In the West of Ireland, there are very old, very sacred wells everywhere. The locals call them "blessed wells" or "holy wells." At them, you find notes to the dead, bits of ribbon, keepsakes that people have left when they've said a prayer for a child or someone who's sick. Often a local church will have a Mass out there once a year. These holy wells are everywhere, and they're part of the local imagination and have been for thousands of years.
So to me, a well, a place where the water springs eternal all year round, is a very real, blessed place to stop and think. Almost always, when I'm struggling over a particular situation, I realize that I am only looking at the surface of the problem and refusing to go for the deeper dynamic that caused all the tension in the first place.
All intimate relationships—close friendships and good marriages—are based on continued and mutual forgiveness. You will always trespass upon your friend's sensibilities at one time or another, or your spouse's. The only question is, Will you forgive the other person? And more importantly, Will you forgive yourself? We have to deepen our understanding, make ourselves more equal to circumstances, more easy with what we have been given or not given. We must drink from the deep well of things as they are.
9) Can I live a courageous life?
If you look at the root of the word "courage," it doesn't mean running under the machine-gun bullets of the enemy, wearing a Sylvester Stallone headband, with glistening biceps and bandoliers of ammunition around one's neck. The word "courage" comes from the old French word coeur meaning "heart." So "courage" is the measure of your heartfelt participation in the world.
Human beings are constantly trying to take courageous paths in their lives: in their marriages, in their relationships, in their work and with themselves. But the human way is to hope that there's a way to take that courageous step—without having one's heart broken. And it's my contention that there is no sincere path a human being can take without breaking his or her heart.
There is no marriage, no matter how happy, that won't at times find you wanting and break your heart. In raising a family, there is no way to be a good mother or father without a child breaking that parental heart. In a good job, a good vocation, if we are sincere about our contribution, our work will always find us wanting at times. In an individual life, if we are sincere about examining our own integrity, we should, if we are really serious, at times, be existentially disappointed with ourselves.
So it can be a lovely, merciful thing to think, "Actually, there is no path I can take without having my heart broken, so why not get on with it and stop wanting these extra-special circumstances which stop me from doing something courageous?"
10) Can I be the blessed saint that my future happiness will always remember?
Here's the explanation for what sounds like a strange question. I have a poem called "Coleman's Bed" about a place in the West of Ireland where the Irish saint Coleman lived. The last line of that poem calls on the reader to remember "the quiet, robust and blessed saint that your future happiness will always remember."
We go to places of pilgrimage where saints have lived, or even to Graceland, where Elvis lived, because these people gave something to the rest of us—music or good works— that has carried on down the years and that was a generous gift to the future.
But that blessed saint could also be yourself—the person who, in this moment, makes a decision that can make a bold path into the years to come and whom your future happiness will always remember. What could you do now for yourself or others that your future self would look back on and congratulate you for—something it could view with real thankfulness because the decision you made opened up the life for which it is now eternally grateful?
David Whyte is the author of The Three Marriages, Crossing the Unknown Sea, and poetry collections including River Flow and Everything is Waiting for You.
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