Some books are so rich in content that they deserve a permanent place on one's desk or bedside table, ready to be seized the moment the owner needs a strong boost of wisdom. One such book for me is Anam Cara : A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by the Irish writer, John O'Donohue, who, unfortunately, died just two years ago at age fifty-two. O'Donohue was a well-educated but unassuming Irish writer who had enormous gifts of insight, as well as an extraordinary ability to express those insights in both prose and poetry.
While thumbing through Anam Cara yesterday, focusing on passages underlined in previous readings, I discovered a brief section that had not fully registered with me earlier, but which contains a brilliant discussion of how our ways of seeing affect the quality of our lives. "It is a startling truth," writes O'Donohue, "that how you see and what you see determine how and what you will be."
To determine one's own pattern of seeing, O'Donohue calls upon each of us to ask a simple question: "What way do I behold the world?" Do we see the world through fearful eyes, where everything and every person is perceived as a threat? Do we see the world through greedy eyes, where everything can be possessed at a certain price? Do we see the world through judgmental eyes, where everything and every person is rigidly defined and limited by our prejudices and preconceptions? Do we see the world through resentful eyes, elevating our own entitlements while condemning others for theirs? Do we see the world through indifferent eyes, where our capacity for compassion is trumped by cynicism and despair? Do we see the world through inferior eyes, where everyone is perceived as superior to ourselves? Or can we remove the lens of fear, the lens of greed, the lens of prejudgment, the lens of resentment, the lens of indifference, the lens of inferiority -- and then begin to see the world through eyes of love? Can we ever accept St. Augustine's profound but simple advice: "Love and do what you will."
How we see determines who we are, but who we are can always be changed by altering the way we see. Understanding this, suggests O'Donohue, may "bring you self-knowledge and enable you to glimpse the wonderful treasures your life secretly holds."
The Gaelic words used in the title of the book, Anam Cara, mean "soul friend." No better words can be found to describe its author, John O'Donohue.