A Tribute to John O'Donohue — 1956 - 2008

When a great teacher departs this physical plane, his sudden absence resounds like a giant bell, rippling around the planet against the backdrop of a deep silence. First there is shock. How can one who brimmed over with such unbounded vitality, uproarious laughter, piercing wit and intellect, and a heart bigger than the sun and the moon, be dead? Gone? No, not gone. Impossible when we hear the long reverberation of his profound influence echoing through our soul, giving rise to an uncanny intensified sense of his presence.

John O’Donohue — Irish poet, scholar, philosopher, lyrical writer, fluent orator, mystic, Celtic wisdom teacher, environmental activist, lover of nature, advocate of the wild, creative soul in each of us — passed from this life on January 3, 2008. In the timeless hours between dusk and dawn, he slipped from this world into the grand mystery of the unknown — quickly, quietly, unexpectedly, but not unnoticed. He was only fifty-three years old.

I’m very grateful to have known John O’Donohue over the past ten years — through his eloquent, often hilarious, always inspiring talks at workshops and collaborative conferences; and through his beautiful, soulful writing. Though I’ve met him in person a mere four times, I recognized him instantly as one of those rare teachers who celebrates the essence and creative potential of each individual. He had that gift — able to strike those truth-chords in the hidden recesses of one’s soul — putting words to the silent, invisible world of one’s spirit - personal, particular, and profoundly universal. A true Anam Cara (soul friend), he has gained permanent residency in my heart.

I was introduced to John O’Donohue’s wisdom in San Francisco at an event called The Art of Living Creatively. He spoke about the beautiful mystery of life and the wonder of being born into this world; about the wildness of our soul and the eternity we carry within. He urged us to become aware of our depths, the richness, complexity, and magnificence of our true being and to honor this. He stressed the importance of giving room for our creative expression. “Spontaneity,” he said, “ is the most powerful force within the human soul. It is what really grounds us and constitutes our most substantial integrity.” He flung open that door in grand invitation for each one of us to be who we are — our truest, most authentic, wildly creative selves in celebration of this outrageous and unfathomable experience called Life.

I was fortunate to have been with John O’Donohue one last time in Minneapolis this past October at an event entitled Courage for New Horizons sponsored by Being in Concert. During a break, I snagged him in the hallway to tell him how much he and his teachings have meant to me over the years. I told him that so many things he has said touched me at the very center of my heart. He laughed warmly and said, “Ah bless you, bless you,” gave me a big hug and signed all the books I had brought with me, including some original, now out-of-print pamphlets. “Haven’t seen these old friends for awhile,” he laughed with delight. Impressed with how warm and personable he was with me, I thought to myself, “He must hear the same thing over and over and yet he receives each person as though they bring splendid news.”

Then I read a transcript of an interview in which O’Donohue said, “It might be in ten years you meet someone who was at a talk you’d given and they say, ‘You’ve no idea what that talk did,’ and you get a little glimmer that in some life, something was altered. It’s very, very special when people’s hearts get touched. Some old blockage gets softened, or some feared threshold actually gets crossed. I think it’s in gentle, little nondescript ways that huge change happens. People get transformed. It’s quite amazing.” This has certainly been true for me regarding his talks and I trust it is the case for so many others whose hearts and souls and minds he touched.

John O’Donohue — gone before we were ready. Author of Anam Cara: soul friend, a book of Celtic Wisdom; Eternal Echoes: exploring our yearning to belong; Beauty: the invisible embrace, rediscovering the true sources of compassion, eternity, and hope; Echoes of Memory (poetry); Conamara (poetry); and Blessing the Space Between Us (a collection of his original blessings) also published as Benedictus in Great Britain — he has left us with a rich treasury of his teachings and an insatiable hunger for more.

Silver-blue rays sift through tall trees and sweep across emerald green grasses of my California hillsides. A hawk glides in beautiful symmetry. Elsewhere on this planet he loved so much, I envision golden shafts of sunlight sparkling upon freshly fallen snow. Everywhere the world sings out its beauty, hints of life’s eternal nature — as a giant of a man passes through this existence, leaving his legacy in the depths of our hearts — forever.

Thank you, John O’Donohue. May your journey be blessed with as much beauty and delight as you have brought to those of us who — for the time being — remain here on this beautiful earth, remembering you with lasting gratitude.

Anna Billings
January 2008

John O'Donohue's Website

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Comment by Anna Billings on February 1, 2008 at 4:57pm
Thanks Connie! I really appreciate your help in "un-editing" this to bring back the life in expression through writng. Sometimes it's best to just let it flow. Interesting parallel with my post to a recent blog of yours! Trusting the creative voice within.
Comment by Anna Billings on February 1, 2008 at 4:46pm
Hi Skip and Ian,

Thanks so much for responding to my blog about John O'Donohue. If you're inspired to enjoy some more of his teachings, I highly recommend experiencing him through the spoken word. He has a few CD collections available. One is entitled Wisdom from the Celtic World. (Hmm, not sure how to post a link to Sounds True website in this comment box. I'll try just posting it directly)
http://store.soundstrue.com/aw00366d.html
I've always enjoyed him most by listening to him as his sense of humor (and who he is) comes across more readily through his voice.

Warm regards,
Anna
Comment by Connie Weber on January 31, 2008 at 4:57pm
Hi Anna,

Since I have had the privilege of reading a couple of versions of this, I get to say yes, this is the best! Its heartfelt orientation really works for me; I can feel the essay, feel the depth of your admiration for the man, know WHY you have such reverence. Here's my favorite paragraph:

"Silver-blue rays sift through tall trees and sweep across emerald green grasses of my California hillsides. A hawk glides in beautiful symmetry. Elsewhere on this planet he loved so much, I envision golden shafts of sunlight sparkling upon freshly fallen snow. Everywhere the world sings out its beauty, hints of life’s eternal nature — as a giant of a man passes through this existence, leaving his legacy in the depths of our hearts — forever."

Thank you for sharing this beautiful essay with us, Anna!
Comment by Ian Carmichael on January 30, 2008 at 8:25pm
Thanks Anna, indeed.
I have been enriched by John's writings, and am sorry to hear of his passing - his book titles stay in my mind, but until your remembrance here, I'd forgotten the author's name. Perhaps that says something about the man as well - not all about him.

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