i n t e g r a l   c o u n s e l i n g   i n s t i t u t e

                        e n e r g i z i n g    t r a n s f o r m a t i o n    t  h r o u g h    i n q u i r y ,   i n s i g h t ,   a n d   i n t e g r a t i o n


                   December 2006 Book Review and Quotes Archive


                                           Anam Cara A Book of Celtic Wisdom

                                                      By John O'Donohue

                                            Published by Harper Perennial

                                                   ISBN 978-0-06-092943-5

John O’Donohue is an Irish poet, philosopher and scholar who writes in this book about Celtic spirituality in a touching

and meditative way, emphasizing the importance of relationship in human growth and actualization. Mr. O’Donohue

integrates Irish heritage, Western theology and German philosophy to his thinking about consciousness and self-

development. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul; cara is the word for friend. Mr. O’Donohue draws on ancient Celtic

teachings and his own knowledge of philosophy to integrate themes of personal and transpersonal growth through

friendship, love, solitude and our relationship to death. O’Donohue writes lovely essays that explore the notion of soul

friendship through belonging in interpersonal relationship (this includes anything from intimate friendship to romantic

love relationships), the body and senses, work and actions, aging and death. These represent the Celtic circular

pattern of the developmental lifecycle.

While soul is not well defined in the book, the Celts expressed a non-duality of human and divine in their spiritual

philosophy. Friendship, intimate relationship, with both oneself and the essential others is the expression of this

unifying aspect. Recognition and belonging is what mirrors the soul or in other terms; the essential core of being,

what Jung called the Self, Atman, that experience of oneness.

Love, intimacy and resonance with others allow us to flourish, to develop a connection to ourselves, to nature and to

the nature of reality. These anam cara themes point clearly to why Mr. O’Donohue has presented at conferences with

Dan Siegel M.D., a psychiatrist. O’Donohue reveals creatively and experientially, the essential interpersonal nature of

human beings while Siegel’s work describes the neurobiology of attachment, empathy and wellbeing (see review of

Siegel’s work in these archives, February, 2006 “The Mirror Neuron Mindfulness Hypothesis”). Siegel posits (with

research to support this) that empathic relationships promote neural integration and consequently, well being. The

following is a quote from an interview with Siegel published by the Kripalu Canter titled “Awakening the Mind:

Neurobiology and You”.

“Elucidating the links between the physical brain and the processes of the mind has shed light on the deepest nature

of the self. When we examine the deep layers of our neural selves, we come to glimpse not only the roots of our mental

and social lives, but the essential reality of our selves as part of an integrated whole across the span of time. It may be

that our work as human beings is not only to seek meaning and satisfaction in our lives and to dedicate ourselves to

alleviating suffering in others but to be part of a larger effort to bring integration and healing into the many layers of our

interconnections with each other. As we explore and incorporate the many domains of integration, what seems to evolve

naturally is the sense of being connected to a larger whole, something more than just a bodily-defined sense of self in

this time we call our life. This transpersonal integration enables us to become more fully aware of our interconnected

belonging as we, in Albert Einstein’s words, ‘widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the

whole of nature in its beauty’.”

This quote harkens to O’Donohue's words in Anum Cara which reflect his interest in an integral and relational perspective

of personhood and transpersonhood. But Mr. O’Donohue is mindful to emphasize that intimate relationship is not possible

without intimate relationship to the self. Solitude is an important force that seeks expression in the external world. “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 complexity. 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,


While Mr. O’Donohue describes a spirituality that has some slight supernatural leanings, in the main the book resonates

to a wider naturalistic, humanistic even atheistic audience by his incorporation of a variety of spiritual/philosophical

traditions and by the shear beauty of his use of language. His words give the most pleasing summary, “…this book

attempts a phenomenology of friendship in a lyrical-speculative form. It takes its inspiration from the implied and lyrical

metaphysics of Celtic spirituality.”

Note: John O’Donohue will be conducting a workshop in Portland on February 23rd and 24th at Trinity Episcopal Church.

For more information call 503 478 1202.       

                                                                                                                                                      Review by Dr. Shelley Norton                                   


                                            December 2006 Weekly Quotes   




Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” (51)

From Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris


One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty-first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their

deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not

flagrantly irrational.  We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty. 

Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith.” (87)

From Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris


That religion may have served some necessary function for us in the past does not preclude the possibility that it is now the

greatest impediment to our building a global civilization.” (91)

From Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris 


There is no question that it is possible for people to have profoundly transformative experiences.  And there is no question

that it is possible for them to misinterpret these experiences, and to further delude themselves about the nature of reality.” (89)

From Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris


"Our fears are what protect us from what we don't believe in" ~ Opening monologue of the movie "Alone in the Dark"





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