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What you can learn about happiness from bullfighting.

Posted Dec 29 2008 4:56pm

Bullfighting I do a lot of reading, and one of the few downsides to that habit is that I often lose track of the source of an idea or phrase. I’ve spent hours trying to track down an anecdote or a fact that didn’t strike me as important when I read it, but that later on, I wanted to look at more closely.

Sometimes I even jot down a note without remembering to include the source. For example, I’m very intrigued with a new word: querencia. Where the heck did I come across it? I thought perhaps it was the name of a short story discussed in Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, but I can’t find it there. Oh well. For some reason, the word caught my eye, and I spent some time tracking down its meaning.

During a bull fight, the bull will sometimes stake out a particular part of the ring where it feels safe: its querencia. Perhaps it’s a corner, in a square field, or perhaps it’s a place where the bull successfully toppled a horse. Whenever the bull has a chance, it will return to its querencia.

This is a term that has great metaphoric resonance.

Each of us should find our own querencia, our sanctuary, a place to which we can retreat from the lances that pursue us. Maybe that querencia is a place, like a bedroom or a bikepath – or a mental area of refuge – or a frame of mind.

But the useful metaphor doesn’t stop there.

Apparently, the bull is often most fierce and unpredictable when it’s fighting its way to its querencia. Sometimes, perhaps, it’s so important to us to gain our querencia that we’re hurtful when anyone blocks our way. Maybe it’s so important to believe that a marriage is strong that we ignore what a spouse is saying. Maybe it’s so important to believe that a child is well-adjusted that we don’t understand what a teacher means.

Also, although the bull feels safer in its querencia, its querencia didn’t necessarily afford it any greater protection from the matador.

So what’s the lesson? Identify your querencia, find comfort in it -- but use it as a strong base, not a hiding place.

This is very relevant to me these days, because I read Munro Leaf's wonderful book, The Story of Ferdinand, at least once each day to the Little Girl. Now, Ferdinand was a bull who had found his querencia.

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Zoikes, this Smashing Magazine post has some amazing photographs of split-second events.

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