Anamchara: The Soul-friend

"She became for me an island of light,
fun, wisdom where I could run with my discoveries and torments and hopes at any
time of day and find welcome." ~May
Sarton

What is a Soul-friend?

The term soul-friend
comes from the Celtic concept of anamchara (ahn-im-KAR-uh), which is a
beautiful understanding of love and friendship. When you connect with another
person and become completely open and trusting with that individual, it is said
that your two souls begin to flow together and should such a deep bond be
formed, it is believed you have found your "Anamchara" or soul-friend.

The Celts believed that
forming an "Anamchara" friendship would help you to awaken your
awareness of your own nature and experience the joys of others. The
"Anamchara" was originally someone to whom you confessed, revealing
the hidden intimacies of your life. With the "Anamchara", you could
share your innermost self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act
of recognition and belonging. When you had an "Anamchara", 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.

Anamchairde
(ahn-im-KAR-juh) were seen as essential and necessary for everyone. The saying
'Anyone without a soul-friend is a body without a head' (attributed both to
Brigit and to Comgall) became an established Celtic proverb. The soul-friend
was essentially a counselor and guide, and the office was not seen in
specifically sacramental terms when the other party was a chieftain or other
such member of the tribe. Often the soul-friend was a layman or laywoman.

Your "Anamchara" always accepts
you as you truly are, holding you in beauty and light. In order to appreciate
this relationship, you must first recognize your own inner light and beauty.
This is not always easy to do. Soul-friends are often on the same or similar
spiritual paths, at about the same level of experience, who choose to help and
encourage one another both emotionally and spiritually. She is your confidant,
your comfort, your mentor, your follower, your teacher, your student, a person
with whom you share wisdom and the spiritual aspects of your life. She is
someone you trust with your life and your soul and she trusts you in
return.

This concept is alien to most of today's
modern culture, which is steeped in a leader/follower mentality and therefore rare
to find. Even still, more and more people are seeking soul-friends today, as
more and more people yearn for a deeper relationship with the Divine. Many
spiritual seekers look for guidance or direction from those who are engaged in
a mature and disciplined life of meditation and contemplation. A spiritual
friend need not be a priest or religious professional, even though obviously
many ministers and monastics do practice a ministry of spiritual guidance.

What
Soul-friends Do

Soul-friends balance each other’s
strengths and weaknesses A soul-friend is your "best friend" and is
sometimes even closer to you than your mate. She knows your what your insides
look like and is privy to your inner life: your innermost thoughts and
feelings, hopes and dreams. At times, one woman is stronger than the other.
Still at others, the opposite is true. We aren’t embarrassed to be who we are with our best friends. In their
eyes we are not lessened by pride or weak moments, tears or anxieties.

A soul-friend is not, however, an enabler
or a crutch. She isn’t someone who has all the answers but helps you find your
own while offering a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear to listen. She
tells you not only what you want to hear but also what you need to hear and she
knows when to do each. She doesn’t bear all your burdens for you, but shares
them so that your load is lighter. She gives without jealousy, takes as much
she gives and wants what you want for yourself.

It’s important to remember that the
anamchara can often represent personal, one-on-one guidance in spiritual life
or on a spiritual level. This goes counter to the alienating and
depersonalizing values of our society, where everything is mass-produced and
mass-consumed. Against the conformist tendencies of much "assembly
line" spirituality, the soul-friend stands for uniqueness and
individuality in relationship to the Sacred.

Along the same lines, the anamchara
rejects "immediate gratification" and fosters the slow and steady
development of spiritual maturity over time. A soul-friend knows that our
culture’s insistence on immediate results is not useful in the realm of
relationship with the Sacred, Divine or the Holy. The Spirit is not interested
in results, but rather is interested in relationship. An anamchara helps a
person to nurture a meaningful relationship with the Great Mystery and their
understanding of the Divine.

 

An
Ancient Tradition

The anamchara is steeped in ancient
tradition — the tradition of desert fathers and mothers handed down to the
ancient Druids and European shamans, as well as to the tradition of the
Christian mystics. This is the tradition of medieval English mystics and
twentieth-century leaders alike. Rooted in the soil of a rich and great
tradition, the anamchara avoids the danger of faddish-ness or mob mentality
that characterizes too much contemporary spirituality. The deep mysticism of
soul-friend spirituality is historic and grounded, yet powerful and excitingly
new and relevant to today.

Because the concept of Celtic
spirituality means different things to different people can be a deeply important
figure in any individual’s personal spiritual journey. For some, it points to
the tradition of earth-based shamanism that existed in old

Europe

for thousands of years, and that is being revived in such modern religious
movements as Wicca and Pagan Druidism. For many others, of course, Celtic
spirituality is part of their core identity as Christians, whether Protestant
or Catholic.

 

Basic
Principles

There are basic principles that anyone
can follow in looking for spiritual guidance. A soul-friend may be informal or
formal, may be mutual or mentoring, and may be fee-based or free. Let’s look at
each of these characteristics in turn.

Informal soul-friends are simply those people who enter our lives, with
whom we find it easy and lovely to open ourselves up on a deep spiritual level.
Like any other friendship, this kind of relationship cannot be forced — it
simply happens. When it does, it is beautiful and reflects the most authentic
spirit of the anamchara. Alas, since it cannot be forced, for many people this
kind of relationship is all too rare. A common complaint among spiritual
seekers is "I have no one to talk to!"

Formal soul-friends, or spiritual guides or directors, can fill the gap
when we do not have any informal soul-friends to help us with interior growth.
These are people who have made a conscious effort to provide spiritual guidance
to others, and often have received extensive training within their tradition to
do so effectively and ethically. A formal soul-friend could be a professional
religious worker, such as a priest, nun, or monk. But this person could just as
easily be a layperson. In the Wiccan and Druid traditions, priests and
priestesses who lead small groups are often skilled at providing formal
spiritual guidance. Working with a formal anamchara can provide a structured
environment where questions of spiritual growth are explored. Because the
relationship is formal, some sort of exchange is appropriate. Individual
spiritual directors may require a fee, while those who are linked to a
religious organizaton (such as a parish or monastery) may expect their clients
to provide financial support to the organization.

Mutual soul-friendship refers to any spiritually-grounded relationship
where two individuals come together to provide support to one another. This
usually implies that both parties have attained a certain level of spiritual
and life maturity. Although both informal and formal soul-friendships could
function in this mutual way, as a general rule our informal soul-friends tend
to provide more of a mutual relationship, while a formal spiritual guide
functions more as a mentor.

Mentoring soul-friendships are those in which one person is clearly providing
support, direction, and guidance to the other. A priest provides counseling to
a layperson; a guru teaches her disciple; a master shaman instructs a seeker.
This one-on-one model of spiritual growth and development exists the world over
and remains the single most powerful method of spiritual growth. When the
ancient Druids counselled their Celtic chieftains, they did so as spiritual
mentors. Even though a soul-friend is a "friend," when the friend is
also a mentor there are great opportunities for interior development.

Fee-based soul-friendship, as explained above, is often part of a formal or a
mentoring relationship. Usually those who charge for this ministry do so
because they are not supported by any organization (such as a church or a
monastery). While it is not necessary to pay for a spiritual director, by the
same token it is ethical and appropriate for a spiritual guide to charge a reasonable
fee for his or her service. It is the responsibility of the directee to
evaluate the soul-friendship and to determine if it represents a good value.

Free soul-friendships typically are those that are mutual and informal in
nature. It is also possible to have formal anamchara relationships with people
who are religious professionals. Many Christian clergy and monastics, whose
livelihood is provided by their church or monastery, offer free spiritual
guidance. While there is no fee for such relationships, the directee may be
asked to provide financial support to the institution. Since religious
professionals are often over-worked, many may not be as available to provide
the intense guidance that one-on-one direction entails.

The beauty of the anamchara is that it is
unique and personal. No two sets of soul-friends look exactly alike. When two
people come together for the purpose of spiritual growth and development, there
is always a third element — the presence of Spirit. This is something that cannot
be controlled, managed, or predicted. In the intimacy of one-on-one relating, soul-friends
open up to the leadings and nudgings of eternity.

On a "nuts and bolts" level, a
formal soul-friend relationship might look like this: two individuals agree to meet
regularly, not too frequently nor infrequently — once a month might be a good
rhythm. Meetings can last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours, and
explore any topic related to spiritual growth, especially in experiential
terms. In other words, this is not therapy, and therapeutic issues (managing
life, stress, and emotional well-being), while certainly relevant to spiritual
growth, should not take center stage. Neither is it a college course on
mysticism, nor is it just a "cosy chat" on feel-good topics. At its
best, it is a warm but serious arena where topics such as mysticism,
meditation, inner growth, and commitment to spiritual principles may be
nurtured and cultivated.

 

A
Spiritual Practice Not an Institution

A person does not need to be Celtic — or
even particularly interested in Celtic spirituality or culture — to benefit from
this lovely spiritual practice. All that is needed to benefit from a soul-friend
is the desire to grow spiritually and the willingness to work one-on-one with a
companion or mentor who can help foster such interior growth. Thought the
anamchara has roots in the ancient culture of the Druids, as a spiritual
practice, it is universal and transcends the barriers and boundaries between
"Pagan" and "Christian."

Indeed, the anamchara can support the
search for creative and positive dialogue between people of different spiritual
traditions. As a universal spiritual tradition, soul-friendship
"belongs" to no one, neither Pagan nor Christian, neither Catholic
nor Protestant, neither Druid nor Wiccan. Rather, it represents the deep
hospitality and compassion characterized by Celtic spirituality at its best.
This is a hospitality and compassion that breaks down barriers. A true soul-friend
honors the unique beauty of every person and every path. He or she understands
that we live in a pluralistic world, and that interfaith encounters are normal
and need to be approached positively, honestly, and with a spirit of openness
and non-defensiveness. The spirituality of the anamchara is a spirituality that
honors the deep roots of each specific mystical tradition, balanced with an
attitude of good-will and openness toward all other compassionate traditions.

Soul-friendship is a spiritual practice,
not an institution. There is no governing body that licenses
people to be anamchairde (such as how doctors or lawyers receive
accreditation). For this reason, a person who desires a spiritual mentor must
take responsibility for finding the guide who is the right fit for himself or
herself.

Truly, it would be impossible to standardize personal spiritual
guidance, for each of us is unique and each has unique needs in relating to the
mystical journey.

 

Copyright © 2007 Krishanna Spencer


Creative Commons License

Advertisements