Walking in Wonder

Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World

About the Book

With a Foreword by Krista Tippett–a poignant and beautiful collection of conversations and presentation from John O’Donohue’s work with close friend and former radio broadcaster John Quinn
John O'Donohue, beloved author of To Bless the Space Between Us, is widely recognized as one of the most charismatic and inspirational enduring voices on the subjects of spirituality and Celtic mysticism. These timeless exchanges, collated and introduced by Quinn, span a number of years and explore themes such as imagination, landscape, the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart, aging, and death. Presented in O'Donohue's inimitable lyrical style, and filled with rich insights that will feed the "unprecedented spiritual hunger" he observed in modern society, Walking in Wonder is a welcome tribute to a much-loved author whose work still touches the lives of millions around the world.
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Praise for Walking in Wonder

"This marvelous posthumous collection from Irish poet-philosopher O’Donohue (Anam Cara) comes as an unexpected gift for his fans...[his] work remains a rich banquet for those interested in spirituality and his particular expression of contemporary Celtic mysticism." Publishers Weekly

"This book you now hold in your hands is a treasure." —Krista Tippett, host of On Being

"A celebration of the beauty and mystery of everyday things. Walking in Wonder is a delight." —Deepak Chopra, New York Times bestselling coauthor of You Are the Universe

"This wondrous, panoramic lens of John O'Donohue as mystical theologian, purveyor of the divine imagination, genius of intellect and fierce social-justice activist is a vital gift bestowed by fellow pilgrim and beloved friend John Quinn to a world urgently in need of spiritual replenishment and activism." —Ellen Wingard, coeditor of Enlightened Power: How Women Are Transforming the Practice of Leadership

"John O'Donohue's wondrous words illuminate the pages of this magnificent book as they bring clarity and inspiration to our rapidly changing world. Whether we're discovering John for the first time, or we have already been transformed by the poetry and prose of this profound philosopher, poet, and mystic, Walking in Wonder offers us all a unique opportunity to enter a compelling conversation about the most important yet often hidden challenges of finding meaning and connection in our modern lives." —Daniel J. Siegel, MD, clinical professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and New York Times bestselling author of Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence

"What John O'Donohue could do with words simultaneously baffles, delights and soothes the heart." —Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living and Falling Awake

"John O'Donohue's contribution as a prophet will continue. His work as a writer and a poet will endure. These conversations between John O'Donohue and John Quinn, maybe Ireland's most thoughtful broadcaster, offer a unique insight into the power of wonder and the importance of symmetry in all aspects of our lives. A powerful contribution." —President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins

“How glorious it is to hear the voice of John O’Donohue again, the lark-tongued poet, philosopher, theologian and anam cara, who left his imprint on everyone he met. Anyone who spent time with him—in person or in books—came away changed. In this spirited conversation, John is fiercely alive with the electric fizz of being, fully attuned to life, ruminative, and so infused with wonder that every question becomes a lantern. As ever, he delves deeply into the plateaus of being human, and explores the thresholds that arise, frighten, butmust be crossed to become the self one dreams. I so cherish this unexpected gift.” —Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper’s Wife

"As this magnificent book demonstrates, even on the printed page John O’Donohue’s voice—so lyrical and eloquent, so profound and impassioned—flashes vividly to life, beautifully capturing a radiant soul filled with humor, compassion and utter selflessness. Indeed, John not only brilliantly articulated the magic and necessity of joy and gratitude, he ignited a sense of genuine awe in every life he encountered, and he will undoubtedly inspire future generations to learn how to infuse their own lives with meaning and wonder.” —Andrew Carroll, New York Times bestselling author and the cofounder, with the Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, of the American Poetry & Literacy Project

“John Quinn’s self-effacing work as editor and broadcaster is rightly renowned. Here he presents, for wider audiences, his absorbing conversations with John O’Donohue’s glorious, far-seeing, far-reaching spirit. Welcome to these luminous encounters!” —Lelia Doolan, Irish activist in various fields

“In these conversations, John Donohue’s timely words feed the deep spiritual hunger that creeps into our hearts as individuals and our nation as a whole. He reframes the human story of fear, aging, death, otherness and absence, reminding us that they are all bound up in the mystery of wonder. O’Donohue lives on as a prophetic and priestly presence for such a time as this.” —Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, president of Auburn Seminary

“In each chapter the reader experiences a rich and exhilarating new conversation. We witness a man whose intellect and life force are in full bloom, deeply rooted in spirit, humor, curiosity and compassion. John invites us to pause and reflect, challenging us to reach beyondour well-trod and comfortable assumptions.” —Richard Harrell, musician and educator at the Juilliard School, San Francisco Conservatory, and Orfeo Foundation

“Luminous! Walking in Wonder shines light on life’s dark mysteries and offers sustenance for spiritual hunger. As you confront the inevitable thresholds of loss, absence and aging, this book will serve as a road map to help you navigate with grace, gratitude and a fearless heart. John O’Donohue’s elegant words are a call to live with abundance, to look inward with courage and to look outward with compassion. They are a reminder to embrace the wild energy of your soul.” —Gina Vild, coauthor of The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose—and Live a Happier, Healthier Life

“John O’Donohue’s insights in this new collection offer a glimpse into the wonder and presence of knowing him. His signature themes rooted in Celtic spirituality and contemplative exploration offer bread crumbs on the path, encouraging us to embrace the beauty and gift of each day.” —Davy Spillane, Grammy Award–winning musician and composer at North Atlantic Music, Ireland

“This volume is a testament to the timelessness of John O’Donohue’s wisdom. His words are not only inspirational to those of us catalyzing substantive social change but compel us to consider how we nurture, support and thrive amidst chaos.” —Rev. Diane J. Johnson, PhD, national interfaith and social justice activist, and founder and president of Mmapeu Management Consulting
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Walking in Wonder

Gateways to Wonder

One of the fascinating things about humans is that, in contrast to stones and to water and to earth and to fields, they seem to be privileged and burdened with the ability to think. That’s the beautiful intimacy of the human in the world. There is nothing as intimate as a human being. Every human person is inevitably involved with two worlds: the world they carry 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 the two worlds. All thought is about putting a face on experience. Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Socrates started raising the questions. 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 of wonder. Martin Heidegger said that when you can conceive of a frontier you are already beyond it, because a frontier--while it may be the limitation of where you now are or what you now feel or think--is also the threshold of what you are actually going to move into. This is put very lyrically and beautifully by a great rustic poet, our own Patrick Kavanagh, who said in his amazing “Advent” poem, “Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.” That means that in a certain sense, the narrower and more confined the chink or the crevice or the opening, the greater the possibility of wonder actually is. All thinking that is imbued with wonder is graceful and gracious thinking. Thought is at the heart of reality. All of the things that we do, the things that we see, touch, feel, are all constructions of thought. When you think about a city, everything in that city is an expression of thought. Hands and machines created the things, but thought was actually the forerunner of all that. And thought, if it’s not open to wonder, can be limiting, destructive and very, very dangerous. If you look at thought as a circle, and if half the arc of the circle is the infusion of wonder, then the thought will be kind, it will be gracious, and it will also be compassionate, because wonder and compassion are sisters. Each one of us is the custodian of an inner world that we carry around with us. Now, other people can glimpse it from the way we behave, the way our language is and particularly the way that our face and our eyes are. 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--that when you do say it, what others hear and what you intend and know are often totally different kinds of things. So 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. Therefore, I think that all human being 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.


The Animal World

I think one of the terribly destructive areas of Western thought is that we have excluded animals from the soul, the awareness and the thought world. I feel that animals are maybe more refined than us, and that part of the recognition and respect for the animal is to acknowledge that they inhabit a different universe from us. There are sheep and rabbits and cows in the village I live in, in Connemara, and none of them know anything about Jesus, about the Buddha, about Wall Street, about zero tolerance. They are just in another world altogether. Part of the wonder of the human mind is when you look towards animals with respect and reverence, you begin to feel the otherness of the world that they actually carry. It must take immense contemplative discipline to be able to hold a world stirring within you and to have no means to express it, because animals in the main are silent and they don’t have access to the paradoxical symbolic nuance of language as we have. So I use the word “contemplative” about them in that sense. For me, they are a source of a great kind of wonder. Now, that doesn’t mean that I romanticize them--I was born on a farm and I know farming very well and I know the other dark side of the animal world too--but there is something really to be wondered at, at the way that they move and the way that they are. Where I envy animals is that I don’t think they are haunted by consciousness in the way that humans are. I think that one of the most beautiful and frightening days in the life of a human person is when their mind really wakes up. Often when you watch a new baby or a little child, you see that they’re still within the pastures of wonder and innocence. Then you think of them coming out of that, and traveling the longest journey that all of us have made--the journey of innocence to experience through adolescence. But that isn’t really the worst journey. The worst and most frightening moment is the day that your mind really wakes up and that you suddenly know that everything that you think, everything that you feel, everything that you know and everything that you are connected with is somehow dependent on your awareness and your consciousness. You know that if you are graced with creative and compassionate and warm awareness, you are going to have an incredible life. You are going to have sufferings as well, but you will always return to that place of warmth and fire within yourself. But you know too on that day that if your awareness goes away or if it gets into the totally chaotic, symbolic world of otherness that we call madness, that you are totally gone. I often think of people in mental institutions. They are living in a jungle of symbols for which there is no map or grammar, and they are people who are totally instantaneous and totally haunted by a negative, distraught kind of wonder. There are many dimensions of human life that journalism, the media, religion and politics never advert to, marginal places where incredible soul-presence and soul-making and soul-creativity are always secretly at work. Ezra Pound said something like that when he said that beauty always shuns the public places--where the light is too garish and where there is no shelter--but it goes to the out-of-the-way, unknown places because only there will it encounter the reverence and hospitality of gaze that is worthy of it. Or again, to paraphrase Kavanagh: “the chink is too wide.”


One of the most amazing recognitions of the human mind is that time passes. Everything that we experience somehow passes into a past invisible place: when you think of yesterday and the things that were troubling you and worrying you, and the intentions that you had and the people that you met, and you know you experienced them all, but when you look for them now, they are nowhere--they have vanished. One of the questions that has always puzzled me is, is there a place where our vanished days secretly gather? To put it another way, like the medieval mystics used to ask, where does the light go when the candle is blown out? It seems to me that our times are very concerned with experience, and that nowadays to hold a belief, to have a value must be woven through the loom of one’s own experience, and that experience is the touchstone of integrity, verification and authenticity. And yet the destiny of every experience is that it will disappear. It’s a great consolation of course that things do actually disappear, especially when you feel bad. There was a contest of wisdom one time in ancient Greece to find who could write down a sentence which would somehow always be true. The sentence that won the competition was “This too will pass.” One of my favorite thinkers in the feminine and mystical tradition is Teresa of Avila. She cautioned that in bad, lonesome, difficult times, you should never forget that this too will actually pass. So there is a shelter and a kindness in that acknowledgment of transience. But there’s also a desperate loneliness in transience, in knowing the one that you love, the beautiful time that you are having, the lovely things that are happening to you will all actually disappear.

About the Author

John O'Donohue
JOHN O'DONOHUE was a poet, philosopher and scholar, a native Gaelic speaker from County Clare, Ireland.  He was awarded a PhD in Philosophical Theology from the University of Tübingen, with post-doctoral study of Meister Eckhart.  John's numerous international best-selling books: Anam CaraBeautyEternal Echoes, and the beloved To Bless the Space Between Us, among many others, guide readers through the landscape of the Irish imagination. More by John O'Donohue
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About the Author

John Quinn
JOHN O'DONOHUE was a poet, philosopher and scholar, a native Gaelic speaker from County Clare, Ireland.  He was awarded a PhD in Philosophical Theology from the University of Tübingen, with post-doctoral study of Meister Eckhart.  John's numerous international best-selling books: Anam CaraBeautyEternal Echoes, and the beloved To Bless the Space Between Us, among many others, guide readers through the landscape of the Irish imagination. More by John Quinn
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About the Author

Krista Tippett
Krista Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times bestselling author. In 2014, she received the National Humanities Medal at the White House for "thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence." She is the host of NPR's On Being. More by Krista Tippett
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