This summer I reconnected with a friend who had moved out of state. I asked her, "What communities are you a part of that are most meaningful to you?" She tilted her head, paused, and gave me the crinkly-faced look. She realized in that moment that community was something she was still seeking in her new home, and we ended up having a conversation about the powerful role communities can play in life, offering belonging, diverse perspectives, serendipitous connections, and growth. It was a thought-provoking conversation that lingered.
Fast forward to last week. One of my closest and dearest friends, Seana Steffen, was killed in a car accident on Saturday, September 16th. Her death is a tragic one, and I have never before experienced such grief.
Seana had a large network of friends and collaborators from around the globe; she was an active participant in numerous communities and the initiator of a few profound ones. One of the many things I am discovering from her death is that because of her, I am part of a vast web of amazing people bonded through the power of her love and orientation to service. One of her guiding questions was, "What will bring the highest benefit to all?" This beautiful question served her well, continues to serve me, and will perhaps serve you too.
A dozen of Seana's loved ones gathered last week to share our stories and sorrow. We came from various aspects of Seana's life, different communities. Even though several of us had never met, we had an immediate connection that I can only describe with the term anam cara.
Anam cara is Gaelic and translates to "soul friend." John O'Donohue – Irish poet, philosopher and priest - has brought this concept from Celtic tradition to international fame through his book, Anam Cara. The Celtic belief is that the soul radiates all around the physical body, and when you connect with another person and become completely open and trusting, your two souls begin to flow together. This kind of connection is central to the experience of finding anam cara, a "soul friend" who accepts you as you truly are, who always holds you in beauty and light.
We are joined in an ancient and eternal union with humanity that cuts across all barriers of time, convention, philosophy and definition. When you are blessed with an anam cara, the Irish believe, you have arrived at that most sacred place: home.
Do you know this experience? I feel fortunate to say yes, profoundly. But last week was a new level for me - discovering a whole community of soul friends formed through the experience of Seana's sudden death. Because of who she was – the way she served as an anam cara for each of us – we were able to quickly enter a space of being fully open and trusting with one another. Witnessing both the outpouring of appreciation for her impact on social media and experiencing everyone at the gathering humming with anam cara brought forth emotions I will never forget, and I am moved to think that Seana's death is inviting this depth of connection and conversation across her many communities.
I am still deep in grief and will be for a long time.
And, what an important realization to understand that we can foster and expand anam cara not only with singular friendships, but collectively! How powerful we can be when we belong to communities that create positive change for the highest benefit, interacting with open hearts and trust.
In honor of Seana and the countless torches she lit in the world, please reach out to a person or a community, a current or potential soul friend, and just open up a little. Share a gratitude. Behold the person or group, see them in their very best light. See yourself that same way too. And keep asking: "What will bring the highest benefit to all?"
A Friendship Blessing
May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where there is great love,
warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
May they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam cara.
John O'Donohue, from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
Want more? See "The Inner Landscape of Beauty", an interview with John O'Donohue by Krista Tippet of On Being