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A Piece of My Mind
August 1, 2017

The Paradox of Mindfulness: Seamus Heaney’s “St Kevin and the Blackbird”

Author Affiliations
  • 1Penn State College of Medicine, Department of Humanities, Hershey, Pennsylvania
JAMA. 2017;318(5):427-428. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.6164

When the acute fatigue of, say, a long weekend on call becomes chronic—a relentless grind of heavy clinics day in and day out, and after-hours charting—even physicians who are earnestly committed to mindful engagement with their patients can lose the ability to stay fully present. In his poem about the sixth-century Irish St Kevin, Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney offers an encouraging perspective on mindfulness in the midst of exhaustion.1 In keeping with his general preference for private moments that reveal something essential about a person’s character, Heaney presents Kevin in this poem less a perfectly pious saint than a humble, warm-hearted man who takes his responsibilities to all living creatures quite—and quietly—seriously. From this vantage point, it is not difficult to draw comparisons between Kevin and any number of physicians who give fully of themselves to those who are entrusted to their care.

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