always a winter time when old dies away… Unless you allow yourself to work on that threshold, you remain a guest outside your own life.”
“Landscape is the firstborn of Creation…Our bodies are formed of that clay of the earth. And alive in each of is this shared memory we have with earth. We carry a longing which is not our own. There is a stillness and a silence within which is a gift of the clay that makes us up. There is an ancient life in you that is not accessible in the surface of mind. If we stay trapped in the visible world, we will never inherit our lives.”
When we are struck with suffering, overcome with fears, have a sense of failure and are in a place where no mobility or inspiration seems possible, this is the very time to hold John’s wise words as a beacon: “Limitation is merely the shore of our new frontier…Our lives are too big for the hardened shell of ego. Suffering makes an incision on that shell so hidden life can emerge. You release a new dimension of self, now too bright, too large to live in the old shell.”
Staying present with our self in the place of deepest compassion and the greatest gentleness, rather than seeking distraction, is the key to new life. “Each of us must come to terms with our essential loneliness. When we feel most isolated, something is moving, we are returning closer to ourselves.”
“Real suffering is different than fabricated, self-imposed burdens we create out of our own falsity. They bring us nothing; they keep us circulating in the same empty room of fact and don’t open us to the fecundity of suffering. Real suffering calls us home where energy is clear, minds are open and alive and where our soul as a beautiful shelter will hold us tenderly and powerfully on the ground of our own belonging.”
“When we gaze with kindness on the beauty of our inner landscape, we can repair and heal our damaged belonging and come into unity with the divine…It takes a long time to learn one’s own place in our life. The closer you journey to your own source, the more you come into rhythm and harmony with what is actually there.”
John offers an analogy to the seed, which in an act of trust, dissolves itself to send roots into the dark soil growing around the rocks, putting tendrils into moisture and finally emerging into the light and bearing fruits. The seed fosters its own loss to a fruitfulness and dignity of being. How do we foster our sense of loss? How do we send our roots around the dead and stony places?
Finding Our Own Circle of Belonging
To find our way back home, John reminds us of many powerful allies available to us. Our soul friends, known as Anam Cara, can hold us in a circle of belonging. He says, “Wonder is expression of the fire of longing, a subtle presence that opens the heart.”
Remember too, the connective power of the natural world: “Nature is the intimate face of unknown, a one pulse with the eternal divine heart. Being in a wild place is a healing—you are in the midst of great prayer…Animals become one with the wildness of the universe…Every human is born without a map or cage and with a knowing of our wild self.”
“The world of Celtic spirituality is a world of springtime and fresh beginnings, relieving one from prisons of your own perceptions.” John points out, “A Celtic gift is the knowledge of fairies as presences. Fairies were said to live in the air. Many tunes were said to be from the fairy kingdom…The world of fairies had a sense of playfulness to it.”
He reminds us to use humor, embrace irony and lightheartedness as well. And of the need to liberate imagination as a doorway of soul wisdom.
John also speaks of how your guardian angel is the spirit of renewal and transfiguration that always walks at your side:
“Your angelic presence can convert a dead world into a new world of potential and mystery and promise. Just ask them to help you…The power of prayer can lift these weights so heart can breathe again and become fully alive.”
“You were born for eternal life and you should risk enjoying it.”