John O’Donohue guest – Part 1 – Eternal Echoes: the Yearning to Belong and 21st Century Initiation Crises
Living Dialogues
Duncan Campbell

Episode 87 - John O’Donohue guest – Part 1 – Eternal Echoes: the Yearning to Belong and 21st Century Initiation Crises

Episode Description:

“For human evolution to continue, the conversation must deepen.” – Margaret Mead

“My fears were always internal: the old fears of not belonging.” – Barack Obama reflecting in the midst of his life’s journey, from a passage in his 1995 autobiography “Dreams From My Father

"As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings, may your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills. When the way is flat and dull in times of gray endurance, may your imagination continue to evoke horizons." – John O’Donohue’s blessing “For One Who Holds Power” from his collection “To Bless the Space Between Us” – offered by Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley on January 17, 2009 to Barack Obama when he stopped in Baltimore to greet a crowd of well-wishers as he made his way to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration.


John O'Donohue, the Irish poet, philosopher and spiritual writer, passed away in his sleep at the age of 52 on the cusp of January 3-4, 2008 (following the close of the historic Iowa caucuses in the U.S. presidential primary). John was one of the great voices of our time, in many ways. His spirit and energy, his easy laughter, endure, touching and reminding me of Rumi’s phrase “we all know the taste of pure water.” On this the 10th anniversary of our dialogues, the timeless relevance of what was evoked in and between us and the virtual deep listeners can now be heard in an immediate reference and amplitude greater than at the time of the recording.

At the time John and I did these dialogues together in March 1999, there were a number of crises already brewing in the global petri dish of our end of the millennium consumerist market and political culture, characterized by socially widely-accepted greed, lying, manipulation, and reliance on force in the public sphere, and thus inevitably in the private sphere. This was a time that literally prepared the ground for the dying embers of the last millennium to flare into a perfect storm of armed conflict and economic destruction in the next ten years, which has in turn prepared the way for the coming into being of a possible regeneration beginning now as we enter a new political and market era in 2009.

In this two-part dialogue, a prophetic Voice is heard called forth in many areas, which are now being seen by many as they were seen by few at the time. As John said to the audience in the evening on that day in 1999 in his rich Irish brogue: “Ah, this afternoon, Duncan and I had the faather and mother of all conversations!”

Listening to it again now after 10 years, this exclamation – at once light-hearted and serious, as John could be so well – has also proven uncannily prophetic, as can be seen even from the following brief collage of excerpts from our dialogues:


Duncan Campbell: Reading your most recent book, “Eternal Echoes”, John, I tell you was like balm for the soul….It is one of the most beautiful poetic prose books I’ve ever read. I felt a sense of belonging and longing to renew our communication from when we first met two years ago, in anticipation of this dialogue, and I think that kind of appreciation of the mystery illuminated by inner and outer dialogue really is at the heart of your book….In our “post modern era” [at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, the end of the adolescent “modern” mind era, what some have called an “era between eras before a Second Renaissance”] many of us find ourselves often with this deep feeling of alienation of not belonging, of somehow not being embraced or understood by the culture around us, not finding a shelter that can take us in -- whether it be a relationship or a book by Meister Eckhart or Saint John of the Cross -- a place where we can be understood and deeply seen by another. And what we are looking for is a sense of dialogue, of responsive relationship, to feel not a lonely isolated echo coming back to us but something deeper from the mystery of our interconnectedness that confirms and reaffirms the reality of our experience. This desire for authentic dialogue is the same concept of echo that informs the title of your book.

John O’Donohue. That’s very well articulated and described. Post-modern culture is kind of arrested. And there are hugely vital conversations that are just not taking place, ands one of them is a conversation that should be taking place between the custodians of the Christian tradition, and those who are seeking nakedly and desperately [and being repulsed or refused by those traditions]. Another conversation that’s not taking place, and the absence of this event really frightens and troubles me deeply because I think it’s going to have amazingly dangerous repercussions for us if we don’t begin it -- and that’s a conversation that’s not taking place between Christianity and Islam. When we think of Islam, we think fundamentalists. When they think of us, they think Western capitalists. And, I think there could be an immensely exciting conversation there between the beautiful symbolic mysticism and depth of theology in Islamic tradition and culture and our own kind of culture….

Duncan Campbell: We can see the coldness and mutual isolation as we look across the cultural landscape. Not only in America. But also Ireland, in India, in South America, in Asia, around the world. Our global landscape is now become littered with the lifeless souls, the “dead souls” of Gogol’s great phrase, of people who have become products themselves, in the thrall of unregulated transnational corporations. Who have been turned into targets for producers. Targets of consumerism...

We had a man come through Boulder on book tour not long ago who specializes in childhood education, who told us about a young girl, nine years old, in the Mid-West, who answered his question at a previous stop on his tour: ‘What would you like to be when you grow up?’. And her answer was, ‘a consumer’.

John O’Donohue: My goodness!

Duncan Campbell: And so we really are in that mode. For instance, just this month (March 1999), Harvey Cox of the Harvard Divinity School wrote a brilliant article for the “Atlantic Monthly” about the Market, with a capital “M”, as “the new religion”. Many people don’t recognize it, but this is seen in the whole sense of the commodification of human experience, creating a certain kind of end of innocence that is taking the life from people rather than opening up deeper vistas….Instead of awakening people to the mystery, this “new religion of the Market” actually closes us down. It makes people more alienated. It makes them feel even more the hole in their soul, but not in an inspirational way. Instead of that yearning being directed to what you call “the sense of the great belonging”, the all embracing divinity that is ever present, it gets directed through the daily barrage of all-embracing advertising towards the market for Gap uniform-like clothing or to the local supermarket. It keeps our society functioning in a way, but it never ever gets satisfied, the desire for “more” continues, to try to fill that hole in the soul….

John O’Donohue: And, I also think there’s a crisis of politics that has now become synonymous with economics and the crudest forms of strategy and one up-manship and “pragmatism”, and.. (Duncan interjects: “vulgarism”.) “Vulgarism”, yes. And I think this leaves us, you know? Leaves us with a flat landscape -- with no mountains in sight, and a total distrust of ideals. Because those who are supposed to be presenting those ideals have either betrayed them through their “pragmatism” -- and I’m not even talking about morality here -- or else, those who present the ideas are right-wing fundamentalists who seem singularly unburdened by any sense of complexity or uncertainty. And who present a cold exclusivist view which is inherently callous and naively nostalgic and very dangerous and destructive.

And what’s missing is someone who can call us and invite us to ideals that call our deepest potential alive. Confront the negativity and the selfishness of our egoism. And somehow addresses what is gracious and elegant within us. So that we can inhabit the planet together in a way that is creative and good…I think everybody needs that and that happens naturally all the time, in friendship, and in partnerships between people that have not compromised and are still willing to grow. And that people actually come down below their own image into a depth with each other…where big thresholds can be crossed together.”


And so that “someone” who is missing turns out to be ourselves. To paraphrase Pogo: “We have met the redeemer and s/he is us.” We are the hero each of us of our own life’s adventure -- called to “engage our own kind of latent complexity and diversity, our own hidden divinity” -- and together we are the heroes of our “21st century collective heroes’ journey”. “We are the change we have been waiting for” – a phrase with many layers, much-maligned and mocked by those who do not hear that call.

These dialogues with John call us over the span of a decade to the very contemporary experience and challenges of today as described in my Introduction to previous Dialogues 83 and 84 reprised below:

After reading Barack Obama's two intimate autobiographies, “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope”, it came to me that our new President's personal life story telling his inner quest and outer challenges in his own voice so revealingly is itself a prototypical example of a new, 21st century, collaborative inner and outer initiation into a planetary consciousness beyond tribe and nation. This new larger self awareness goes further than the cultural comfort zone of our modern mind's historical individualistic, adolescent self-empowerment into the emerging mature co-creative and dialogue-based consciousness foreseen and portrayed in Living Dialogues since its inception.

The combative stance of the argument culture (see Program 72 with Deborah Tannen) gives way to a dialogue consciousness opening to expanded possibilities of harmony and enrichment in facing the accelerating diversity, uncertainty, and changes of our life experience.
This new template contains all the elements of the traditional Hero's Journey archetype across cultures so well described by Joseph Campbell in mid-20th century in his classic "Hero With a Thousand Faces" -- but goes further in uniting the best of the indigenous rites of passage and the modern mind's conceptual breakthroughs into a new collaborative midwifing I describe as our 21st century collective Heroes' Journey. While remaining responsible to show up on our own horse, we effectively “ride into the dark part of the forest” together on our larger Grail quest.

"We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth….and we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself....For the world has changed, and we must change with it." -- Barack Obama Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009


See also my prior Program 82 with Angeles Arrien where she quotes John O’Donohue’s poem Fluent in the context of the open and confidently courageous spirit of dialogue in these times of uncertainty and widespread anxiety and fear: “I would love to live / Like a river / Carried by the surprise / Of its own unfolding”.

“Dialogue is the Language of Evolutionary Transformation”™ - Duncan Campbell

Contact me if you like at Visit my blog at ”. (For more, including information on the Engaged Elder Wisdom Dialogue Series on my website, click on Episode Detail to the left above and go to Transcript section.)

Among others, programs you will find of interest on these themes are my Dialogues on this site with Stanislav Grof, Angeles Arrien, Coleman Barks, Michael Meade, Sobonfu Some, Ted Sorensen, David Boren, David Mendell, Deborah Tannen, and Joseph Ellis, among others [click on their name(s) in green on right hand column of the Living Dialogues Home Page on this site].

After you listen to this Dialogue, I invite you to both explore and make possible further interesting material on Living Dialogues by taking less than 5 minutes to click on and fill out the Listener Survey. My thanks and appreciation for your participation.



“Duncan Campbell, I heard about your podcast a few months ago, and have been deeply listening to all the dialogues with your fantastic friends/guests. Your words, ideas, and wisdom are truly inspirational. You have evoked a new appetite for knowledge in me that I hope to share with a starving younger generation. Thank you for doing what you do, and creating a unique space, void of boundaries and classification. A breath of fresh air! Much love and respect.” – Amit Kapadiya

In furtherance of creating and maintaining the planetary dialogues now required in the 21st century, I featured a special series of dialogues with myself and other elders in the weeks leading up to and including the 2008 Olympics hosted by China and the U.S. 2008 elections. Those dialogues can be listened to separately on this site or as gathered as a series on my website under the collective title “Engaged Elder Wisdom Dialogues”. They address various specific political aspects of our planetary crisis, with its dangers and opportunities for creating and sustaining a visionary and evolutionary shift. (We remember that the Chinese character for “crisis” is often described as meaning both “danger” when visioned from a fear perspective, and “opportunity” when visioned from a wisdom perspective.)

In all my Living Dialogues from their inception I talk in various ways about the call to generate dialogues across generational, ethnic, gender, and national boundaries -- building bridges of understanding and wisdom in the cooperative spirit and reaching out -- required by our 21st century realities, and the essential roles that we all are called to play in our evolution for it to take place.

This is the time for renewed dialogue, for visionary and inspiring discourse producing practical and innovative ways of living and sharing together, to engage our own elder wisdom and youthful inspiration, and in so doing to experience and exemplify that “Dialogue is the Language of Evolutionary Transformation”™.

And that is what we all do, in our mutual roles as host, deep listeners, and guests, when we gather together here from all parts of the globe in Living Dialogues.


The best way to reach me is through my website: Many thanks again for your attentive deep listening in helping co-create this program.

All the best, Duncan.

P.S. As a way of further acknowledging and appreciating your part in these dialogues, and since I cannot personally answer all of them, I have begun to publish from time to time in these pages some of the appreciations received from you.


Introduction:  From Time Immemorial, beginning with indigenous counsels and ancient wisdom traditions.  Through the work of Western visionaries such as Plato, Galileo, and quantum physicist David Boehm.  Mutual participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness.  Evoking a flow of meaning.  A diop flow of logos meaning beyond what any one individual can bring through alone.  So join us now.  As together with you, the active deep listener.  We evoke, and engage in, living dialogues. 

Duncan Campbell:  Welcome to Living Dialogues.  I’m your host, Duncan Campbell, and with me for this particular dialogue, I’m really deeply delighted to have John O’Donohue.  Author, most recently, of a very beautiful book entitled ‘Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Yearning to Belong‘.  Prior to that, many of you may know him as the author of “Annam Kara’.  Translated as “Soul Friend”, from the Celtic.  ‘Annam Kara’ remains number one on the best seller list in Ireland after it’s appearance over two and a half years ago, and has been on numerous best seller lists here in America.  John it’s a really deep pleasure to see you again after two years.

John O’Donohue:  It’s lovely to be here with you Duncan.  We had threatened this a long time ago, but hadn’t got around to doing it. 

Duncan Campbell:  That’s right.  And, we even tried to do it the first time, and the machinery did not cooperate. 

John O’Donohue:  That’s right.

Duncan Campbell:  Which means, we weren’t quite ready for each other at that point. 

John O’Donohue:  Hopefully we’re ready now. 

Duncan Campbell:  Yeah, yeah I feel very much so.  Reading your most recent book, ‘Eternal Echoes’, I tell you was like balm for the soul.  BALM.  It was just absolutely wonderful.  I think it’s one of the most beautiful poetic pros books I’ve ever read.  And, I’d like to just jump right into what it was like for you to create this book before we talk about the substance of it.  In our discussions, you indicated that it really took a lot out of you. 

John O’Donohue:  It took an awful lot out of me I suppose because I wrote the book in about 5 months flat, and that was day and night writing.  And, I had been working with these constellation of ideas for a good while in my mind.  And, to get them ordered and sequenced in a way that I wanted was very difficult.  And, secondly, I think it goes deeper than the Annam Kara book of Celtic wisdom.  I tried to create, like I did in ‘Annam Kara’, a text with a dual kind of texture.  On the surface, if you like a lyrical texture, which is poetic, has narrowed and works a lot with image.  And, then underneath that, a more speculative text which calls one back for further reflection.  I’ve been amazed, the people have said to me that they have read and re-read it again and again.  Which is nice because the book is not intended to be about itself, or about me, or anything.  The book is intended in a way, in a artistic sense, to be an object through which one can engage one’s own kind of latent complexity and divinity.  And, it’s intended in a way to be an invitation to one’s self over certain thresholds.  Maybe one that has been kept away from.  Which I would argue that there’s no need to be afraid of, there’s great potential there. 

Duncan Campbell:  Well, beautifully stated, beautifully stated John.  Because it reminds one of books like, I don’t know, Pascal’s ‘Panacea’, or Marcus Ceureleus’ ‘Meditations‘, or ‘The Book of Common Prayer‘.  Books that are not meant to be read from start to finish, and then it’s over.  But actually to do exactly what you say.  To catch you with that shimmering poetic beauty on the surface, but to go underneath that, and invite you to look into your own depths of what you can do and revisit again and again.  As you say, it’s a journey, almost a journey without end. 

John O’Donohue:  Yeah, I think it is, and I think there are certain books that become companions for us.  You know?  And, I suppose one of the things I love most in the world is the presence of thought.  I love thoughts and thinking.   And, I suppose that’s what I would be doing most of the time, you know?  I’m always excited about new ideas.  And, I loved my time in Germany for that reason, for the four years I spent working on the old PHD, on Hegel Phenomenology.   Because it was a time of the most intense and critical and speculative kind of thinking.  And, I suppose in post-modern culture, and a lot of alternative spirituality, I miss a depth of thought.  I miss a substance.  And, I miss thoughts that have enough clay and darkness around them to recall you and bring you back again and again.  I think that our times in our post-modern culture suffers from a very dead transparency where there is a light lava of cliché over every surface and every depth.  And, we manage to keep skating on this thing, and pretending that we’re somehow engaging our lives, and we’re not at all.  I think that, particularly here in this country, I’ve been amazed at the way people speak about themselves.  They speak about themselves in terms of function, and in terms of program, and in terms of syndrome, and in terms of woundedness.  And, their identity becomes reduced to that awful, superficial cliché.  When in actual fact, the given stores that they narrate about themselves are not the real stories at all.  I mean, the real stories are far more vigorous and interesting and complex and so forth that kind of thing.  And, what I think is that we need to be, we need to pay attention to the words we use about ourselves.  And, I think the “who” question is one of the most exciting questions of all.  And, it’s almost like you know when you throw a pebble in a pond.  The way the ripples go out and they become ever wider.  And, I think that’s the way the “who” question does.  Starts with a certain fixed frame, “who are you”, and then goes out and out and out to embrace more and more of you.  And, I’d like to imagine that these two books, the Annam Kara book and the Eternal Echoes book, in some way might assist a few people to get excited about the adventure of who they are.  Always when I’m launching a book for friends, the last thing I often say, launching a poetry book or a novel or whatever it is, “May this book find it’s way to those who really need it”.  And I hope that these do too. 

Duncan Campbell:  Well, I think in the nature of things that ultimately, if not in the approximate sense, it will.  And it’s going to be done and encouraged by precisely what you state.  In fact, your beautiful phrase there, “a light lava layer of cliché‘”.  I might even reformulate as a light ash layer of cliché.  I don’t know if it’s even substantial enough to be called lava because..

For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell