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“In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam ċara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and ċara is the word for friend. So anam ċara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam ċara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam ċara you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam ċara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.” The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul. There is no cage for the soul. The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other. This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship…..

 In everyone’s life, there is great need for an anam ċara, a soul friend. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.”

From  Anam Cara by John O’Donohue

 If you are single on Valentine’s Day it may seem as if everyone around you has a doting husband gracing them with roses, sweets and bling and then whisking them off to a fancy candlelight dinner in a five star restaurant. You, on the other hand, are planning to spend this Valentine’s Day at home alone, in your torn sweatpants curled up in the fetal position on the couch, watching some cheesy romantic comedy while having a real love fest with a pint of Chunky Monkey and a supersized bag of Hershey’s Kisses.

 Consider our commercialized version of Valentine’s Day as compared with the Celtic Tradition of Anam Cara. Doesn’t our emphasis on corny cards and cutesy cupids pale by comparison? The beauty of Anam Cara is that is not an idealized notion of fairy tales or Lifetime Movies. No Princess is saved and no serendipitous accidental meeting between two stunningly gorgeous characters is required. What is required is that you are “understood as you are without mask or pretension…and when you are understood, you are home.” (Therapists refer to that as authenticity.)

 Anam Cara isn’t unattainable. You probably have an Anam Cara in your life right now. Maybe two!  However, because we get so caught in ritualized gestures and the “Marketed Message” (“Every Kiss begins with Kay” “Really?”), we often lose sight of the love we already have in our life. I know, I know, many of you may be thinking, “But it isn’t the same as having a loving partner”. Just because it isn’t the same doesn’t mean it is not as valuable, tender or nurturing. It is also true that not all married people are married to their Anam Cara. Just ask them. Acceptance and unconditional love are not automatic byproducts of marriage.

 If we allow ourselves to think deeply about this, beyond the cultures romanticized version of love, we find love in many places in our life. A childhood friend, a co-worker, a favorite aunt, a child, a pet ( who loves more and listens with less judgment than our furry friends?), a place of worship, our book group or bowling league, or even an ex.

 Expand your version of Valentine’s Day to include those who dearly touch your life. Make it more than just about romantic love. Use the day to tell your Anam Caras how you value them. You will make their day richer and you allow yourself the joy of loving. As O’Donohue says, “love allows understanding and when we are understood we are home.”

 Valentine’s Day is limiting because fantasy is limiting. It creates a rigid template for “how it is supposed to be” and then all else seems to “fall short”. Why not expand your appreciation for all the loves in your life? Fill yourself with Anam Cara instead of Chunky Monkey and enjoy the love you have instead of dismissing it in favor of the media’s frenzied fantasy.

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5 Comments

  1. CJ Golden on the 12. Feb, 2011 remarked #

    And, might I add, remember your Anam Cara always, not merely on Valentine’s Day. We are blessed when we have someone like this in our lives and it is important to remember them every day of the year.
    Valentine’s Day is quite fine – especially if it gives us pause to reflect upon all of the love that surrounds us.
    Thank you, Donna, for another beautiful article.

  2. rose on the 13. Feb, 2011 remarked #

    Donna, another spot-on article. I have been blessed with not just one Anam Cara but a couple, and they are truly wonderful human beings who understand and love me for who I am. Although no longer married, my Valentines Day has more meaning now than when I was married. Thanks Donna!

  3. Christina on the 13. Feb, 2011 remarked #

    ” The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul. There is no cage for the soul. The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other.” I prefer to view this as a devine light that lasts eternally, even after death. Happy Valentine’s Day Roger,”friend of my soul” forever! Thank you Donna

  4. Maria on the 14. Feb, 2011 remarked #

    Donna, many thanks for the timely reminder that there are many kinds of love in each of our lives and that we can celebrate it all on Valentines Day. I also want to use the space to pay tribute to a dear Anam Cara– Nancy, Many thanks for your years of friendship, understanding, and shoulder to lean on through good times and especially bad times. Your understanding, patience and love mean the world to me!! Happy Valentines Day!!

  5. Nancy on the 14. Feb, 2011 remarked #

    In Colombia they celebrate the Day of Love and Friendship in September. It is a day to recognize all who love, nurture and accept us. While it is nice to have an official day to remind us to honor those we love and who love us, life is really about loving each other in the small moments of each day. May love and friendship touch you all.

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