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To be an adult means we have to take responsibility for our own incarnations, and for many this is not an option. As long as we have a belief that allows us to stay spiritually immature, grasping unworthily for the crumbs of God’s love and begging for release, we remain immature, and our spiritual evolution is sadly curtailed. We become separate from the inner world of true devotion to the divine in us and in all creation, and continue reaching upwards to a father or mother who might one day deign to look upon us in mercy.

This philosophy keeps us victims and small, and is not true humility. It is a form of self-negation and promotes the helplessness of victim consciousness.

I write these words with some kind of authority, because at the beginning of the 1960s I spent some years as a Catholic nun in a convent in Ireland. I left the convent because I needed to return to the world and rename and reclaim the sacred for myself.

Rename the Sacred

I love the word “sacred”, as it is about sacrament. It seems to me that in living and in dying we need to rename the sacred for ourselves if we are to live an integral life of integrity and devotion.

When I left the convent, I was asked if I had found God there. My answer was as follows, “No, I did not find God in the convent as a nun. I found God when I looked into the eyes of a horse two weeks after I left the habit.” The habit was to name the divine in accordance with the dogma and commandments of a church only. I began then to rename the sacred for myself from an experiential truth.

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People often see the sacred through their children. Walking in nature, eating delicious food, poetry, playing with our children, dancing and singing, making love, are all graces we can name as sacred encounters with life itself. These experiences open us up to different states of being and have a positive effect on our psyches.


It seems to me that for too long we have been indoctrinated according to what the hierarchy of the Church deemed sacred or profane. Like small children we have believed that in order to live a righteous life we had to name ourselves sinful beings, beg forgiveness for our wrongdoings, accept the inappropriate guilt, live in separation from grace—“Lord I am not worthy”—and believe we were never good enough, no matter how hard we tried to be like Jesus.

On the whole, we begged for forgiveness from a father who seemed not to listen. For many of us, this was the replica of an earthly father, the absent father.

I lived this half-life of victim as a young Catholic girl in the 1950s and truly embraced it as a nun who had offered her young immature life to Jesus as a sacrificial offering so that he might rescue her. For me at the time, the possibility of finding refuge within myself was impossible.

We learnt early on in our Catholic education that whatever was earth-born was sinful and all that was formless, without a clay body, was good and holy. It was difficult to see how the divine and mere clay could possibly co-exist in humanity. The sacred was also directional and that direction was upwards. The profane took a downward route.

Heaven or Hell -- Our Only Options?

Humanity was both earth born and into earth interred. Our light shadows, our golden selves, our divinity was never owned and never integrated, nor was the body deemed sacred. Women’s bodies in particular were seen as impure, ungodly and agents of sin. Therefore we kept looking outside ourselves for God. The hierarchical trajectory of holiness from Pope to parish priest persisted throughout. These men were our intermediaries with God without whose instructions one could not live a good and holy life.

Death also presented us with many problems as heaven or hell were the options afforded us, with purgatory as an in-between consideration if we had been half good! I sat at many a bedside of dear people believing they were going into the eternal flames of hell because they were not perfect.

My own parents died with such a terrifying belief. On her death bed my mother said to me, “Your way to God is love, mine is full of fear.” Those words pained my heart for a long time.

Renaming the Sacred in Our Everyday Lives

So what is it to rename the sacred in our everyday lives so that we can live our lives with joy and die in grace and freedom? I often ask myself what needs to be made sacred again in me. I am no longer a sacrificial offering!

So how do I name myself in the family of things? Do I name myself sacred or not worthy?

What is it to name myself sacred, holy? For me, it is to be made whole; a fully incarnated woman with identity and a personality infused with grace, living authentically and joyfully from soul. Being self-responsible for choices and knowing that all and everything in my world is only information for me.

How I interpret this information has to do with my own healed or unhealed psychology, from an integrated or disintegrated personality point of view. If I live daily with the Universal Heart pulsating alongside my human heart then I can literally embrace the suffering of the world and never burn out or tire from offering presence, because I will be vitalized by the streams of grace I receive from this overflowing chalice of compassion.

I see life itself as a sacrament of whole-making. Life contributes to our whole-making and to our holiness all the time. It is a continuous spiral affecting our spiritual evolution. And this spiritual evolution must also include our biology as it is not separate from our spirituality.

Shadowed Self

It would seem that what truly needs to be integrated in us as human beings, is the shadow self. It is asking not only for integration but for it to be made holy and to be deemed sacred. This may surprise many but until the shadow and lost self is welcomed into the house of love within, it will remain a stranger.

The personality that has been conditioned and socialized has had to abandon itself in order to be accepted and loved, and this abandonment begins in childhood. I often remind people that when they do not welcome the shadow parts of themselves they actually abandon themselves.

When we refuse to accept our fears, jealousy and arrogance as part of our holiness we are rejecting ourselves. When we send our unhealed emotions out there in the world we are actually denying parts of ourselves and we then see them in others.

For some years I blamed my father and mother for my confused existence. Many of us who have felt unloved as children behave in strange ways in order to be loved. Some of us learned to prostitute our own beliefs for another and to subsequently emotionally abuse ourselves by saying yes when we meant no. We agreed to situations that were hurtful to us in order to keep the so-called “love” of another.

It is therefore necessary for us to truly see today, how we neglect our own hearts so that another approves of us. We will give our hearts away and victimize ourselves for a few moments of approval from another. This does not help our whole-making, yet we continue the non-holy practice until one day we see that it is not working and we need help. This is the beginning of grace.

Here are words from a song I composed in the 1980s:

I didn’t know
They never said
I never heard
Anyone say
I love you
You’re special
And so I never felt ok.

Then I grew up
And I was seven
I learnt new ways
To make them say
I love you
You’re special
But still I never felt ok.

Now I am older
And I’m wiser
I tell myself everyday
I love you
To me you’re special
And now at last I feel ok.

Understanding Self-Love

If this self-love, this courage to step into the unknown is not nurtured by the heart of wisdom it can easily fall between the cracks of selfishness and self-absorption. I find that not many people actually understand self-love. They equate it with self-indulgence or some romantic version of self-acceptance, such as looking in the mirror and repeating the words, “I am beautiful just as I am”, eventually to be followed by, “but I’m not, I’m horrible.” These statements need to be taken seriously and applied at the right time. Otherwise they are cosmetic and do not form part of a secure belief.

Self-love is not about fulfilling my wants and desires that were not met by parents. I used to hear people say, “Well, my inner child never got to play, so I’m going to play all I can.” Unfortunately these dear people looked quite foolish as adults behaving like children or teenagers.

Another statement I have heard a few times is, “My inner child never had money so I’m going to buy myself a new car—the most expensive I can get.” That is the child wanting and needing and it will never be satisfied as material things do not satisfy the heart longing for true acceptance and compassion.

Self-love has to have a strong, disciplined base if we are to grow up into contented loving and lovable people. If we are too emotionally attached to our inner child she will never attain inner authority or self-worth. 

It is a long journey finding one’s inner self, one’s vulnerability, one’s fragility, one’s strength and good discipline accompanied by consistency. We needed these core attributes as children, but most of us did not have access to them.

Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Findhorn Press, an imprint of Inner Traditions Intl..

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The Last Ecstasy of Life: Celtic Mysteries of Death and Dying
by Phyllida Anam-Áire

cover art: The Last Ecstasy of Life: Celtic Mysteries of Death and Dying by Phyllida Anam-ÁireIn the Celtic tradition dying is considered an act of birthing, of our consciousness passing from this life to the next. Informed by an early near-death experience, spiritual midwife and former nun Phyllida Anam-Áire offers an intimate overview of the sacred stages of the dying process seen through the lens of her Celtic heritage. Compassionately describing the final dissolution of the elements, she emphasizes how important it is to resolve and integrate our psycho-spiritual shadows and wounds in this lifetime. 

For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of: Phyllida Anam-ÁirePhyllida Anam-Áire, a former Irish nun, as well as grandmother and therapist who trained with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, has worked extensively with the sick and dying. She offers Conscious Living, Conscious Dying retreats in Europe and gives talks on children and dying to nurses and palliative care workers. Also a songwriter, she teaches Celtic Gutha or Caoineadh, Irish songs or sounds of mourning. She is the author of A Celtic Book of Dying

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