28 Feb Inspired by John O’Donohue
Last week I mentioned the people who are helping care for my wellbeing, and that gift keeps on giving. The massage therapist I mentioned recommended I listen to a particular podcast episode of On Being with Krista Tippet – the one where she interviews John O’Donohue. It has inspired me tremendously, and I want to share a little of that with you.
In the episode, O’Donohue quotes Meister Eckhart (not to be confused with Eckhart Tolle),
“There is a place in the soul that neither time nor space nor no created thing can touch.”
O’Donohue expands on that by saying
“…And if you cash it out, what it means is that your identity is not equivalent to your biography, and that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there is still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is, now and again, to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever come across something that so directly speaks to the inner stillness and eternal peace some of us sense is there and aim to feel with our practices.
Hearing him describe this internal, unwounded place, I immediately recognized it as what Yoga calls purusa. Our true self, the part of us that never changes and cannot be marred, the uninterrupted light of our own consciousness. Contrasted with prakrti, which is all created things, everything else. In the quote above, O’Donohue says your identity is not equivalent to your biography. Your biography, that’s prakrti. He says more…
“And it often seems to me…that a person believes that if they tell you their story, that that’s who they are. And sometimes these stories are constructed of the most banal, secondhand, psychological and spiritual cliché, and you look at a beautiful, interesting face telling a story that you know doesn’t hold a candle to the life that’s secretly in there. So…I think…that there’s a reduction of identity to biography. And they’re not the same thing. I think biography unfolds identity and makes it visible and puts the mirror of it out there, but I think identity is a more complex thing.”
O’Donohue was a man of many spiritual understandings. A former Catholic priest steeped in the Celtic tradition with a deep reverence and appreciation for Buddhist practice and philosophy, his perspective is like broad arms around a fertile body which, at its core, nurtures a radiant seed of truth.
Having studied Yoga more than any other spiritual tradition, I’m always struck when I recognize the Yoga philosophy so clearly in places that aren’t speaking to Yoga at all.
I know I’m not alone in my feeling that all of the world’s spiritual traditions are maps that point the wanderer to the same ultimate place.
This is really what landed for me when listening to O’Donohue describe the unwounded place. That’s it, I think; that’s where the map is leading us, regardless of which map we’re using. As he says, “I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is, now and again, to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.”
Be it in studio, synagogue, spa, or seashore, may you touch into that inner space this week and be, for a moment, free.
Image by Giovanni Calia from Pexels