John O’Donahue’s profoundly moving, elegant and beautiful ‘Anam Cara’ describes the ancient Celtic blessing of the ‘Soul Friend’.
This doesn’t have quite the same meaning as the ‘Soulmate’, which seems to reflect the modern preoccupation with finding our ‘other half’ than the more turbulent and ultimately enriching waters of intimacy encountered between true friends.
The Anam Cara would be the one who listens to all your troubles and joys and witnesses the events of your life, whether mundane or phenomenal. In finding this person, says O’Donahue, ‘an ancient belonging awakens and discovers itself’.
One of the deepest longings of the soul is the longing to be seen and yet it is increasingly difficult with our fragmented lifestyles and multi- faceted roles to maintain a cohesive sense of self at the centre of all our activity.
Are we a mother, husband, boss, business person, teacher, daughter or lover right now? Can we switch off our motherly self long enough to be a wife? Can we allow our child-like desire for fun when we are in a position of responsibility?
The longing to be seen is the desire to be understood beyond our role-playing, in all our contradictions and complexity, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ together; to be witnessed without judgment. We live in judgemental times, in which watching celebrities fall from grace makes the rest of us feel better, and feeling physically less than perfect, emotionally imbalanced or spiritually disconnected can make us feel like failures.
So everyone could do with an Anam Cara- the one who lets us be who we are even on the bad days and still accepts us. But as many of us live far from our roots, away from kith, kin and old friends, it’s harder than ever to connect with and sense this whole self.
It’s said that psychotherapy, coaching and counselling wouldn’t exist if the role of the anam cara were alive and well, and though it’s a service now and we pay for it, rapport with a trusted coach or therapist can fulfil this need to be seen.
Being seen, witnessed and ‘allowed’ is a healing experience. Speaking without censorship, hearing our own thoughts spoken out loud is liberating and sometimes even shocking, but always a relief, always enlightening and always the source of our own wisdom.
Seeing, sensing our wholeness, the sum of all of our small selves enables us to orchestrate them better, give them space to move around, honour their individual needs and understand their ‘troubles’. Seeing the bigger picture enables us to make decisions we have put off for ages. We become the conductor instead of someone in the audience being drowned in sound.
The true intimacy of the Anam Cara is possibly more necessary than ever in a world that relies on the internet for communication, computer games for entertainment and celebrity for inspiration.