Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Beyond Endings

--by John O'Donohue (Feb 15, 2010)

Endings seem to lie in wait. Absorbed in our experience we forget that an ending might be approaching. Consequently, when the ending signals its arrival, we can feel ambushed. Perhaps there is an instinctive survival mechanism in us that distracts us from the inevitability of ending, thus enabling us to live in the present with innocence and whole-heartedness. […]

Experience has its own secret structuring. Endings are natural. Often what alarms us as an ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey – a new beginning that we could never have anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart. Due to the current overlay of therapy terminology in our language, everyone now seems to wish for “closure.” This word is unfortunate: it is not faithful to the open-ended rhythm of experience. Creatures made of clay with porous skins and porous minds are quite incapable of the hermetic sealing that the strategy of “closure” seems to imply. The word completion is a truer word. Each experience has within it a dynamic of unfolding and a narrative of emergence. Oscar Wilde once said, “The supreme vice is shallowness. Whatever is realized is right.” When a person manages to trust experience and be open to it, the experience finds its own way to realization. Though such an ending may be awkward and painful, there is a sense of wholesomeness and authenticity about it. Then the heart will gradually find that this stage has run its course and the ending is substantial and true. Eventually the person emerges with a deeper sense of freedom, certainty, and integration.

The nature of calendar time is linear; it is made up of durations that begin and end. The Celtic imagination always sensed that beneath time there was eternal depth. This offers us a completely different way of relating to time. It relieves time of the finality of ending. While something may come to an ending on the surface of time, its presence, meaning, and effect continue to be held into the eternal. This is how spirit unfolds and deepens. In this sense, eternal time is intimate; it is where the unfolding narrative of individual life is gathered and woven.

--John O'Donohue, from "To Bless the Space Between Us"

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Previous Reflections:

On Feb 16, 2010 Manisha wrote:

I like this article, and I agree not everything can provide closure. However, I am not sure what the word completion and realization means in this context, is it like acceptance of the ending even if not closure is provided?

On Feb 16, 2010 Patsy wrote:

What a providential writing for me.

I work a the space center in Florida. Our entire program is pretty much being ended this year and we are all saying goodby to each other and to the space program as we have known it.

I am also in the process of saying goodby to my mother, who is in the last days of her life.

I find myself feeling more loving and forgiving to everyone I must leave behind. There is no room in my heart for grudges or even irritations with others. I am discovering a lightness I haven't felt for many years.

I cannot regret these feelings, even if they are mingled with sadness. . . .

On Feb 19, 2010 Admin wrote:

For the first time, Komi walked in for Wednesday meditation.  Heavy built man from Togo, Africa.  During the circle of sharing, he shared some heartfelt tidbits.  As he was leaving, few of us got into a spirited conversation.  "Did you know he was a cop?"  "What do you mean 'was a cop?'"  "I just quit,  man," Komi says.  "How come?"  "It was just too much."  "What was too much?"

"Like, one time, I was on patrol and it was very cold and I saw this young couple snuggled up on the streets.  They weren't on drugs, they were drunk, they were just a little out of luck and very cold."  After  a gulp, Komi adds: "Someone had called the cops so I had to get them out of there.  But to where?  They were good people.  I just couldn't do it."

Pancho asks, "Have you even policed any protests?"  "Oh, that is too much.  You wear this riot gear, they give you this long baton.  Have you seen it?"  Just describing the outfit, tears glossed over his eyes.

"They told me that cops don't do what I do.  That's social service.  So after two years, I quit and am going into social service," he concluded with hearty laugh.  To which Pancho added, "Compassion is perhaps the highest form of security."

On Feb 22, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This piece resonated with me for many reasons, most of all as I'm preparing to complete an academic journey that began in 2004. The word "closure" seems to imply the opposite of openness and I like "completion" a lot more, as it has the picture of a circle associated with it. What goes around comes around.

By the fact that we are standing on earth which goes around in a circular (sort-of) path, even at the physical level, things come around. 

The notion of the experience taking us toward realization is a deep one. It differs in an important respect from providing closure, in that, closure is a state we want to be in, but it is not the experience of the state itself. The experience of closure, like all other experiences, cannot be labeled. The notion of closure an a construct reduces the richness of the experience behind it. 


"The nature of calendar time is linear; it is made up of durations that begin and end. " This reminded me of a wise monk's reflection, "Another theory in modern times has been presented by several schools, that man's destiny is to go on always improving, always struggling towards, but never reaching the goal. This statement, though apparently very nice, is also absurd, because there is no such thing as motion in a straight line. Every motion is in a circle. If you can take up a stone, and project it into space, and then live long enough, that stone, if it meets with no obstruction, will come back exactly to your hand. ... Therefore, this idea that the destiny of man is progressing ever forward and forward, and never stopping, is absurd." 

Should we then not try for closure? The author urges us instead to go toward completion by experiencing and accepting experience. In other words, even if we do nothing and keep moving, that movement is bound to be circular. Completion is ours to have, whether we like it or not. The need for closure arises due to a refusal to recognize the circularity of nature. Once we accept the circularity, there is no closure that is needed. Whatever is required is already here, and it couldn't have been better.


Finally, the ancients in India had this to say about completeness,

"That is complete. This is also complete. From that completeness, comes this completeness. When this completeness is subtracted from that completeness, what remains is completeness."

The ancients had also recognized that the only symbol possible for completeness was what we know as "zero," with no beginning and no end. Completeness and nothingness are two sides of the same coin. Looking at the aphorism above from the lens of nothingness, we find:

"That is nothing. This is also nothing. From that nothing, comes this nothing ("nothing comes from nothing" is the foundation of physical science as we know it). When this nothing is taken away from that nothing, what remains is nothing (this is the foundation of math as we know it today: 0-0 = 0)."