Thursday, March 31, 2011



Wisdom is another quality of old age. In former societies the old people were called elders because it was recognized that having lived so long, they had harvested wisdom. Our culture is absolutely obsessed with information. There is more information now available in the world than ever before. We have so much knowledge about every possible thing. Yet there is a great difference between knowledge and wisdom. You can know many things, you can know a lot of facts about things, even facts about your self, yet it is the things that you realize that move deeply into you. Wisdom is the art of living in rhythm with your soul, your life and the divine. Wisdom is the way that you learn to decipher the unknown; and the unknown is our closest companion. So wisdom is the art of being courageous and generous with the unknown, of being able to decipher and recognize its treasures. In Celtic culture, and in the old Irish Celtic world, there was immense respect for wisdom. Since the Celtic world was primarily a matriarchal society very many of these wise people were women. The Celts had a wonderful tradition of wisdom which subsequently continued into Irish monasticism. When Europe was going through the Dark Ages it was the monks from Ireland who had preserved the memory of learning. They set up centres of learning all over Europe. The Irish monks recivilized Europe. That learning became the basis of the wonderful medieval scholasticism and its rich culture.

Traditionally in Ireland each region had its own wise person. In County Clare there was a wise woman called Biddy Early. In Galway there was a woman called Cailleach an Clochain, or the old woman of Clifden, who also had this wisdom. When people were confused in their lives, or worried about the future, they would often visit these wise figures. Through their counsel, people learned to engage their destiny anew; they learned to live more deeply and enjoy protection from imminent danger and destruction. Wisdom is often associated with the harvest time of life. That which is scattered has no unity, whereas that which is gathered comes home to unity and belonging. Wisdom, then, is the art of balancing the known with the unknown, the suffering with the joy; it is a way of linking the whole of life together in a new and deeper unity. Our society would be very well advised to attend to the wisdom of old people, to integrate them into the processes of decision making. The wisdom of the aged could be invaluable in helping us to articulate a vision for our future. Ultimately, wisdom and vision are sisters; the creativity, critique and prophecy of vision issues from the fount of wisdom. Older people are great treasure houses of wisdom.



When you are too familiar with who you are, you have become in fact a real stranger to your self. As you age, you will have more space to become acquainted with your self. This solitude can take the form of loneliness and as you age you can become very lonely. Loneliness is exceptionally difficult. A friend, who was living in Germany, told me of his battle with homesickness. He found the temperament, the order, the structures and the externality of Germany very difficult. He had flu during the winter and the loneliness he had repressed came out to haunt him. He got desperately lonely; instead of avoiding it, he decided to allow the loneliness to have its way. He sat down in the armchair and gave hinmself permission to feel as lonely as he wanted. As soon as he gave that invitation to his soul, the loneliness just poured through him. He felt like the most abandoned orphan in the cosmos. He cried and cried. In a way, he was crying for all the loneliness in his life that he had kept hidden. Though this was painful, it was a wonderful experience for him. When he let the loneliness flow, let the dam burst within, something shifted in his relation to his own loneliness. He was never again lonely in Germany. He became free, once he had engaged and befriended the depth of his own loneliness. It became a natural part of his life. An old friend of mine in Connemara said one evening as we were talking about loneliness: 'Is pol dubh dóite é an t-uaigneas, ach má dhúnann tú súas é, dúnfaidh tú amach go leor eile atá go h-álainn chomh maith,' i.e. Loneliness is a black burnt hole, but if you close it up, you close out so much that can be so beautiful for you as well. There is no need for us to be afraid of that loneliness. If we engage it, it can bring us new freedom.



The new solitude in your life can make the prospect of ageing frightening. A new quietness settles on the outer frame of your active life, on the work that you have done, the family that you have raised and the role that you have played. Your life takes on a greater stillness and solitude. These facts need not be frightening. If you view them creatively, your new stillness and solitude can be wonderful gifts and great resources for you. Time and again we miss out on the great treasures in our lives because we are so restless. In our minds we are always elsewhere. We are seldom in the place where we stand and in the time that is now. Many people are haunted by the past, things that they have not done, things that they should have done that they regret not doing. They are prisoners of their past. Other people are haunted by the future; they are anxious and worried about what is coming.

Few people are actually able to inhabit their present time because they are too stressed and rushed. One of the joys of ageing is that you have more time to be still. Pascal said that many of our major problems derive from our inability to sit still in a room. Stillness is vital to the world of the soul. If, as you age you become more still, you will discover that stillness can be a great companion. The fragments of your life will have time to unify, the places where your soul shelter is wounded or broken will have time to knit and heal. You will be able to return to your self. In this stillness, you will engage your soul. Many people miss out on themselves completely as they journey through life. They know others, they know places, they know skills, they know their work, but tragically, they do no know themselves at all. Ageing can be a lovely time of ripening where you actually meet yourself, indeed maybe for the first time. There are beautiful lines by T. S. Eliot which say: 'And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And to know the place for the first time.'



Modern society is based on an ideology of strength and image. Consequently, old people are often sidelined. Modern culture is totally obsessed with externality, image, speed and change; it is driven. In former times, old people were seen as people of great wisdom. There was always reverence and respect for the elders. Old people still have the fires of longing burning brightly and beautifully within their hearts. Our idea of beauty is imporverished now because beauty is reduced to good looks. There is a whole cult of youthfulness where everyone is trying to look youthful; there are facelifts and endless methods of endeavouring to keep the image of youth. In actual fact, this is not beauty at all. Real beauty is a light that comes from the soul. Sometimes in an old face, you see that light coming from behind the lines; it is a vision of the most poignant beauty. That passion and longing is beautifully expressed in Yeats' poem 'The Song of Wandering Aengus':

I went out to the hazelwood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread.

And when white moths were on the wing

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trouth.



Often old people have a touching mellowness about them. Age is not dependent on chronological time. Age is more related to a person's temperament. I know some young people who are about eighteen or twenty, they are so serious, grave and gloomy that they sound like ninety-year-olds. Conversely, I know some very old people who have hearts full of roguery, devilment and fun; there is a sparkle in their presence. When you meet them, you have a sense of light, lightness and gaiety. Sometimes in very old bodies there are incredibly young, wild souls looking out at you. It is so invigorating to meet a wild old person who has remained faithful to their wild life force. Meister Eckhart said that too in a more formal way: there is a place in the soul that is eternal. He says time makes you old but that there is a place in the soul which time cannot touch. It is a lovely thing to know this about your self. Even though time will inscribe your face, weaken your limbs and make your movements slower and, finally, empty your life, nevertheless there is still a place in your spirit that time can never get near. You are as young as you feel. If you begin to feel the warmth of your soul, there will be a youthfulness in you that no-one will ever be able to take away from you. Put more formally, this is a way of inhabiting the eternal side of your life. It would be sad on your one journey through life to miss out on this eternal presence around you and within you.

When a person is young there is a great intensity and sense of adventure. You want to do everything. You want it all and you want it now. Your young life is usually not a time for reflection. That is why Goethe said that youth is wasted on the young. You are going in all directions and you are not sure of your way. A neighbour of mine has a lot of difficulty with alcohol. The nearest pub is in the next town. If he wanted to get a ride to the pub he would have to go to the next village which lies in the opposite direction. My brother passed the car to give him a ride. But he refused, saying, 'Even though I'm walking this way I'm going the other way.' Many people in modern life are walking one way but their lives are going in the other direction. Old age offers the opportunity to integrate and bring together the multiplicity of directions that you have travelled. It is a time when you can bring the circle of your life together to where your longing can be awakened and new possibilities come alive for you.



One of the most destructive negative attitudes towards one's past or towards one's memory is the attitude of regret. Often regret is very false and displaced, imagining the past to be totally other than it was. The phrase from Edith Piaf, 'Je ne regrette rien', is a wonderful in its free and wild acceptance.

I know a wild woman who has lived a very unprotected life. She has had a lot of trouble and things have often gone wrong for her. I remember that she said to me one time, 'I don't regret a bit of it. It is my life, and in everything negative that happened to mek, there was always something bright hidden.' She brought a lovely integrating perspective to her past, a way to retrieve treasures that were hidden in past difficulties. Sometimes difficulty is the greatest friend of the soul. There is a beautiful poem by the Welsh poet R. S. Thomas about looking back on life feeling, maybe, that you missed something or that you regret something that you did not do. It is called 'The Bright Field':

I have seen the light break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the pearl

of great prize, the one field that had

the treasure in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush. To a brightness

that seems as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

At the heart of R. S. Thomas's beautiful poem is a Celtic idea of time. Your time is not just past or future. Your time here always inhabits the circle of your soul. All your time is gathered and even your future is waiting here for you. In a certain sense your past is not gone, but rather is hidden in your memory. Your time is the deeper seed of the eternity that is waiting to welcome you.



The soul is the natural shelter around your life. If during the course of your life, you have not continually scraped away this shelter, your soul will now gather around you to mind you. To approach your soul and memory with neon analysis can be very destructive, especially in the vulnerability of your old age. You should let your soul be natural. From this perspective old age can be a vulnerable time. Many people as they age get very worried and anxious. It is precisely in difficult and vulnerable times that you really have to mind your self. I love the idea of Blaise Pascal that, in difficult times, you should always keep something beautiful in your heart. Perhaps, as a poet said, it is beauty that will save us in the end.

How you view your future actually shapes it. In other words, expectation helps create the future. Many of our troubles do not belong to us. They are troubles we draw upon us through our gloomy attitude. There is a friend of mine from Cork who lived near an old woman called Mary who had a notoriously negative and gloomy outlok on everything. She always had the 'bad word'. A neighbour met her one beautiful May morning. The sun was shining, flowers were out and nature looked as if it wanted to dance. He said to her, 'God, isn't it a beautiful morning, Mary?' Her reply was, 'I know sure, but what about tomorrow?' She was not able to enjoy the actual presence of beauty around her because she was already troubled by how awful tomorrow was going to be. Troubles are not just constellations of the soul or consciousness; frequently, they are actually in spirit form. Perhaps there are little crowds of miseries flying along through the air. Then, they look down and see you gloomy and miserable. They imagine if they come down they might be able to lodge for a week or a few months or even a year. If you let your own natural shelter down, these miseries can come in and take up tenancy in different places of your mind. The longer you leave them there, the harder it will be to evict them in the end. Natural wisdom seems to suggest that the way you are towards your life is the way your life will be towards you. To have an attitude which is compassionate and hopeful brings home to you the things you really need.

Old age is a time of second innocence. There is the first innocence when we are children; but that innoncence is based on naive trust and ignorance. The second innocence comes later in your life when you have lived deeply. You know the bleakness of life, you know its incredible capacity to disappoint and sometimes destroy. Yet, notwithstanding that realistic recognition of life's negative potential, you still maintain an outlook which is wholesome and hopeful and bright. That is a kind of second innocence. It is lovely to meet an old person whose face is deeply lined, a face that has been deeply inhabited, to look in the eyes and find light there. That light is innocent; it is not inexperienced, but rather is innocent in its trust in the good and the true and the beautiful. Such a gaze from an old face is a kind of blessing. You feel good and wholesome in that kind of company.



Old age can be a wonderful time to develop the art of inner harvesting. What does inner harvesting mean? Inner harvesting means that you actually begin to sift the fruits of your experience. You begin to group, select and integrate them. One of the places where inner harvesting is most vital is the abandoned areas within your life. Areas of inner neglect and abandonment cry out to you. They are urgent for harvest. Then they can come in out of the false exile of neglect and enter into the temple of belonging, the soul. This is particularly necessary in relation to the things that you have found difficult in your life, things to which you had great resistance. Above all, your inner wounds cry out for healing. There are two way of doing this. You can do it in an analysis-driven way, where you go back to the wound and open it up again. You take off the protective healing skin which has grown around it. You make it sore and you make it weep again. A lot of thearapy reserves the process of healing. Maybe there is a less intrusive art of attention that you can bring to your wounds. For the soul has its own natural rhythm of healing. Consequently, many of your wounds are very well-healed and should not be opened up again. If you want to you could select a list of your wounds and spend the next thirty years opening them up, until eventually you become like Job with your body a mass of sores. If you engage in this practise of woundology, you will turn your soul into a mass of weeping sores. Each of us has a wonderful but precarious freedom in relation to our inner life. We need, therefore, to treat ourselves with great tenderness.

Part of the wisdom of spiritual soulful self-presence is to be able to let certain aspects of your life alone. This is the art of spiritual non-interference. Yet other aspects of your life call urgently for your attention; they call to you as their shelterer, to come and harvest them. You can discern where these wounds are in the temple of memory, then visit them in a gentle and mindful way. The one kind of creative presence you could bring to these areas is compassion. Some people can be very compassionate to others, but exceptionally harsh with themselves. One of the qualities that you can develop, particularly in your older years, is a sense of great compassion for your self. When you visit the wounds within the temple of memory, the places where you made bad mistakes and now feel such regret, you should not blame your self. Sometimes you have grown unexpectedly through these mistakes. Frequently, in a journey of the soul, the most precious moments are the mistakes. They have brought you to a place which you would otherwise have always avoided. You should bring a compassionate mindfulness to your mistakes and wounds. Endeavour to inhabit again the rhythm you were in at that time. If you visit this configuration of your soul with forgiveness in your heart, it will fall into place itself. When you forgive your self, the inner wounds begin to heal. You come in out of the exile of hurt into the joy of inner belonging. This art of integration is very precious. You have to trust your deeper, inner voice to know which places you need to visit. This is not to be viewed in a quantitative way, but rather in a gentle, spiritual way. If you bring that kind light to your soul and to its wounded places, you effect incredible inner healing.



The Celtic stories suggest that time as the rhythm of soul has an eternal dimension where everything is gathered and minded. Here nothing is lost. This is a great consolation: the happenings in your life do not disappear. Nothing is ever lost or forgotten. Everything is stored within your soul in the temple of memory. Therefore, as an old person, you can happily go back and attend to your past time; you can return through the rooms of that temple, visit the days that you enjoyed and the times of difficulty where you grew and refined your self. In actual fact, old age, as the harvest of life, is a time where your times and their fragments gather. In this way you unify your self, achieve a new strength, poise and belonging that was never available to you when you were distractedly rushing through your days. Old age is a time of coming home to your deeper nature, of entering fully into the temple of your memory where all your vanished days are secretly gathered awaiting you.

The idea of memory was very important in Celtic spirituality. There are lovely prayers for different occasions. There are prayers for the hearth, for kindling the fire and for smooring the hearth. At night the ashes were smoored over the burning coals, sealing off the air. The next morning the coals were still alive and burning. There is also a prayer for the hearth-keepers which evokes St Bridget, who was both a pagan Celtic goddess and a christian saint. In herself, Bridget focuses the two worlds easily and naturally. The pagan world and the Christian world have no row with each other in the Irish psyche, rather they come close to each other in a lovely way. This is a prayer for the hearth which also recognizes memory:

Brighid of the Mantle, encompass us,

Lady of the Lambs protect us,

Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us,

Beneath your mantle, gather us

And restore us to memory.

Mothers of our mother,

Fore mothers strong,

Guide our hands in yours,

Remind us how

To kindle the hearth.

To keep it bright,

To preserve the flame,

Your hands upon ours,

Our hands within yours,

To kindle the light,

Both day and night.

The mantle of Brighid about us,

The memory of Brighid within us,

The protection of Brighid keeping us

From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness,

This day and night,

From dawn till dark,

From dark till dawn.

(by Caitlín Matthews)

This is a fine recognition of the circle of memory holding everything together in a hospitable unity.

In a positive sense, ageing becomes a time for visiting the temple of your memory and integrating your life. Integration is a vital part of coming home to your self. What is not integrated remains fragmented; sometimes it can come into great conflict within you. The presence and process of integration brings you more fully home to your self. There is so much that needs to be integrated within each person. Camus said, aptly, that after one day in the world you could spend the rest of your life in solitary confinement and you would still have dimensions of that day's experience left to decipher. So much happens to us even within the simple circle of a day of which we are unaware. To visit the temple of memory is not merely to journey back to the past; it is rather to awaken and integrate everything that happens to you. It is part of the process of reflection which gives depth to experience. We all have experiences, but as T. S. Eliot said, we had the experience but missed the meaning. Every human heart seeks meaning; for it is in meaning that our deepest shelter lies. Meaning is the sister of experience and to discern the meaning of what has happened to you is one of the essential ways of finding your inner belonging and discovering the sheltering presence of your soul. There is an amazing line in the Bible from the prophet Haggai: 'You have sown so much but harvested so little.' Everything that happens to you is an act of sowing a seed of experience. It is equally important to be able to harvest that experience.



This story also shows that there is a different rhythm of life in eternal time. One night, a man from our village was coming back home along this road where there were no houses. Cycling along, he heard beautiful music. The music was coming from inside the wall by the sea. He crossed over to the wall to find that he was entering a village in this forsaken place. The people there seemed to have expected him. They seemed to know hinm and he received a great welcome. He was given drink and lovely food. Their music was more beautiful than he had ever heard before. He spent a few hours of great happiness there. Then he remembered that if he did not return home, they would be out searching for him. He bade farewell to the villagers. When he arrived home, he discovered that he had been missing for a fortnight even though it seemed like half an hour in the eternal fairy world.

My father used to tell another such story about a monk named Phoenix. One day in the monastery he was reading his breviary. A bird began to sing and the monk listened so purely to the song of the bird that he was aware of nothing else. Then the song stopped, and he took up his breviary and went back into the monastery to discover that he no longer recognized anyone there. And they did not recognize him either. He named all his fellow monks with whom he had lived up to what seemed to be half an hour before, but they had all disappeared. The new monks looked up their annals and sure enough, years and years before, a monk called Phoenix had mysteriously disappeared. At the metaphorical level this story claims that through real presence the monk Phoenix had actually broken into eternal time. Eternal time moves in a different rhythm from normal, broken human time. Oscar Wilde said, 'We think in eternity, but we move slowly through time.' This beautiful phrase echoes powerfully since it comes from De Profundis, Wilde's letter of love and forgiveness to one who had betrayed and destroyed him.

These Celtic fairy stories suggest a region of the soul that inhabits the eternal. There is an eternal region within us; there we are not vulnerable to the ravages of normal time. Shakespeare expressed the ravages of calendar time beautifully in sonnet sixty:

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

so do our minutes hasten to their end

each changing place with that which goes before

in sequent toil all forwards do contend.



The Celtic tradition had a wonderful sense of the way eternal time is woven through our human time. There is the lovely story of Oisín who was one of the Fianna, the band of Celtic warriors. He was tempted and seduced to visit the land called 'Tír na n-Óg'. Tír na N-Óg is the land of eternal youth, where the good people, the fairy people lived. Oisín went off with them and for a long, long time he lived happily there with his woman, Niamh of the golden hair. The time seemed so short to him, being a time of great joy. The quality of our experience always determines the actual rhythm of time. When you are in pain, every moment slows down until it resembles a week. When you are happy and really enjoying your life, time flies. Oisín's time passed really quickly in the land of Tír na n-Óg. Then his longing for his old life began to gnaw. He began to wonder how the Fianna were and what was happening in Ireland. He began to long for home, the land of Éire. The fairy people discouraged him, because they knew that as a former inhabitant of mortal and linear time, he would be in danger of getting lost there for ever. Nevertheless, he decided to return. They gave him a beautiful white horse and told him never to dismount. If he did, he would be lost. He came on the great white horse back to the land of Ireland. Greater loneliness awaited him when he discovered that he had been gone for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Fianna had disappeared. He consoled himself by visiting their old hunting sites and the places where they had feasted, sung, recited old stories and achieved great feats of valour. In the meantime, Christianity had come to Ireland. When Oisín was riding around on his white horse he saw a group of men failing in an attempt at raising a big rock to build a church. He, being a warrior, had wonderful strength and he looked at them and longed to help them; but he knew he dare not dismount from the horse; if he did, he was lost. He watched them from a distance for a while, then he rode nearer. He could not resist any longer. He took his foot out of the stirrup and reached under the rock to raise it up for them, but as soon as he did the girth broke, the saddle turned over, and Oisín hit the ground. The very moment he hit the land of Ireland, he became a feeble, wrinkled old man. This is a wonderful story to show the co-existence of the two levels of time. If you broke the threshold , which the fairies observed, between these two levels of time, you ended up stranded in mortal, linear time. The destination of human time is death. Eternal time is unbroken presence.



Memory is one of the most beautiful realities of the soul. Since the body itself is so linked into the visual senses, it often does not recognize memory as the place where the past is gathered. The most powerful image of memory is the tree. I remember once, at the Natural History Museum in London, seeing a sliver of the diameter of a giant redwood from California. This tree's memory reached back to about the fifth century. The memory rings within the diameter of the tree had little flags at different points documenting the age of the particular memory ring.

The first one was St. Colmcille going to Iona in the sixth century, then up along the Renaissance, the seventeenth, eighteenth century up the twentieth century. This giant redwood had lived through twelve or thirteen centuries of time. Its great memory had unfolded all that time within the texture of its timber.

In the classical tradition the most beautiful evocation of the power, presence and riches of memory is in Book Ten of St Augustine's Confessions. The following passage is splendid in its portrayal of the inner world.

'Great is the power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God, a spreading limitless room within me. Who can reach its uttermost depth? Yet it is a faculty of soul and belongs to my nature. In fact I cannot totally grasp all that I am. Thus the mind is not large enough to contain itself: but where can the part of it be which it does not contain? Is it outside itself and not within? As this question struck I was overcome with wonder and almost stupor. Here are men going afar to marvel at the heights of the mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the movements of the stars, yet leaving themselves, unnoticed and not seeing it as marvellous that when I spoke of all these things, I did not see them with my eyes, yet I could not have spoken of them unless these mountains and waves and rivers and stars which I have seen, and the ocean of which I have heard, had been inwardly present to my sight: in my memory, yet with the same vast spaces between them as if I saw them outside me.'

One of the great poverties of our modern culture of rapidity, stress and externality is that there is so little attention to memory. The computer industry has hijacked the notion of memory. To say that computers have memory is false. A computer has storage and recall. Human memory is, however, more refined, sacred and personal. Memory has its own inner selectivity and depth. Human memory is an inner temple of feeling and sensibility. Within that temple different experiences are grouped according to their particular feeling and shape. Our time suffers from a great amnesia. The American philosopher Santayana said: 'Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'

The beauty and invitation of old age offers a time of silence and solitude for a visit to the house of your inner memory. You can revisit all of your past. Your soul is the place where your memory lives. Since linear time vanishes, everything depends on memory. In other words, our time comes in yesterdays, todays and tomorrows. Yet there is another place within us which lives in eternal time. That place is called the soul. The soul, therefore, lives mainly in the mode of eternity. This means that as things happen in your yesterdays, todays and tomorrows, and fall away with transience, they fall and are caught and held by the net of the eternal in your soul. There they are gathered, preserved and minded for you. Levinas says, 'Memory as an inversion of historical time is the essence of interiority.' Consequently, as your body ages and gets weaker, your soul is in fact getting richer, deeper and stronger. With time your soul grows more sure of itself: the natural light within it increases and brightens. There is a beautiful poem by the wonderful Czeslaw Milosz on old age called 'A New Province'; this is the last verse:

I would prefer to be able to say: 'I am satiated,

What is given to taste in this life, I have tasted.'

But I am like someone in a window who draws aside a curtain

To look at a feast he does not comprehend.



One of the loneliest aspects of time is transience. Time passes and takes everything away. This can be consoling when you are suffering and going through a lonely, searing time. It is encouraging to be able to say to yourself: this too will pass. The opposite is also true: when you are having a lovely time and are really happy; you are with the person you love and life could not be better. On such a perfect evening or day, you secretly say to your hear: God, I wish this could continue for ever. But it cannot; this too comes to an end. Even Faust begged the moment to stay: 'Verweile doch, Du bist so schön,' i.e. linger awhile, for you are so beautiful.

Transience is the force of time which makes a ghost of every experience. There was never a dawn, regardless of how beautiful or promising, that did not not grow into noontime. There was never a noon that did not fall into afternoon. There was never an afternoon that did not fade towards evening. There never was a day which did not get buried in the graveyard of the night. In this way transience makes a ghost out of everything that happens to us.

All of our time disappears on us. This is an incredible fact. You are so knitted into a day. You are within it; the day is as close as your skin. It is around your eyes; it is inside your mind. The day moves you, often it can weigh you down; or again it can raise you up. Yet the amazing fact is: this day vanishes. When you look behind you, you do not see your past standing there in a series of day shapes. You cannot wander back through the gallery of your past. Your days have disappeared silently and for ever. Your future time has not arrived yet. The only ground of time is the present moment.

In our culture we place a great and worthy emphasis on the importance and sacredness of experience. In other words, what you think, believe or feel remains a fantasy if it does not actually become part of the fabric of experience. Experience is the touchstone of verification, credibility and deep intimacy. Yet the future of every experience is its disappearence. This raises the fascinating question: is there a place where our vanished days secretly gather? As the medieval mystic asked: where does the light go when the candle is blown out? I believe that there is a place where our vanished days secretly gather. The name of that place is Memory.



There are four seasons within the clay heart. When it is winter in the world of nature, all the colours have vanished; everything is reduced to grey, black or white. All the visions and beautiful rich colouring of nature thin out completely. Grass disappears from the land and the earth itself is frozen and perished in a bleak self-retraction. In wintertime, nature withdraws. A tree loses all its leaves and retires inwards. When it is wintertime in your life, you are going through pain, difficulty or turbulence. It is now wise to follow the instinct of nature an withdraw into yourself. When it is winter in your soul, it is unwise to pursue any new endeavours. You have to lie low and shelter until this bleak, emptying time passes on. This is nature's remedy. It minds itself in hibernation. When there is great pain in your life, you, too, need sanctuary in the shelter of your own soul.

One of the beautiful transitions in nature is the transition from winter to springtime. An old Zen mystic said, when one flower blooms it is spring everywhere. When the first innocent, infant-like flower appears on the earth, one senses nature stirring beneath the frozen surface. There is a lovely phrase in Gaelic, 'ag borradh', meaning that there is a quivering life about to break forth. The wonderful colours and the new life the earth receives makes spring a time of great exuberance and hope. In a certain sense, spring is the youngest season. Winter is the oldest season. Winter was there form the very beginning. It reigned amidst the silence and bleakness of nature for hundreds of millions of years before vegetation. Spring is a youthful season; it comes forth in a rush of life and promise, hope and possibility. At the heart of the spring there is a great inner longing. It is the time when desire and memory stir towards each other. Consequently, springtime in your soul is a wonderful time to undertake some new adventure, some new project, or to make some important changes in your life. If you undertake this, when it is springtime in your soul, then the rhythm, the energy and the hidden light of your own clay works with you. You are in the flow of your own growth and potential. Springtime in the soul can be beautiful, hopeful and strenghtening. You can make difficult transitions very naturally in an unforced and spontaneous way.

Spring blossoms and grows into summertime. In summertime nature is bedecked with colour. There is great lushness everywhere, a richness and depth of texture. Summertime is a time of light, growth and arrival. You feel that the secret life of the year, hidden in the winter and coming out in the spring, has really blossomed in the summertime. Thus, when it is summertime in your soul, it is time of great balance. You are in the flow of your own nature. You can take as many risks as you like, and you will always land on your feet. There is enough shelter and depth of texture around you to completely ground, balance and mind you.

Summertime grows into autumn. Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year; seeds sown in the spring, nurtured by the summer, now yield their fruit in autumn. It is harvest, the homecoming of the seeds' long and lonely journey through darkness and silence under the earth's surface. Harvest is one of the great feasts of the year. It was a very important time in Celtic culture. The fertility of the earth yielded its fruitfulness. Correspondingly, when it is autumn in your life, the things that happened in the past, or the experiences that were sown in the clay of your heart, almost unknown to you, now yield their fruit. Autumntime in a person's life can be time of great gathering. It is a time for harvesting the fruits of your experiences.


These are the four seasons of the heart. Several seasons can be present simultaneously in the heart, though usually, at any one time, there is one dominant season present in your life. It is customary to understand autumn as synchronous with old age. In the autumn time of your life, your experience is harvested. This is a backdrop against which we can understand ageing. Ageing is not merely about the body losing its poise, strength and self-trust. Ageing also invites you to become aware of the sacred circle that shelters your life. Within the harvest circle, you are able to gather lost moments and experiences, bring them together and hold them as one. In actual fact, if you can come to see ageing not as the demise of your body, but as the harvest of your soul, you will learn that ageing can be a time of great strength, poise and confidence. To understand the harvest of your soul against the background of seasonal rhythm should give you a sense of quiet delight at the arrival of this time in your life. It should give you strength and a sense of how the deeper belonging of your soul world will be revealed to you.

Even though the body ages, diminishes, becomes frail, weak and ill, the shelter of the soul around the body always embraces that fragility tenderly. That the body is in the soul is a great consolation and shelter. As your body ages, you can become aware of how your soul enfolds and minds your body; the panic and fear often associated with ageing falls away. This brings a deeper sense of strength, belonging and poise. Ageing is so frightening because it seems that your autonomy and independence are forsaking you against your will. To the young, old people seem ancient. When you begin to age yourself, you recognize how incredibly quickly time is moving. In actual fact, the only difference between a young person at the height of their exuberance and a very old person at a very frail and empty physical level is time.

One of the greatest mysteries in life is the mystery of time. Everything that happens to us, happens to us in and through time. Time is the force that brings every new experience to the door of your heart. All that happens to you is controlled and determined by time. The poet Paul Murray speaks of the moment as 'the place of pilgrimage to which I am a pilgrim'.

Time opens up and opens out the mystery of the soul. The transience and the mysteries which time unfolds have always filled me with reverence and wonder. This found expression in one of my poems called 'Cottage':

Sit alert

behind the small window

of my mind and watch

the days pass, strangers

who have no reason to look in.

Time in this sense can be very frightening. All around the human body is nothingness; that nothingness is the air element. There is no obvious, physical protection around your body, therefore anything can approach you at any time, from any direction. The clear empty air will not stop the arrows of destiny from lodging in your life. Life is incredibly contingent an unexpected.





The human eye adores gazing; it feasts on the wild beauty of new landscapes, the dignity of trees, the tenderness of a human face, or the white sphere of the moon blessing the earth in a circle of light. The eye is always drawn to the shape of a thing. It finds some deep consolation and sense of home in special shapes. Deep within the human mind, there is a fascination with the circle because it satisfies some longing within us. It is one of the most universal and ancient shapes in the universe. Reality often seems to express itself in this form. The earth is a circle; and even time itself seems to have a circular nature. The Celtic world was always fascinated with circles; they are prevalent in so much of its art work; the Celts even transfigured the Cross by surrounding it with a circle. The Celtic Cross is a beautiful symbol. The circle around the beams of the Cross rescues the loneliness where the two lines of pain intersect; it seems to calm and console their forsaken linearity.

For the Celtic people the world of nature had different domains; firstly, there was the underworld of nature below the surface of landscape. Here the Tuatha Dé Danann, the fairy people or the good people, lived. The human world was the middle kingdom between the underworld and the heavenly world. There was no closed or sealed frontier between them. Above, there was the supersensual or upper world of the heavens. Each of these three dimensions flowed in and out of each other. Indeed, they participated in each other. It is no wonder, then, that time could be understood as an inclusive and all embracing circle.

The year is a circle. There is the winter season which gives way to the spring; then summer grows out of spring until, finally, the year completes itself in the autumn. The circle of time is never broken. This rhythm is even mirrored in the day; it too is a circle. First, the new dawn comes out of the darkness, strengthening towards noon, falling away towards evening until night returns again. Because we live in time, the life of each person is also a circle. We come out of the unknown. We appear on the earth, live here, feed off the earth and eventually return back into the unknown again. The oceans move in this rhythm too; the tide comes in, turns and goes back out again. It resembles the rhythm of human breath which comes in, fills and then recedes and goes back out again.

The circle brings perspective to the process of ageing. As you age, time affects your body, your experience and above all your soul. There is a great poignancy in ageing. When your body ages, you begin to lose the natural and spontaneous vigour of your youthfulness. Time, like a bleak tide, begins to indent the membrane of your strength. It will continue doing that, until gradually it empties your life completely.This is one of the most vital questions that affects every person. Can we transfigure the damage that time does to us? Let us pursue this question by first exploring our kinship with nature. Since we are formed from clay, the rhythm of the seasons outside in nature is also active within our own hearts. We can learn much, therefore, from the people who constructed and articulated their spirituality in sisterhood with nature, namely the Celtic people. They experienced the year as a circle of seasons. Though the Celts had no explicit psychology, they had implicit intuition and great wisdom about the deeper rhythms of human belonging, vulnerability, growth and diminishment.



May the light of your soul guide you.

May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.

May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.

May your work never weary you.

May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.

May you be present in what you do.

May you never become lost in the bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.

May your soul calm, console and renew you.



When you consider it, the world of your action and activity is a very precious world. What you do should be worthy of you; it should be worthy of your attention and dignity and conform to your respect for yourself. If you can love what you do, then you will do it beautifully. You might not love your work at the beginning; yet the deeper side of your soul can help you bring the light of love to what you do. Then, regardless of what you do, you will do it in a creative and transforming way.

There is an apposite story about a Zen monk in Japan. The Emperor had an absolutely magnificent vase which was ancient and intricately beautiful. One day someone let the vase fall and it split into millions of fragments. The fragments were gathered up and the best potter in the land was called to reassemble the vase. He came but failed. He paid for his failure by losing his head. The Emperor ordered the next best potter and he also failed. This continued for weeks until, finally, all the best artists in the land had died, having failed to reassemble the broken beautiful vase. There was only one artist left, an old Zen monk who lived in a cave in the mountains. He had a young apprentice. He came and collected all the fragments himself and brought them back to his work shed. For weeks and weeks he had worked until, finally, the vase was there again. The apprentice looked at it and thought how beautiful it was. The two of them made the journey to the city and brought the vase into the palace. The Emperor and all his courtesans beamed in admiration at the beauty of the reassembled vase. The old Zen monk was graciously rewarded. He and his young apprentice went back to their cave in the mountains. Then, one day the young apprentice was looking for something and unexpectedly came upon the fragments of the vase. He ran in to his master: 'Look at all the fragments of the vase, you never assembled them all. How did you make a vase as beautiful as the ancient one that was broken?' The old master said: 'If you do the work that you do from a loving heart, then you will always be able to make something beautiful.'



A difficult or unwanted thing can turn out to be a great gift. Frequently, we receive unknown gifts in disguise. There is a wonderful old story told of a young king who took over a kingdom. He was loved before he became a king and his subjects were delighted when he was finally crowned. They brought him many different gifts. After the coronation, the new king was at supper in the palace. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. The servants went out to discover an old man shabbily dressed, looking like a beggar. He wanted to see the king. The servants did their best to dissuade him but to no avail. The king came out to meet him. The old man praised the king, saying how delighted everyone in the kingdom was to have him as king. He had brought the king the gift of a melon. The king hated melons. Being kind to the old man, he took the melon, thanked him, and the old man went away happy. The king went indoors and gave the melon to his servants to throw out in the back garden. The next week at the same time, there was another knock at the door. The king was summoned again and the old man praised the king and offered him another melon. The king took the melon and said goodbye to the old man. Once again, he threw the melon out the back door. This continued for several weeks. The king was too kind to confront the old man or belittle the generosity of the gift that he brought. Then, one evening, just as the old man was about to hand the melon to the king, a monkey jumped down from a portico in the palace and knocked the melon from the old man's hand. The melon shattered into pieces all over the front of the palace. When the king looked, he saw a shower of diamonds flying from the heart of the melon. Eagerly, he checked the garden at the back of the palace. There, all the melons had melted around a little hillock of jewels. The moral of this story is that sometimes in awkward situations, in problems or in difficulties, all that is awkward is the disguise. Very often at the heart of the difficulty, there is the light of a great jewel. It is wise to learn to embrace with hospitality that which is awkward and difficult.

My father was an accomplished stonemason. I often watched him building walls. Frequently, he would choose a stone that was completely round. A round stone is useless because is cannot be bound into the structure of the wall. Yet with a little tap of the hammer, my father could transform the stone. Something that looked unformed and awkward would fit into the wall as if it had been made specially for it. I love, too, that image of Michelangelo's: that in every stone no matter how dumb, awkward or blunt there is a secret shape waiting to emerge. Michelangelo's wonderful Prisoners in Stone illustrates this. The human figures have almost emerged from the stone, yet from the waist down they are still trapped in the dull unformed stone. It is an incredible image of release which is arrested. Very often in difficult work projects there is a secret shape waiting to emerge. If you concentrate on releasing the hidden possibility within your project, you will find a satisfaction that will surprise you. Meister Eckhart speaks beautifully about the way one should be towards what one does. If you work with a creative and kind eye, you will bring forth beauty.



Perception is crucial to understanding. How you see, and what you see, determine how you will be. Your perception, or your view of reality, is the lens through which you see things. Your perception determines the way that things will behave for you and towards you. We tend to perceive difficulty as disturbance. Ironically, difficulty can be a great friend of creativity. I love the lines from Paul Valéry: 'Une difficulté est une lumiére / Une difficulté insurmontable est un soleil,' i.e. A difficulty is a light; an insurmountable difficulty is a sun. This is a completely different way of considering the awkward, the uneven and the difficult. Deep within us, there is a terrible impulse and drive towards perfection. We want everything flattened into the one shape. We do not like unexpected shapes. One of the essential aspects of beginning to reimagine the workplace is to awaken the ability to welcome that which is difficult and awkward. Frequently the actual work itself if fine, rather it is our image of it which is difficult and awkward. Frequently the actual work itself is fine, rather it is our image of it which makes it appear difficult and awkward.

During a phase of my study in Germany, I became acutely aware of the impossibility of my task. I was working on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Anyone who knows Hegel will readily admit that this long text is magical but difficult to penetrate. My sense of the difficulty of the project began to mirror itself in my presence towards the work. I began to paralyse myself and soon I was not able to work at all. As the German so beautifully says of such blockage: 'Ich stehe mir im Weg,' i.e. I am standing in my own way. I would go to my desk with great commitment, believing that I was going to break through this barrier, but I could not concentrate. The image that kept haunting my mind was the impossibility of my task. Each day I would try anew, but I was paralysed.

One day, I went for a long walk in the forest near Tübingen. In the forest it suddenly occurred to me that Hegel was not the problem, rather it was my image of the task that obstructed me. I came back home immediately, and sat down and scribbled quickly on the page the image of my work that I had constructed. I recognized the power that the image had. When this became clear to me, I was able to distance the image from the actual work itself. After a couple of days, the image had faded and I was back into the rhythm of the work.

Some people have a lot of difficulty at work, even though the work is a genuine expression of their nature, giftedness and potential. The difficulty is not with the work, but rather with their image of the work. The image is not merely a surface; it also becomes a lens through which we behold a thing. We are partly responsible for the construction of our own images and completely responsible for how we use them. To recognize that the image is not the person or the thing is liberating.



Surprisingly, there is often great irony in the way the soul behaves. Sometimes in the work world a person with analytic, linear vision can miss out totally on the harvest and fruits of work. The imagination has a particular rhythm of vision which never sees directly in a linear way. The eye of the imagination follows the rhythm of the circle. If your vision is confined to linear purpose, you may miss out on the secret destiny that a form of activity can bring you. There is a lovely Celtic story about Fionn and the salmon of knowledge. Fionn wanted to become a poet. In Celtic Ireland to be a poet was a sacred vocation. The poet summed up in himself a supernatural power, the power of the Druid and the power of creativity. Poets had special access to mysteries which were not available to the common masses.

There was a salmon in the River Slane in County Meath. Whoever caught this salmon and ate it would become the greatest and most gifted poet in Ireland and would also receive the gift of second sight. There was a man called Fionn the Seer who had spent seven years pursuing this salmon. Young Fionn mac Cumhaill came to him to learn the craft of poetry. One day Fionn the Seer came back, having caught the salmon of knowledge. He started a fire and put the salmon on a spit. The salmon had to be turned very carefully and could not be burnt or the gift would be ruined. After a while the fire went low and the salmon could no longer be cooked properly. He had no-one to gather more wood for the fire. Just then his protege, Fionn, came out of the wood and he left him to turn the salmon slowly on the spit. Young Fionn mac Cumhaill began to turn the salmon but he was a dreamer and he allowed his mind to wander. When he looked, a blister had appeared on the side of the salmon. He grew very anxious, knowing that Fionn the Seer would be furious with him for having ruined the salmon. With his thumb he tried to press the blister back in. As soon as he did, he burnt his thumb, then put it in his mouth to relieve the pain. There was some of the oil of the salmon on his thumb and as soon as he tasted the salmon oil, he received th wisdom, the gift of second sight and the vocation of poet. Old Fionn came back with the wood. As soon as he looked at young Fionn's eyes, he knew what had happened. He sat there disappointed that the destiny he had pursued so deliberately had at the last moment turned away from him to be received by an innocent young man who had never even dreamed of such a gift.

This is a good story to illustrate how the linear mind, despite its sincerity and commitment, can totally miss the gift. The imagination in its loyalty to possibility often takes the curved path rather than the linear way. Such risk and openness inherits the harvest of creativity, beauty and spirit.

Sometimes a person has difficulty with work, not because the work is unsuited to them, or they to it, but because their image of the work is blurred and defective. Frequently, such a person lacks a focus. They have allowed the tender presence of their experience to become divided and split. Their sense of their work as expression and imagination has been replaced by an image of work as endurance and entrapment.



When weariness becomes gravity, it destroys your natural soul protection. It is reminiscent of the myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was condemned for his sin. In the underworld, his task was to roll a huge boulder up a hill. He would painstakingly roll the boulder slowly up and up almost to the summit, then the rock would roll out of his grasp and crash right to the bottom. If Sisyphus could stop and decide never to roll the stone again, he would have peace. He is the prisoner of the futile, condemned eternho ally to begin the same task but never complete it. He has to roll the boulder up the hill eternally in the sure knowledge that he can never get it over the summit. Anyone in the business or corporate work world who remains on the surface of the role, and practises only the linear side of the mind, is like Sisyphus. They are in great danger of a breakdown. A breakdown is often a desperate attempt by the soul to break through the weary facade of role politics. There is a profundity to the human soul that the linear surface of the work world cannot accommodate. When you remain in the rut, you become caged behind one window of the mind. You are then not able to turn around towards the balcony of the soul and enjoy the different views through the other windows of wonder and possibility.

Rapidity is another force causing massive stress in the workplace. Baudrillard, the French philosopher, speaks of the exponential speed of modern life. Where things are moving too quickly, nothing can stabilize, gather or grow. There is a lovely story of a man exploring Africa. He was in a desperate hurry on a journey through the jungle. He had three or four African people helping him to carry his equipment. They raced onwards for about three days. At the end of the third day, the Africans sat down and would not move. He urged them to get up, telling them of the pressure he was under to reach his destination before a certain date. They refused to move. He could not understand this; after much persuasion, they still refused to move. Finally, he got one of them to admit the reason. This African said: 'We have moved too quickly to reach here; now we need to wait to give our spirits a chance to catch up with us.' Many people who are secretly weary of work have never given themselves time, or taken time out or away from work, to allow their spirits to catch up. It is a simple but vital reflective exercise to give yourself plenty of time: leave all agendas behind you. Let the neglected presence of your soul come to meet and engage you again. It can be a lovely re-acquaintance with your forgotten mystery.

The Celtic imagination testifies to a different concept and experience of time. The recognition of presence and the celebration of nature was only possible because time was window on the eternal. Time was never reduced to achievement. Time was time for wonder. This is still one of the charming things about Ireland. People here still have time. In contrast to many areas in the Western world, people here inhabit a more flexible and open time rhythm. The ideology of rapidity and clinical efficiency has not gained a grip here, yet.



If you only awakent you will and intellect, then you work can become your identity. This is summed up in the rather humorous epitaph on a gravestone somewhere in London: 'Here lies Jeremy Brown born a man and died a grocer.' Often a person's identity, that wild inner complexity of soul and colour of spirit, becomes shrunken into their work identity. They become prisoners of their role. They limit and reduce their lives. They become seduced by the practice of self-absence. They move further and further away from their own lives. They are forced backwards into hidden areas on the ledges of their hearts. When you encounter them you meet only the role. You look for the person, but you never meet him. To practise only the linear external side of your mind is very dangerous. Thus, the corporate and work world now recognizes how desperately they need the turbulance, anarchy and growth possibilities from the unpredictable world of the imagination. These are so vital for the passion and force of a person's life. If you engage only the external side of yourself, and stay on this mechanical surface, you become secretly weary. Gradually, years of this practice make you desperate.



When the workplace is run in a deliberate, forced way, nothing new can happen there. If you try to force the soul, you never succeed. When I was in Germany my consciousness became intensified and relentlessly active. Consequently, I began to develop a sleep problem. If you are doing physical work during the day, you can survive with very little sleep. If you are doing precise and difficult mental work, you need sleep. I began to have major insomnia problems. After rising, I could work for about an hour, then I was suddenly tired and frustrated. I hated goint to bed at night, and every night I made furious attempts to get to sleep. I tried everything. I remember one night being particularly exhausted and I said to myself: face it, now you will never sleep properly again. You will never have a night of complete rest. You are going to have this problem for the rest of your life. The strange thing was that as soon as I admitted that to myself, withing five minutes I was fast asleep. Over the next few nights my rhythm of sleep returned. What prevented me from sleeping was the deliberate commitment to try to get to sleep. As soon as I let go of the desire to sleep, sleep came naturally.

When the will and the intellect are brought as deliberate forces into the workplace, this only makes that bland similarity even more entrenched. When the imagination, the force of illumination in the soul, is allowed to stir, it opens up the workplace in a completely new way. No-one should be neutral or indifferent to his work or workplace. It is very important for a person to have a careful look at the kind of work he does. He should try to establish whether the work he does and his workplace is actually expressive of his identity, dignity and giftedness. If not, difficult choices may need to be made. If you sell your soul, you ultimately buy a life of misery.

Respectability and security are subtle traps on life's journey. Those who are drawn to extremes are often nearer to renewal and self-discovery. Those trapped in the bland middle region of respectability are lost without ever realizing it. This can be a trap for those addicted to the business world. Many people in business operate only with one sid of their mind: the strategic, tactical, mechanical side, day-in day-out. This becomes a mental habit which they apply to everything, including their inner life. Even though they are powerful people in the theatre of work, outside of the workplace they look forlorn and lost. You cannot repress the presence of your soul and not pay the price. If you sin against your soul, it is always at a great cost. Work can be an attractive way of sinning deeply against the wildness and creativity of your own soul. Work comes to dominate your identity. One of the most disturbing stories in twentieth-century literature portrays the surrealistic destiny of an utterly meticulous and faithful functionary. This is Kafka's Metamorphosis which has the uncanny opening sentence: 'As
Gregor Samsa awoke one morning out of troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.' With deft anonymity, surrealistic detail detail and black humour, Kafka is unequalled in his ability to portray system and functionary.



One of the encouraging aspects of modern work, particularly in the corporate world, is the increasing recognition of the imagination as a vital and essential force. This is not because the corporate world loves the imagination. Corporate appreciation of the imagination has happened for other reasons, namely, the markets are now volatile and the pace of change so rapid that the old patterns of work control are unproductive. There is a recognition dawning that the repetitive linear system which controls the work and the worker is no longer profitable. Consequently, the presence of the soul is now welcome in the workplace. The soul is welcome because it is the place where the imagination lives.

The imagination is the creative force in the individual. It always negotiates different thresholds and releases possibilities of recognition and creativity which the linear, controlling, external mind will never even glimpse. The imagination works on the threshold that runs between light and dark, visible and invisible, quest and question, possibility and fact. The imagination is the great friend of possibility. Where the imagination is awake and alive fact never hardens or closes but remains open, inviting you to new thresholds of possibility and creativity.

When I was doing my postgraduate work in Germany, I had the good fortune to share a house in Berlin with a wonderful philosopher of science from India who has written some amazing books on the growth of scientific knowledge. As this man had directed many postgraduate students, I asked him what advice he would give me as I was about to engage in research on Hegel. He said that most research endeavours to establish a conclusion or reach verification that no-one can successfully criticize or undermine. Everyone attempts that, there is nothing new in it. I should take a different approach. He said, try to discover a few questions in this area that no-one has thought of asking, then you will have discovered something truly original and important. This advice was an invitation to novelty, an inspiration to perceive a given situation in a completely new way.

Even though much effort is put into the workplace, the actual application of fresh imagination is rare. Usually a bland sameness is allowed to dominate work. Even the patterns of criticism from workers become predictable and entrenched. Often a new person coming in can bring a new art of questioning and thinkin. Suddenléy a dead situation coheres itself in a fresh and exciting way. Possibilities which had slept there, under the surface of the old bland similarity, now awaken. People become empowered and engaged; the whole project of that particular workplace comes alive with a new energy. The person who can approach the workplace not with linear analysis, which is so predictable and repetitive, but with imaginative possibility, can reimagine the workplace for its participants and open it up in an engaging and inspiring way. For this reason, the poet, or the artist of soul, has become such an important presence in the contemporary corporate world. He can bring a freshness that it severely lacks, opening doors and windows in places that up to then had had impenetrable walls. This approach to the workplace ensures that creativity and spontaneity become major energizing forces there.



This reimaging of the workplace would help fulfil one of the crucial needs that every individual has: the need to belong. Everyone loves to belong. We went to belong to a group, to a family and particularly to the place in which we work. Here is the point at which an immense creativity could be released in the workplace. Imagine how lovely it would be if you could be yourself at work and express your true nature, giftedness and imagination. There need be no separation between your home, your private life and your actual world of work. One could flow into the other in a creative and mutually enriching way. Instead, too many people belong to the system because they are forced to and controlled.

People are often exceptionally careless in their style of belonging. Too many people belong too naively to the systems in which they are involved. When they are suddenly laid off, or the system collapses, or someone else is promoted, they feel broken, wounded and demeaned. In nearly every corporation or workplace you will find many disappointed individuals. Initially, they brought the energy and innocence of their belonging to their work, but they were let down, disappointed, and treated as functionaries. Their energy was claimed and used, but their souls were never engaged.

The heart of the matter is, you should never belong fully to something that is outside yourself. It is very important to find a balance in your belonging. You should never belong totally to any cause or system. Frequently, people need to belong to an external system because they are afraid to belong to their own lives. If your soul is awakened then you realize that this is the house of your real belonging. Your longing is safe there. Belonging is related to longing. If you hyphenate belonging, it yields a lovely axiom for spiritual growth: be-your-longing. Longing is a precious instinct in the soul. Where you belong should always be worthy of your dignity. You should belong first in your own interiority. If you belong there, and if you are in rhythm with yourself and connected to that deep, unique source within, then you will never be vulnerable when your outside belonging is qualified, relativized or taken away. You will still be able to stand on your own ground, the ground of your soul where you are not a tenant, where you are at home. Your interiority is the ground from which nobody can distance, exclude or exile you. This is your treasure. As the New Testament says, 'Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.'



Frequently people in power are not as strong as they might wish to appear. Many people who desperately hunger for power are weak. They seek power positions to compensate for their own fragility and vulnerability. A weak person in power can never be generous with power because they see questions or alternative possibilities as threatening their own supremacy and dominance. If you are going to be creatively confrontational with such a person, you need to approach very gently in a non-direct manner. This is the only way to reach the heart of such a frightened, powerful person with the word of truth.

The workplace as a place of power can also be a place of control. Control is destructive because it reduces your own independence and autonomy. You are placed back in an infantile role where you are dealing with an authority figure. Because of our untransfigured relationship to our parents we sometimes turn authority figures into giants. There is a crucial distinction here between power and authority. When you are awake to the integrity of you inner power, then you are your own authority. The word authority signifies your authorship of your ideas and actions. The world functions through power structures. Consequently, it is desirable that genuine people of refined sensibility, imagination and compassion leave themselves available to take up positions of power. A charismatic person in a powerful position can be an agent of far-reaching and positive change.

When you are being controlled, you are treated as an object rather than a subject. Often people in power have an uncanny instinct for working the system against you. I know a millionaire who made his money in the clothes trade. The women working for him were paid poorly. Every so often, he would sense the tension building up amongst them. One day he turned the radio on really loud. Then all the workers began to complain. He watched the aggression building up until finally a group came to him and asked that the volume be lowered. He refused. They became more militant and threatened to go on strike. He insisted on keeping the volume loud. When they were almost out on the street, he lowered the volume. His strategy was to let them have the impression that they had the power. Then they returned to work, feeling they had won a victory over the boss, even though he had staged the conflict from the very beginning. This happened forty years ago. In the modern workplace unionization and the development of workers's rights means that employers can no longer get awas with such obvious manipulation. Still the work situation continues to exploit people. Management is now more subtle in its strategies of control and alienation.

The workplace can be a place of great competition. Management sometimes plays the workers against each other. Consequently, when you go into work you are in solo combat with your colleague in terms of productivity. Your colleagues begin to appear as a threat. Where productivity becomes God, each individual is reduced to a function. It would be wonderful if the workplace were a place of real inspiration with the work engaging your creativity. Your gift would be welcomed there; your contribution seen. Everyone has a special gift. Your life becomes happier when your gift can grow and come to expression in your place of work. You are freed to receive inspiration from others. Furthermore, because the gift of each person in relation to the overall work is unique, there need be no competition between the workers. This makes the workplace hospitable to the energies, rhythms and gifts of the soul. There is no reason why every workplace could not begin to develop such creativity.

Work should not serve the owners and the employers alone. Work should also serve the workers and the community. Structures should be developed whereby workers are able to share in the profits. The entry of imagination and the awakening of soul demands that work be understood as contributing to the creativity and improvement of the larger community. A firm or corporation which has large profits should assist and support the poor and the underprivileged. To create optimal conditions of work should become a priority. Furthermore, awkward but hones questions should be engaged. Where work creates products which endanger people or nature, it should be critiqued and changed.

One of the most powerful and prophetic analysts of work was Karl Marx. He showed how work can alienate a person from their nature and potential. Certain work can dull and darken human presence. In our century some of the most prophetic, trenchant and illuminating critical thought has come from this tradition. The school of critical theory has delivered a penetrating and critical evaluation of industrial society. It has revealed that history and society internally influence the structure of human identity. The nature of work and consumerism diminish and oppress the self. Critical theory has made a great contribution to the recovery of soul by identifying the subtlety and pervasiveness of these alienating forces. It cuts through the colourful but fictitious surface-image which conceals the quiet suffocation of individuality. Contemporary society worships at the altar of functionalism. Concepts such as process, method, model and project have come to infiltrate our language and determine how we describe our relation to the world. The recovery of soul means a rediscovery of Otherness; this would awaken again the sense of mystery, possibility and compassion. The deadening force of function would diminish and a new vitality infuse our activities. Stated philosophically, being could find expression in doing. The recovery of the sense of Otherness is the deepest mystical task of modern society. Celtic spirituality has an immense contribution to make in fostering this sense of Otherness. In its metaphysic of friendship there is a profound acknowledgement of the Otherness of nature, the self and the Divine. However, our modern conversation with Celtic tradition must be critical and reflective. Otherwise Celtic spirituality is in danger of becoming another fashionable and exotic spiritual programme in our sensation-driven culture.

In the world of negative work, where you are controlled, where power prevails and you are a mere functionary, everything is determined by an ethic of competition. In the world of creative work, where your gift is engaged, there is no competition. The soul transfigures the need for competition. In contrast, the world of quantity is always haunted by competition: if I have less, you have more. In the world of soul, the more you have, the more everyone has. The rhythm of soul is the surprise of endless enrichment.