Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Yoga of Soul-Friending

Heartfulness in Close Relationships
The Yoga of Soul Friending (Anam Cara)

Many people I know experience their greatest feelings of communion and connection, of being understood and loved,  in long term relationships of friendship. Indeed for many the life of the spirit may be most deeply felt with true heart friends.

In our walk through the awakened spiritual life we live the practice of Heart Presence in interior silence and in the middle of life and relationships. Our shared experience of Heart Presence occurs in friendship with other beings, whether they be human or other living beings. With our human friendships there are some where we feel a strong heart resonation that brings us a profound experience of intimacy and loving support, as though our inner radiance of Heart Presence is mingled with another. Such a relationship in the Celtic tradition is called a soul-friend, or anam cara (dear soul). 

The Anam Cara Relationship

Brigid of Kildare, the druid priestess and later Christian mystic of 7th century Ireland asserted that the most vital element on the spiritual journey is one's "Anam Cara." Anam Cara actually  translates as "dear soul." It means a relationship of intimacy and trust, of spiritual communion that is profound and life-sustaining. For the human being on the journey some of us may be fortunate to find for a time a human "anam cara" who companions us and we companion them, for a time on the Way, whose love, support, acceptance, and total regard for our well-being is without measure. Such a friendship is precious and those who enjoy it cherish and nurture this shared bond for all the ways it nurtures the soul and expands the heart. In this relationship we find safety and sanctuary, a safe and sacred refuge in the soul and psyche of another who receives us in love, as we are in our humanity and as we are in tenderness and exquisite sensitivity of the spirit.

The anam cara  friendship draws its life from the Light that is greater that lives in and through both friends. The anam cara relationship arises from the Divine Anam Cara relationship, mutually shared with another being. Sometimes that being is an animal friend. For many humans that being might be a dog, cat, or a horse, those animal friends with whom we share our life. In later life I had a ten year relationship with a female black labrador in a mutual love and constant companionship that was nurturing and exquisite, and whose passing brought profound grief, but also gratitude for the shared journey together. In this way the love and safety of the Divine Anam Cara flows through another being to us, and through us to them in a way that validates and enlivens our spirit beyond measure. We open to be  such safety and refuge to another, as well as to receive it. Such intimacy between beings brings joy and purpose to living.  This friendship in where we experience love and intimacy brings us to joy and completion.

David Steindl-Rast, the Benedictine monk and contemplative writer, in his book Gratefulness- the Heart of Prayer, states that everything written or said about spirituality is about belonging. The central wound of the human condition is the loss of our experience of intimate belonging here in the incarnate universe. It may be understood that the healing of this wound is the recovery of a lived awareness of our ancient and innate belonging in the circle of Divine Life itself. This experience and awareness is one of an intimacy with the Divine that is our birthright. We are loved into existence by our Source from all eternity. We can awaken to this  ancient and ever present Love and that our very life and essence partake of the Greater Life that is Love Itself through the yoga (union) of Heart Presence that joins us consciously and intentionally with our Divine Beloved and shared with our soul friends who walk with us. 

The Sufi mystic, Rumi, simply called the Divine, "Friend." Jesus called his followers, male and female, “Friends” . True friendship in Heart Presence  with our human and Divine Beloved is the vital way we heal the wound of separateness and find connection and communion with the Source of Life. In soul friendships we feel the safety to bring forth the fullness of Heart Presence with another, and to receive in mutuality their bestowal of the gift of unguarded and safe Heart Presence.

The Divine Beloved- Our Heart’s Anam Cara

The essence of spirituality is connection, the life of communion with all life, all beings. Hence we are never alone in our life's journey. A vital aspect of this is the trust that the Heart of the Universe is both intimately personal and oceanic in our experience of It. In its personal face we can be in a conscious and intentional relationship of friendship with the personal face of the Divine and the Divine Friend in our human or animal soul friend. The ultimate spiritual teacher and soul friend is within us and always accessible for our grounding and guidance. Mystics from all traditions throughout time have found ways to name and personify the Divine, often using human relationships as metaphor. 

For many this relationship is experienced with such intensity and longing that it can only be summed up as a Divine Friend and Lover, who is our heart's desire and life's fulfillment. The Divine Anam Cara therefore is often called "Beloved" by practitioners of diverse traditions. In the transient life's journey where our human beloveds are  transitory companions with human limits, the assurance and ongoing presence of the Divine Beloved is a ceaseless comfort and security. Whatever term we use in addressing our Divine Anam Cara, whatever human metaphor we use to define our relationship with the Divine, it must come from within us, in a way that represents and defines absolute safety and healing, a refuge that is beyond question for us, a refuge that is mirrored in the safety we experience with our human and creature anam caras, as we walk the difficult path of life, a refuge that is at long last ‘Home’. And just as in a human friendship, this Divine "dear soul" becomes the trusted friend and confidant of our life. When we seek for direction, when we seek for healing, when we seek for the love that never fails, our Dear Soul, the Friend, is there, by whatever name or metaphor we may choose. 

We are One with Our Anam Cara.

The growth of the path of Heart Presence takes us inevitably to the insight that there is no distance between ourselves, and our Dear Soul who walks with us. They are the same footprints. Our Divine Anam Cara is living, moving, loving, healing fully present in us, both in our resistance and ignorance, and in our awakening to the life of unitive love and purpose. The true Seeker of the Heart and the One being Sought are the same. We come Home and find we have never truly left. All the while the Friend has traveled in us, living the totality of the human journey in us, whether we have known it or not. When we live our life with this awareness it is rich, and full, deep and joyful, and never easy or without challenge. “Love is the source, center, and destiny of experience.” John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

A Friendship Blessing

May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where
there is great love, warmth feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of your belonging with your 
Anam Cara.
(John O’Donohue, Anam Cara)

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