Let’s have more of that inward gaze…


What do I wish for this new year? Well, it’s nothing tangible and it has to do with something Carl Jung said: “Who looks outside dreams, who looks inside awakes.”

In a culture where we spend our time racing around in answer to external demands it’s a thought-provoking statement. It was echoed by the late Gerry Robinson in a recorded programme on RTE’s Nationwide recently. The Irish born businessman spoke about the way that the pandemic had helped us understand the importance of “being a bit more inwards”.

It was a focus that the retired business executive and former chairman of Granada TV was practising himself, painting landscapes and using the carpentry he learned from his father to make garden seats for the beautiful grounds he created around his Donegal home Oakville. That inwardness, drawing on his imagination and creativity, had clearly brought Gerry fulfillment.

The magic of inwardness turns up in all kinds of places. While in Todi, a glorious hilltop town in Umbria a few years ago, I went to visit the Casa Dipinta, (the Painted House.) This is the extraordinary second home of artist Brian O’Doherty and his wife, the art historian Barbara Novak. The kitchen/ living area is painted with vibrant pastel representations of the Ogham alphabet. Upstairs vivid geometric designs represent times of the day and trompe l’oeil views.

Brian returns to Todi each summer during the annual August festival there from his New York base. When back he climbs a rickety ladder to add to his unique interior design. Brian, born in 1928 in Ballaghadreen, Co. Roscommon, and who has lived in New York for over 50 years, is a striking example of someone who, in later life is vital, refuses to allow age to confine him to stage, appearing much younger than his years. What keeps him evergreen is a passion rooted in creativity: one that gets him out of bed in the morning to continue contributing and, yes, to climb ladders aged 93.

The great thing about that inward look to imagination is that the resulting creations in all kinds of forms reach outward to others, offering uplifting experiences for everyone to enjoy in all kinds of settings. It’s something that Irish people have a gift for, especially in literature, theatre and music where that interior world of imagination, no matter where the individual is located, results in works which reach all over the world and down through the centuries. Think of James Joyce, far from home in Trieste, conjuring the Dublin life of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses.

But imagination can result in all kinds of other experiences. Just to mention a few: to cheer these dark nights there is the Wild Lights tour of iconic sights around the world at Dublin Zoo and a magical Lightscape with an Alice in Wonderland theme created with recycled lightening at Lough Crew estate in the Boyne Valley. Brightening the streetscapes is the New Ross walls project with vibrant paintings with Norman themes, while Waterford has wall art with Viking themes. And in the Observer’s home there was the 2021 Kilkenny Catwalk Art trail: all projects to boost civic pride and a sense of heritage.

Listening in to reactions during lockdown there were clues about the way people were looking inwards and were surprised to find themselves happy, busy with things they loved doing: writing, painting, cooking, designing, or as one musician put it: “engaging with my muse.” And that can be the side of ourselves it’s all too easy to touch with in our high-pressurise lifestyles.

Don’t let’s lose that inward gaze, let’s have more of it.

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