Exploring the Inner Landscape

The following is a reflection on John O’Donoghue’s thinking about the inner life. Partly contained in Anam Cara, partly in Benedictus, and more specifically in Walking on the Pastures of Wonder: John O’Donohue in Conversation with John Quinn.

Every human person is inevitably involved in two worlds. The world they hold within them and the world that is out there. All thinking, all writing, all action, all creation and all destruction is about that bridge between two worlds. Each one of us is the custodian of an inner world that we carry around with us. Other people can glimpse it by what we say, do, draw, write or express ourselves in some way. But no one but you knows what your inner world is actually like, and no one can force you to reveal it until you actually tell them about it. That’s the whole mystery of writing and language and expression.

There is an outer world. Mountains, cities, people, sky, planets, moons, workplaces and many, many things that are external to us. Even much of the outer world is a result of thought. Cities, transport routes and systems, buildings, etc are one way or another first conceived in the mind. Thought is at the heart of reality …All of the things we do, the things we feel, that we see and touch are constructions of thought. What you think about a city, everything in that city is a construction of thought.

This inner world is one known only to you. Each one of us is privileged to be the custodian of this inner world, which is accessible only through thought, and we are also doomed, in the sense that we cannot unshackle ourselves from the world that we actually carry… All human beings and human identity and human growth is about finding some kind of balance between the privilege and the doom or the inevitability of carrying this kind of world. Wonder and compassion are sisters. What we are trying to do is to infuse, draw out that inner world with a language, experience and presence of God. Weave a religious narrative. Awe leads people to co-operate, share resources, and sacrifice for others and causes them to fully appreciate the value of others and see themselves more accurately, evoking humility. Awe builds connection. Wonder fuels our passion for exploration and learning, for curiosity and adventure. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

One of the most exciting and energetic forms of thought is the question. I always think that the question is like a lantern. It illuminates new landscapes and new areas as it moves. Therefore, the question always assumes that there are many different dimensions to a thought that you are either blind to or that are not available to you. So a question is really one of the forms in which wonder expresses itself. One of the reasons that we wonder is because we are limited, and that limitation is one of the great gateways to wonder.