Tag Archives: well-being


Ah, just home from an evening at the spa. After being rubbed like an old lamp, I emerged into a cloud of steam like a genie and splashed around in the water like a naiad, and now I feel sprightly. My spirits are raised – not as in a séance, but as in bienséance, bienêtre. Well-being.

That’s the word in spas, displayed proudly in the logo of this one: well-being. I see it a lot, not just in spas but anywhere good health is being marketed or enjoined. I see it as an open compound (well being), a closed-up one (wellbeing), and a hyphenated one (well-being). Well, being a transparent compound of basic Anglo-Saxon parts as it is, its variety of forms is unsurprising. It’s almost as though it’s being re-coined every time.

Anyway, spirits come in a variety of forms. Spirits? Mmhmm. I can’t see this word without thinking of a sprite, a naiad, one of those wet spirits that dwell in wells. No, I don’t mean well drinks, i.e., the cheap wet spirits they pour at the bar. For the well-being you don’t leave your coins in a pool of stale gin; you toss them in the water and make a wish. If you’re lucky, you may get a message; if you’re at a spa, you may get a massage.

But, of course, since my vocation is equivocation, you may take it as given that all that is well is not “well”, and vice versa. We all want to be the well that is whole, but we mostly don’t want to be the well that is hole. Wellness is the wellspring of being, and water is the stuff of life, but we want to be true to ourselves, not trous to ourselves. And yet we can’t help being our own wells: not just the source of water but the hole we fall into. To quote a poem I wrote years ago:

Well it is like
water one moment your
head is above one
below sometimes you fly
high above the surface
sometimes you sink below
into the depths where
air and light are
barely more than memory
but always you return
when you stop flapping
you fall when you
stop swimming you float
(where did I get
this stone I’m holding)
Well I am in
the water and the
water is in me
I will not drown
or fall but sometimes
oh often I struggle

But remember that the only way we have water in the well is because it came down from above before. It’s always a cycle. You are your own well-being, and the water is in you as you are in it, but it all comes from somewhere else. To quote another poem:

I am in love with
the possibility, I can only
become by not being, I
choose to lose, I am
my own hole in which
all is lost so I
may find it, it may
spring forth like water I
have never tasted. But always
I must forget so that
I may see fresh, I
must believe I am not
well, I am not hole,
I am only the seeker
longing to find the way
to the spring, wandering through
the desert with the map
forgotten in my back pocket.

You can’t always get what you want, but if you get it it’s only because you didn’t have it – or thought you didn’t have it – before. Is that well-being? It may not seem to be the spirit of the spa, but I throw money into the spa and, after rubbing and steam and splashing, the genie emerges – and it’s me again.

Note: trous is French for “holes”.