Patrick Kavanagh on the matter of human contentment

The Happiness Bulletin, #82: Flowing like water, being like water, sitting by water

This post was originally sent to the “Happiness Bulletin” email subscribers. Sign up here to receive that short email on life, living and happiness every Saturday morning.

Welcome to Saturday, and thank you for opening this week’s email

This week’s email is mostly about water.

Why?

Because water is cleansing, and life-giving. Because scientists say we are more than 60% water, and our most vital organs, our heart and our brain, are more than 70% water. Because water offers the opportunity for play and the threat of danger. Because water is the most mysterious of substances (see Neil DeGrasse Tyson bullet below).

  • A short poem by John O’Donohue
    John O’Donohue was 52 when he died suddenly in 2008. He wrote best-selling books of philosophy and spiritual development, including Anam Cara. [In the Irish language, “anam cara” means “soul friend”.]
    “Fluent” is a tiny poem about life.
    I would love to live
    Like a river flows,
    Carried by the surprise
    Of its own unfolding.
  • The philosophy of actor and martial artist master Bruce Lee, who was just 32 when he died in 1973.
    “Running water never goes stale, so you gotta just keep on flowing … Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put it in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
  • Kavanagh’s advice for happiness
    I spoke to a friend this week who said he’d met one of Ireland’s best loved poets by chance last year. He asked him, “What’s it all about? Give me one piece of advice”. The poet quickly replied with a short story about Patrick Kavanagh, the great Irish poet who died in 1967. Kavanagh spoke about not caring as the key to happiness.
    Kavanagh on “the matter of human contentment”,
    Something that I might say is the very heart of the matter of human contentment or as near as we can get. This is the secret of learning how not to care. Not caring is really a sense of values and feeling of confidence. A man who cares is not the master. And one can observe this in the matter of simple singing in the rain or in a pub. The fellows who around Christmas sing in pubs are not just chaps enjoying themselves. Enjoying themselves has nothing to do with it. They are expressing themselves. This is their art, their reason for existence. And they are usually very humble and ashamed of their own selves, for they always assume the part of some singing star or other. No wonder I squirm. I do not blame them; few people have the courage to be themselves. And when they do appear themselves it is all put on with spadefuls of bravado. It took me many years to learn or relearn not to care. The heart of a song singing it, or a poem writing it, is not caring.
    I bring up Kavanagh here because of the presence of water in his poetry, perhaps most memorably in “Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin”

    O commemorate me where there is water,
    Canal water, preferably, so stilly
    Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
    Commemorate me thus beautifully
    Where by a lock niagarously roars
    The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
    Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
    Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.
    A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
    Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges –
    And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
    And other far-flung towns mythologies.
    O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
    Tomb – just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.

Thanks for reading.

I wish you a great weekend and week, and I’ll see you back here next Saturday.

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Shane