Mindfulness practice is all about helping us move beyond our conceptions of the world into our direct lived experience. The irony is that we have to use language and concepts as a way to point to this. This is where poetry comes in, and has helped us move beyond ourselves through composing and reading it. Please share any poetry that has inspired or guided you along your own personal journey here.
Here’s one for all of us who keep getting more and more snow this winter…
Shoveling Snow With Buddha (by Billy Collins)
In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.
Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.
Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?
But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.
This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.
He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.
All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.
After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?
Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.
Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.
Most of Mary Oliver’s work moves me deeply…here’s one~
Why I Wake Early
by Mary Oliver
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
First, the fish needs to say
Something’s not right about this camel ride
And I’m feeling so damn thirsty.
The Animal Soul
There’s part of us that’s like an itch
Call it the animal soul, a foolishness
That when we’re in it, we make
Hundreds of others around us itchy
And there is an intelligent soul
With another desire, more like sweet basil
Or the feel of a breeze
Listen and be thankful even for scolding
That comes from the intelligent soul
It flows out close to where you flowed out
But that itchiness wants to put food
In our mouths that will make us sick
Feverish with the aftertaste of kissing
A donkey’s rump. It’s like blackening your
Against a kettle without being anywhere
Near a table of companionship
The truth of a being human is an empty
Made of soul-intelligence
Gradually reduce what you give your
The bread that after all overflows from sunlight
The animal soul itself spilled out
And sprouted from the other
Taste more often what nourishes your
And you’ll have less use for the smoky
You’ll bury that baking equipment in the
Thank you Brian Spako. Animal soul may be a new favorite! Eileen
I Am So Glad
Start seeing everything as God,
But keep it a secret.
Become like a man who is Awestruck
Listening to a Golden Nightingale
Sing in a beautiful foreign language
While God invisibly nests
Upon its tongue.
Who can you tell in this world
That when a dog runs up to you
Wagging its ecstatic tail,
You lean down and whisper in its ear,
I am so glad You are happy to see me.
I am so glad,
So very glad You have come.”
Thank you Ann, beautiful
“One word, one action, one thought can reduce another persons suffering and bring that person Joy.” Thich Nhat Hanh
By John O’Donohue
When the light around you lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside . . .
Know that you are not alone
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.
Close your eyes,
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark.
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.
A new confidence will come alive
To urge you toward higher ground
Where your imagination
Will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!
This is one of my favorites for Class #2 after the 9 dots exercise!!
Danna Fauld - Outside The Box
Maybe there’s no box to think outside.
Maybe there’s no lock, no door, no key. Perhaps there’s just the scared, small me holding tight to turf
that isn’t mine,
trying to be somebody.
I struggle for release.
I seek and strive,
all the while failing to see
The only walls in front
of me are those
I’ve built myself,
the fortress of my personality so well defended it seems impenetrable.
What I create,
I can take down - or maybe I am free right now.
Not sure how Australia’s Living National Treasure - Michael Leunig - works across seas. Here are a couple I like.
Come sit down beside me I said to myself
And although it doesn’t make sense
I took my own hand
As a small sign of trust
And together I sat on the fence
Anyone can get a life,
Anyone can lose it,
But who will dare to inhabit the thing and use it?
A lived-in life
Will soon get loose and worn
From use and feeling:
Countless tiny scratches
The shine goes off,
It’s very unappealing.
Dirt builds up,
A load of muck and grit;
A part of you gets lost;
A hope, a philosophy,
Or a love that doesn’t fit.
Another broken sleep,
A dream collapses;
A quick repair, it’s worth a try.
A scrap of string from the soul,
Perhaps a battered grin will fill the hole.
Or just a sigh.
Flakes and cracks!
A major idea buckles badly,
A makeshift support is put up quickly;
A tired old joke could hide the dint,
Or be a wedge or a patch or a splint,
Truly, sweetly, sadly.
And yet it works and lives!
It all still goes. It forgives.
It’s a miracle!
Worn in, bashed in, cried in,
And the great thing-
A lived in life can be happily died in.
I love John O’Donohue’s work and have used this at the start of an 8 week course…
For a New Beginning…
In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
When the Going Gets Tough…by Katrina Kenison
When the going gets tough may I resist my first impulse to wade in, fix, explain, resolve, and restore. May I sit down instead.
When the going gets tough may I be quiet. May I steep for a while in stillness.
When the going gets tough may I have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. May I remember that my life is what it is, not what I ask for. May I find the strength to bear it, the grace to accept it, the faith to embrace it.
When the going gets tough may I practice with what I’m given, rather than wish for something else. When the going gets tough may I assume nothing. May I not take it personally. May I opt for trust over doubt, compassion over suspicion, vulnerability over vengeance.
When the going gets tough may I open my heart before I open my mouth.
When the going gets tough may I be the first to apologize. May I leave it at that. May I bend with all my being toward forgiveness.
When the going gets tough may I look for a door to step through rather than a wall to hide behind.
When the going gets tough may I turn my gaze up to the sky above my head, rather than down to the mess at my feet. May I count my blessings.
When the going gets tough may I pause, reach out a hand, and make the way easier for someone else. When the going gets tough may I remember that I’m not alone. May I be kind.
When the going gets tough may I choose love over fear. Every time.
In honor of baseball season–this poem has inspired me for many years.
“Baseball” by Linda Pastan
When you tried to tell me
baseball was a metaphor
for life: the long dusty travail
around the bases, for instance,
to try to go home again;
the Sacrifice for which you win
approval but not applause;
the way the light closes down
in the last days of the season–
I didn’t believe you.
It’s just a way of passing
the time, I said.
And you said: That’s it.
Someone already mentioned Mary Oliver, but this poem of hers has stayed with me for a long time.
“Some Questions You Might Ask”
Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus,
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple tree?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about grass?
Love this, thank you so much!!
I shared this poem at the TDI in Ireland last week and found it touched many hearts, it is a short poem by Ilsa Thielan, a German poet, living in the West or Ireland. Enjoy, Donna Curtin
My heart is not empty
even if I never touch you
or our paths never cross again
I am still enchanted, by that moment
that split second, of recognition
I love this story. It reminds me of how I was planting in our veg garden; specifically 32 squash plants, 4 each of 8 varieties.
Preparing the bed. Removing the weeds. Tilling the soil. Removing the rocks. Interesting how the frost grows rocks in New England.
Spreading the powdered lime. Making sure it is even, not sure why. Looks so pretty against the dark soil…
Taking a break. Doing Standing Yoga in the grass next to the garden.
The birds are loud.
Getting a drink.
Answeing a client call.
Jot down the time.
The garden beckons.
Laying out the plants, each in its own pot transferred from the seeded starters weeks before.
Digging a hole, Shoveling in the horse manure. Handful of organic fertilizer.
Setting out each variety by type
Standing up occasionally.
Stretching Yoga Moves
Glad I used sun screen on my back
Its getting warm
The crows are speaking to each other
The smell of the garden is overwhelmingly strong
Wondering how I ever got to be this lucky
Gently coaxing the plant roots out of their pots
Carefully, placing each in its own hole
All plants in the ground.
Hear the birds. Sun is warm.
Surely the afternoon is gone.
The client beckons.
Go in to speak.
Glance at the time.
Seemed like 2 hours was only 20 minutes.