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Anam Cara: The Quiet Miracle

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Above the Turbulence. Image courtesy of the author

May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

Excerpt from “A Blessing for Presence” by the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue (1956–2008)

Please take a moment to reread those words and really let them sink in until they become visceral; read them until you can feel them in your bones. They may not be of Buddhist origin, but they are profoundly beautiful and relevant, regardless of our religious leanings. In fact, some truths, truths relative to our plane of existence, are beyond religion. They are a deep knowing in the soul bypassing any intellectual cognition. 

What are the quiet miracles in your life—the ones that seek no attention? You woke up today. You are still breathing. You were born at all. The latest link in a chain of life that has brought you to this very moment—this ever-present moment that is the time and place for the next set of miracles yet to unfold. May we be reminded that out of this physical realm, we are in perfect order . . . whatever that means. May that knowledge be a comfort in times of hardship. And may we remember that we are here in this moment. And that, in and of itself, when you really think about it, is the only reality our sensory self can know, with no guarantee of a next moment. That alone should warrant a sense of awe. And every other being whom we encounter is the same “miracle” as ourselves.  

There is an old Irish Gaelic term that refers to a soul friend: anam cara (literally, anam means soul, while cara means friend). This friend may be felt as an ever-present invisible companion, the touchless hug that embraces our soul. The best friend we don’t have in physical form. The relaxation we feel when we surrender into the rapture of the divine. It is also an earthly companion with whom we merge at a subtle level. A friend who will be there, even when geography plays its part in imposing a physical separation.

A friend who listens without judgment, without agenda. And you for them. 

We can all be an anam cara to others during our life, even if we only feel that anam cara in the metaphysical ether. The placeless place of eternal entanglement (to borrow a concept from quantum physics). The entanglement of oneness in the everywhere beyond form. That is form: the illusion of form. The softness of warm cotton wool wrapping lovingly around us, reminding us that it is all actually so simple.

In the mundane world, however, life can feel anything but simple and anything but soft and loving. It can be the dichotomy of feeling complicated and vapid in the same breath. It can feel hard, cruel, unjust, and immoral. Life really can be very raw. Terrible things happen and we feel those wounds for the rest of our lives. We can feel like a baby in a basket cast into the vastness of a wild ocean. And when we call for rescue—even if those calls are from the deep recesses of our mind—we often deny the help, especially when it arrives in a form that appears uncomfortable to us. The cognitive dissonance between our familiar, albeit potentially perilous, known reality and growth into the unknown is a very common phenomenon. 

All too often, in other words, we simply don’t recognize when something is good for us because it doesn’t always come in a neat, comfortable package. This can be especially apparent in human interactions. We prefer the idea of a kind and loving hand to hold, but sometimes it is through the relationships that push us to our limit and beyond that we are really able to grow into new territory. The alchemy of pressure that transforms a lump of coal into a diamond. And we are a crucible for alchemy. 

By the virtue of our existence in this realm, we are embodied as this crucible, and the female form is the crucible for incredible magic when she brings forth stardust from the birth of this physical universe and creates new life. Then, with the same fundamental chemical ingredients followed by a few tweaks to give rise to differences, billions of souls are incarnated in states of alchemy with every other being with whom we engage. 

Of course, there are certain encounters are too dangerous to prolong and getting away is exactly what you need to do. In that moment, there has been an intense and possibly extreme moment of alchemy, and we are forever changed by those moments. In the realm of human relationships, it can be difficult to know when to cut loose, even when nothing exactly “wrong” has happened. New age thought suggests that we carefully edit our peer groups as we become the sum total of them. Equally, we don’t want to leave someone who may still benefit from our presence. We are recommended to let go of the company we keep that drains us, yet it may be impossible to do so. What are we to do in the face of life’s complications?

Remember that it’s all a matter of perspective.

In one respect, I think of bumper cars at a fun fair. We step into one with the express intention and expectation of mild whiplash as we put our foot on the accelerator pedal, aim for another car, and violently collide at full throttle. And it’s normally into someone with whom we are already connected, enjoy the company of, and assume that they will derive as much enjoyment from the experience as we do. Before long, the act is typically reciprocated. Conversely, a bumper car experience without the bumps may as well be a child’s merry-go-round: eventless.

I recall a very vivid dream I had about 20 years ago: I was swimming in space. I swam, very slowly past the planets as I let the wonder of them penetrate my psyche. And then, at the speed of thought, I reached the limit of our universe, knowing that I could still continue along its expanding, contracting, infinite nature (I later discovered that contemporary thinking in astrophysics posits that the universe may well be toroidal).

The aspect of this hyper-vivid dream state, which both surprised me yet felt like the most natural and obvious thing, was that space felt warm. Not just in terms of temperature, although it was perfectly comfortable, but warm in terms of safety. In love. Like cotton wool wrapped softly around my soft naked body. I felt my anam cara in that space. Not necessarily as an omnipresent being, but not necessarily not . . . I won’t give it a name beyond the oneness of a soul friend.

And regardless of whether that particular dream was simply my own sleep state psychosis or something very real matters little to me. I don’t know how cold space actually is as I’ve not physically been up there, but it is a vacuum and so temperature is a funny thing to measure. It’s pretty nippy in some places, a bit hotter next to a star, and visitors have to wear foil jumpsuits so they don’t get fried by radiation . . . maybe a far cry from warmth and love, however it reminded me of a different perspective: that life, in all its complexity, really is so simple.

May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your presence. . . . May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and anxiety never linger about you.

Excerpt from “A Blessing for Presence” by John O’Donohue.

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Tilly Campbell-Allen (Dakini as Art)

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