Book review: The Harbour Within

Having a keen interest in the work of German spiritual teacher and philosopher Eckhart Tolle, I was somehow willing the universe to introduce me to the teachings of homegrown philosopher, John O’Donoghue. 

Sister Consilio

Hachette Books Ireland, €18.50

However, before I had the chance to possess one of his books, The Harbour Within, the work of fellow spiritual teacher and Kerry person, Sr Consilio, materialised in my letterbox. 

Not long after starting it, I discovered a quote from John O’Donoghue inside.

Sr Consilio (Eileen Fitzgerald) a Sister of Mercy originally from north Kerry, set up Cuan Mhuire, a network of drug, alcohol and gambling rehabilitation centres all over Ireland. 

Trained as a nurse, she has won numerous awards in recognition of her lifelong dedication to rehabilitation work and was the first person to provide residential treatment in Ireland more than 50 years ago.

The essence of her book is that most of us live in ‘our heads’ and not at ‘soul level’, a deeper spiritual place where one can connect with God, a place perhaps understood by many as ‘enlightenment’. 

The language of such an introspective subject can be dense; refreshingly Sr Consilio’s takes a more simplified approach in this collection of quotes, poems, prayers and anecdotes. 

She speaks of gratitude; engagement with nature; forgiveness for yourself and others when haunted by past events; neigbourly love. She speaks clearly on the importance of meditation, stating ‘when we meditate we are just allowing ourselves to be.’ 

She advocates the practice of mindfulness, quoting ‘The precious present isn’t a gift that someone gives you, it’s a gift you give yourself.’ She professes her faith in Our Lady and her Guardian Angel.

In working with addiction, her experience has shown that many addicts have been taught that they are flawed. She believes recovery is aided when they themselves show acts of generosity and kindness, which prove healing and empowering for their inner selves, eventually helping to get rid of ‘this belief or lie’. 

She reflects on the negativity attached to addiction, and the fact that negativity is an impediment for many, often leading to depression. 

She teaches that the key to happiness is allowing oneself to be cherished; on a spiritual level there is a lot more to us than what we do or achieve.

Sr Consilio’s faith is enviable, however I was glad to be familiar with Eckhart Tolle’s teachings whilst reading; he is not religious but is especially reflective on the original teachings of Jesus Christ without the Catholic rhetoric that a vast number of us Irish grew up with. 

Though Sr Consilio’s book of contemplation is deeply religious, previous readings enabled me to embrace her teachings not only from the Catholic perspective but from a wider spiritual aspect.

These reflections are from a compassionate individual whose attitudes we have much to learn from. It may not appeal to everyone; those whose sense of self is built on foundations of judgment, ‘one-up-man ship’ and cruel gossip of others may find their high pedestal unstable on reading the book; after a lifetime dealing with addicts and the homeless, Sr Consilio professes true happiness and enlightenment come from compassion and ‘walking in another’s shoes.’ 

She embraces difference and ‘everyone’s uniqueness.’ Not good news for some.

And perhaps, amid the many prayers in the book, a little quote from another Eckhart, Meister Eckhart, to which she devotes an entire page, displays the universal spirituality combined with the religious within the book. 

‘If the only prayer you ever said in your life was ‘Thank you’ that would suffice.’


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