I was with some young people during the Christmas holiday. I liked them a lot and wanted them to flourish, for all our sakes. They were vividly awake to the difficulties in front of them, and were discussing how to take their next steps, what risks and uncertainty seemed justifiable, what strategies to deploy for their talents to gain purchase and credit, for their lives to mean something and not go waste. Feeling for them, I remembered an image I have turned to before, the dry-fly fisherrman, a sort of “Zen and the Art of…”
The young people seemed to like it, so I have set it out here too, this New Year’s Eve.
Picture the dry-fly fisherman.
There he stands in the flow of the stream, thigh-deep in water. The current whirls around and past him. But he is concentrated, his movements circumscribed and pre-ordained.
He flexes his back and arms, to send the rod arching on before him so that the line flashes further still across the surface of the water. Yards and yards of perfect reach. The fly comes to rest, an inch or two above the surface, but too briefly to be seen, and then flicks back – over and behind the fisherman’s head – as he and the rod flex again and the long oval continues and continues.
And all the while as the water gurgles, the rod and line are singing as if a strong wind is using them as reeds.
The fisherman stays intent. He is the centre of each cast and it relies absolutely on the committed perfection of all his movements. He takes joy in his action, in his placing, in his place, in this time. If he thought of a catch, a hit, an end, he would lose equanimity and his cast would suffer, making the catch less likely. He is given over entirely to his instruments and their proper deployment, this moment and its proper living.
Let the fisherman keep casting his line. Let each cast seem to hang in the air as the next one comes to join it.
Let him persist in his joy and continue endlessly prolific with his casting.
I remember this picture whenever I become distraught at my lack of progress or achievement !