And for that, I shall tell you, that in ancient times a debate hath risen, and it remains yet unresolved, whether the happiness of man in this world doth consist more in contemplation or action? Concerning which, some have endeavoured to maintain their opinion of the first; by saying, that the nearer we mortals come to God by way of imitation, the more happy we are. And they say, that God enjoys himself only, by a contemplation of his own infiniteness, eternity, power, and goodness, and the like. And upon this ground, many cloisteral men of great learning and devotion, prefer contemplation before action...
And on the contrary, there want not men of equal authority and credit, that prefer action to be the more excellent; as namely, experiments in physick, and the application of it, both for the ease and prolongation of man's life; by which each man is enabled to act and do good to others, either to serve his country, or do good to particular persons: and they say also, that action is doctrinal, and teaches both art and virtue, and is a maintainer of human society; and for these, and other like reasons, to be preferred before contemplation.
Concerning which two opinions I shall forbear to add a third, by declaring my own; and rest myself contented in telling you, my very worthy friend, that both these meet together, and do most properly belong to the most honest, ingenuous, quiet, and harmless art of angling.
I wrote a post today, and I was unhappy with it, because it was not good. It was the worst mix of banal and preachy. It was unreflective, and the ills it identified I proposed no concrete solution for. It had form and no substance. It was all rhetoric, and it was not in the spirit of the angler, that being the most peaceable spirit of humanity.
I am now sitting on my porch, writing this article, and I am unhappy with it. Even while it sits incomplete. I am unhappy because I am not fishing.
Angling provides an outlet for me. It is both action and reflection, motion and pause, seeking without the desire to take.
Every fishing excursion begins with ritual. I decide on the location or quarry, and I load the car. I pack what I need, and I hope nothing more. I drive, park the car, and walk to my location. I unburden myself of gear, rig my rod, bait my hook, and cast.
Then I sit. I sit and I imagine. I imagine what is happening in the water. Where is the current pushing food? Where are the baitfish congregating? What are the larger fish hunting? What are they avoiding? Where is the wind blowing? What are the larger fish avoiding? Perhaps the current is too strong here, the depth wrong there, the sun to bright there. What does the fish desire, what does it abhor? I recast, or I don't.
Then my mind drifts. To the birds, the sound of people in the distance, the thought of fish uncaught, untempted by bait. To my family, to old friends, to the vagaries of my day, to the words said and unsaid.
And then I am lost in contemplation. Stone still. Unevaluating, only thinking. I have neither want nor worry. There is only this moment, these data, this feeling. In the world swirling with motion, I am unmoving.
There is an ineffable calm in this. The ritual provides the circumstance for reprieve, calculated movements that provide the opportunity for serenity. In a world too full of people, I am alone.
Even in excursions which involve others, this experience is felt. All present are forced to focus on the tightness of the lines, the vibration of the current. There is only the moment at hand. The light reflects upon the water. The wind fractures the light. The cool breeze brushes our faces, and the beer quenches the moments of thirst, completing the sensory experience.
This is the zenith of fishing for me. The nadir of self-invested consciousness. If a fish pulls my line, I am ready for it. If it takes the bait of another, I am equally prepared, and equally elated. There is both self and an absence of selfhood. We are fishing, and I am fishing. Nothing else registers.
And when a fish bites, there is a fight. The fish pulls, we pull back. Give and take. The fish surfaces, is netted reluctantly, and we admire it. We share this moment with the fish, and then return it to its water.
This is the difference between meditation and contemplation. Meditation has no end, no goal, no object. Contemplation requires an object. Upon that Object all other things hinge. Both objects and subjects hinge on this Object, and are thought of in reference to It. The world for some finite time has an Archedmedian point by which to move the universe. We are all centered upon it. Angling is contemplative at its very core.
Angling provides for me the opportunity to imagine an objective reference to everything else in my life. And once achieved, it is released. Sent back to its own world and constellations, free to navigate its own way home.
Angling is honest. You cannot cheat your way into fish. They bite or they do not. There is no bribing a fish except by honest offering of bait or artifice.
Angling is ingenious. There is nothing except earnest labor and hard earned skill that can convince a fish to bite.
Angling is quiet. To imagine the world outward, the angler must force himself to focus inward. The angler is absorbed in thought, tied by one tiny string to the world outside him, and all his will must be channeled through it.
And angling is, at its best, harmless. I have never met an angler dedicated to his craft that does not love the fish he seeks, always hoping to impose the minimum harm upon it. I have never met an angler dedicated to his craft that does not see some camaraderie with fellow fishermen, or fail to cultivate the greatest affection and affinity among them.
Happiness is a cool breeze, a bend in the rod, and the company of those who share one's simple pleasure.
Please accept this as a testimony of the honest, ingenious, quiet, and harmless art of angling.