The control and ordering of society is amazing: we comply so totally with its unwritten rules. In a city at morning, you see the lines of traffic and the rows of faces all on their way to work. We show up. We behave ourselves. We obey fashion and taste. Meanwhile, almost unknown to ourselves, we are standing on wild earth at a crossroads in time where anything can come towards us. Yet we behave as if we carry the world and were the executives of a great plan. Everywhere around us mystery never sleeps. The same deep nature is within us. Each person is an incredibly sophisticated, subtle and open-ended work of art. We live at the heart of our own intimacy, yet we are strangers to its endless nature.
— John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p 100)
Each one of us is alone in the world. It takes great courage to meet the full force of your aloneness. Most of the activity in society is subconsciously designed to quell the voice crying in the wilderness within you. The mystic Thomas à Kempis said that when you go out into the world you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging where you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but it is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world. No longer on the run from your aloneness, your connections with others become real and creative. You no longer need to covertly scrape affirmation from others or from projects outside yourself. This is slow work; it takes years to bring your mind home.
— John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p 93)
When the garden of your unchosen lives has enough space to breathe beneath your chosen path, your life enjoys a vitality and a sense of creative tension. Rilke refers to this as “the repository of unlived things.” You know that you have not compromised the immensity that you carry, and in which you participate. You have not avoided the call of commitment; yet you hold your loyalty to your chosen path in such a way as to be true to the blessings and dangers of life’s passionate sacramentality.
No life is single. Around and beneath each life is the living presence of these adjacencies. Often, it is not the fact of our choosing that is vital, but rather the way we hold that choice. In so far as we can, we should ensure that our chosen path is not a flight from complexity. If we opt for complacency, we exclude ourselves from the adventure of being human. Where all danger is neutralized, nothing can ever grow.
To keep the borders of choice porous demands critical vigilance and affective hospitality. To live in such a way invites risk and engages complexity. Life cannot be neatly compartmentalized. Once the psyche is engaged with such invitation and courage, it is no longer possible to practice tidy psychological housekeeping. To keep one’s views and convictions permeable is to risk the intake of new possibility, which can lead to awkward change. Yet the integrity of growth demands such courage and vulnerability from us; otherwise the tissues of our sensibility atrophy and we become trapped behind the same predictable mask of behavior.
— John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 87)
There are people whose presence is encouraging. One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own. There are times of great uncertainty in every life. Left alone at such a time, you feel dishevelment and confusion like gravity. When a friend comes with words of encouragement, a light and lightness visit you and you begin to find the stairs and the door out of the dark. The sense of encouragement you feel from the friend is not simply her words or gestures; it is rather her whole presence enfolding you and helping you find the concealed door. The encouraging presence manages to understand you and put herself in your shoes. There is no judgment but words of relief and release.
— John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 62)
It is impossible to be on the earth and to avoid awakening. Everything that happens within and around you calls your heart to awaken. As the density of night gives way to the bright song of the dawn, so your soul continually coaxes you to give way to the light and awaken. Longing is the voice of your soul, it constantly calls you to be fully present in your life: to live to the full the one life given to you. Rilke said to the young poet, “Live everything.” You are here on earth now, yet you forget so easily. You travelled a great distance to get here. The dream of your life has been dreamed from eternity. You belong within a great embrace that urges you to have the courage to honour the immensity that sleeps in your heart. When you learn to listen to and trust the wisdom of your soul’s longing, you will awaken to the invitation of graced belonging that inhabits the generous depths of your destiny. You will become aware of the miracle of presence within and around you.
— John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 49)
Each of us has made a huge discovery that we have never gotten over. This is the discovery of the world. Our first journey was the journey to the earth and we are still travelling.
— John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 21)
If you were a stone, you could remain still, gathered in silent witness in the same landscape. The horizons and the infinity would never trouble you. Nothing could draw you out. As a human, your daily experience is riven with fracture and fragmentation.
Like a nomad you wander from event to event, from person to person, unable to settle anywhere for too long. The day is a chase after ghost duties; at evening you are exhausted. A day is over and so much of it was wasted on things that meant to little to you, duties and meetings from which your heart was absent. Months and years pass and you fumble on, still incapable of finding a foothold on the path of time you walk.
A large proportion of your activity distracts you from remembering that you are a guest of the universe, to whom one life has been given. You mistake the insisten pressure of daily demands for reality and your more delicate and intuitive nature wilts. When you wake from your obsessions, you feel cheated.
Your longing is being numbed and your longing becomes merely external. Your way of life has so little to do with what you feel and love in the world. But, because of the many demands on you and responsibilities that you have, you feel helpless to gather your self; you are dragged in so many directions away from true belonging.
— John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 8)
There is something deeply sacred about every presence. When we become blind to this, we violate Nature and turn our beautiful world into a wasteland. We treat people as if they were disposable objects. We lament today the absence of God and the demise of the sacred. Yet it is ourselves who have killed God. The world today is just as full of sacred presence as it was centuries ago. With the hardening of our minds we are no longer able to feel and sense the ever-present-sacred the way our ancestors did. Our arrogance and greed have killed the gods. Unknown to us, the suppression of Divine Presence exacts a terrible price, because Nature and person lose their inner divinity when the gods depart. Past generations were often victims of a bleak, monolithic god who suppressed all creativity; we recognize the authority of no god and much of our creativity is monstrous. Dostoyevsky said, ‘If God does not exist, everything is permitted.’ All the horizons become flattened and the wells dry up. We no longer walk the earth with wonder. We have purchased the fatal ticket. Instead of being guests of the earth, we are now crowded passengers on the runaway train of progress and productivity; the windows are darkened and we can no longer see out. The gadgets and games in each compartment are quite fascinating. There is constant theatre. Public relations experts offer sensational help in manicuring the image and searching out the best sound-bite. Even if we wanted to alight, no one seems able to stop the train.
We desperately need to retrieve our capacity for reverence. Each day that is given to you is full of the shy graciousness of divine tenderness. It is a lovely practice at night to spend a little while revisiting the invisible sanctuaries of your lived day. Each day is a secret story woven around the radiant heart of wonder. We let our days fall away like empty shells and miss all the treasure.
— John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes, pp 76-77
Within us and around us there is an invisible world; this is where each of us comes from… When you cross over from the invisible into this physical world, you bring with you a sense of belonging to the invisible that you can never lose or finally cancel… When you enter the world, you come to live on the threshold between the visible and the invisible… Because the invisible cannot be seen or glimpsed with the human eye, it belongs largely to the unknown. Still there are occasional moments when the invisible seems to become faintly perceptible… Now you belong fully neither to the visible nor to the invisible. This is precisely what kindles and rekindles all your longing and your hunger to belong. You are both artist and pilgrim of the threshold.
— John O’Donohue from ETERNAL ECHOES
When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart lacks the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.
— John O’Donohue, from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace