Book Review: The Inner Camino: A Path of Awakening

Bby Sara Hollwey and Jill Brierley
Published by Findhorn Press Scotland 2014
ISBN: 9781844094653

Reviewed by Orla Kiersey

This book comprises the accumulated professional and life experiences of Sara Hollwey and Jill Brierley, two Dublin-born sisters, one a clinical psychologist, both practicing psychotherapists. Having immersed themselves deeply and for many years in eastern and western spiritual practices and psychological theory in their work with individuals, couples and groups, this book is their attempt to unite the riches of each approach and address the shortfalls they have encountered when working with one or other style. Carolyn Myss, author of Sacred Contracts, has described it as “a stunning spiritual guide directing readers on how to walk into their soul” (personal communication with the authors, 2014).

It is a beautifully presented book with intriguing and informative diagrams and exercises built into the large fly-leaves. Inside the front cover is the colourful map of the journey to be undertaken, the ‘Inner Camino’ of the title, inspired by the Camino de Santiago. As depicted, this involves a gradual transformation of consciousness, a movement in stages from the green ‘ordinary terrain’ towards the purple ‘numinous realm’. The stages have such inviting names as Jester, Loyal Ally, Alchemist and Magician, and I was eager to be on my way.

There is an early overview in which the authors posit Intuitive Consciousness as a guide for the reader’s travels, a font of wisdom available to all once we learn to quieten and refine the ego, which they suggest operates largely out of fear and keeps us firmly tethered to earthly dramas and limited solutions. The authors look instead to often-discounted notions like imagination, insight, inspiration and intuition, which, they promise, can be accessed by people of all religions and none, once they open to their dual citizenship of both the everyday and the formless numinous realm.

Each chapter begins by telling the reader where they might now find themselves, in percentage terms, along the path to the numinous. It is probably more accurate to suggest that this is a book which needs to be read and re-read, practised and integrated into daily life in a committed way before real progress might be expected. To be fair, the authors do point out at several junctures that this will take time and daily practice, but the neatly worked-out percentages seem to promise more precise progress from chapter to chapter. Having said that, even an initial practice of the core exercise, laid out clearly in stage one, offers a sense of expansion, physical calm and peace, and increased perspective on troubling issues.

Early chapters deal with issues of personal psychology, while later parts look at the world of relationships and groups. Each is rich in insights and wisdom, replete with simple but highly effective exercises and illuminating examples. Some later chapters were a bit ‘information heavy’ and I would have liked more in-depth coverage of many issues. In addition, notions around personal identity, the precise nature of the consciousness we are endeavouring to inhabit and the place of free will in this scheme could use further development. For example, on page 103 the authors themselves highlight some complexities regarding personal identity:

This stage begs the question; who am I? Do I have a core essential identity by which everyone knows me throughout my life, or am I simply an aggregate of different roles? If we can simply shapeshift into being whoever we want, what happens to the unchanging sense of self that continues over our lifetime?

However, while acknowledging that these are “good questions” they conclude “in fact they are beside the point”, leaving this reader feeling that an important discussion had been sidestepped.

The book moves the reader increasingly towards the laws of synchronicity, which the authors believe underlie the universe and they point to the power we each hold to “manifest miracles in our lives” (Hollwey and Brierley, 2014: 202). Even on my third reading I have a way to go to subscribe fully to the notion of the mysteries of manifestation. My pesky ego and rational science-biased brain keep getting in my way! However, keeping a flirt diary as suggested in Stage 6, Crazy Wisdom, which asks the reader to take notice of things which catch our attention and which we may previously have ignored as irrelevant, yielded some interesting and surprising results. Watch this space! In addition, working on my triggers and hooks, learning how to detach with warmth from dramas and dilemmas, seeing the divine in others, finding the pearl of wisdom gifted to me by my disturber, as well as embracing the generosity of spirit, the kindness and integrity inherent in this book, has had a noticeable and affirming effect on my life and relationships.

I was reminded to step outside repetitive scripts and stories, to engage with the world from a larger, more expanded place, not to cling to my wounds (it costs me!), and to laugh fondly at life’s conundrums. I got clear, practical help with struggles around self-love and useful ways to handle my critic. All of which lead me to hope fervently for a follow-up tome for therapists, as there is so much here which would enrich client work.

This is a wonderful book, threaded throughout with fable and myth, profound yet eminently practical, reminding us that we have greatness within us, and opening us to our ability to bring about the miraculous in our lives. It points the reader towards the divine while never losing touch with ‘real life’ where its gifts will be legion. More than a book; a colourful, freeing, playful, enriching journey, and one well worth undertaking.