Thoughts for a new year

I haven’t written anything for so long, hardly even journal entries, so it was quite a surprise today to be sitting in the car, unusually travelling in the back, and for words to come unexpectedly. I was in the back because my father in law was coming to stay and needed to be in the front with J. I was musing on how I felt at the start of this visit compared to other visits and these words came to me:

“If I let my mind stop insisting
that all will not be well,
I can feel a small sense
of peace I hear tell from others
more serene than myself”

This after I had read Mary Oliver’s powerful poem, Snow Geese

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was
a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun
so they were, in part at least, golden. I
held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.
The geese
flew on,
I have never seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

What gorgeous gifts to receive on New Year’s Day!

The Alchemy of Poetry

The next few months look like they will hot up in the writing life stakes. I have joined a local writing group where the majority of members seem to be poets, and I am attending a local (different) group where, at the January meeting, I am due to read my own work to the unsuspecting public (which is really other, very sympathetic, poets!) I have also signed up for a four-month course to learn the craft of poetry creation more formally, and I am looking forward to this very much indeed.  It has a well-known poet as the tutor and only a small group of students so I should get some good feedback and learn lots.

This exposition takes care of what is happening out in the external world to feed the soul with new inputs and to create threads to hold me to the work that I need to do, but that is only half the story. Recently I have been thinking about the alchemy of poetry and the connection it has to my heart and soul. The ability for what look like ordinary words on the page to take on this magical property when in the right order and turn into an exquisite masterpiece of language and meaning – to make something opaque appear transparent, (or even something always thought of as clear look opaque!)

Through the work of David Whyte and Oriah MD, plus many other more, I have seen poetry work on a soulful level. The books by Roger Housden  in the series “Ten poems  to…”,  particularly the first one “Ten Poems to Change Your Life” are full of such work, and essays about how they have done just that. These writers make for inspirational reading. Sometimes though it is hard to see what it is that is being said – there is a certain way to look at poetry, a bit of an art to reading and absorbing a poem (like the art needed when looking at Magic Eye 3D pictures from my younger days!).

Kim Rosen says the following in her book “Saved by a Poem: The transformative power of words”:

In order to enter poetry’s language, your grip on habitual, left-brained ways of processing information needs to soften. Somehow we know how to do this with music and art. You probably wouldn’t try to figure out the exact meaning of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing. Nor are you likely to do a pragmatic analysis of an abstract painting by Georgia O’Keeffe or Jackson Pollock. You feel these art forms. You allow associations to play through your awareness. You let your linear mind relax and go for the ride.

As you read poems, listen to them, and speak them aloud, try meeting them as you would a piece of music. Allow your rational, linear brain to relax. Dare to not understand, to lose your grip on making sense of the words. Let the images, like musical notes, pour over you. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard writes that poetry “comes before thought . . . [R]ather than being a phenomenology of the mind, [poetry] is a phenomenology of the soul.”

This is beginning to make sense to me; the alchemy of turning words into poetry and the language of the soul. I hope to be doing more of this in my own work and finding the soul food in others’ poetry as I really start to understand and appreciate the magic in making of verse.


The mindful life

In my new life I have been introduced more fully to mindfulness by J. In my old life I had read about meditation in Charlotte Joko Beck’s  “Everyday Zen” and “Being Zen” by Ezra Bayda, books well received in their field where both were said to explore the subject with an admirable clarity, but to me they were like reading about a strange land in a foreign language. Even if I tried to be mindful I really didn’t seem to grasp it. Although I was curious and receptive I do not think I was ready, not ripe for the mindful life, there were other things in my emotional and mental inner world that needed attention first.image

Moving on ten years, then J and I started practicing mindful meditation with John Kabat-Zinn’s material back in the summer of 2012 when the proverbial hit the fan emotionally. It was a way to uncover the falsehood in my thinking; the believing it represents reality. From this work, I discovered our thoughts “are real but not true” to quote Tara Brach, another great teacher in this spiritual tradition. Also that leaning into feelings rather than attempting to suppress them helps to disempower and dissipate them as they are contacted through the sensations in the body – ‘befriending’ them as Mark Williams et al write in their book “The Mindful Way Through Depression”.

Not for the first time I have had the incredible experience of returning to a book that I had “read” in  my younger days and finding that the words make startling sense this time. The meditation books, the books on Buddhist philosophy and practice are now full of clarity for me, and I understand more absolutely not just with intellect; a felt sense of knowing you might say. Since their first reading a huge amount of life has happened; deaths, divorces, depressions, redundancy, relocation and remarriage for starters, but also my mind has been opened by the teachings and experiences of the writers and luminaries of the Buddhist and eastern traditions.

The bigger shift has been into practice; it is one thing to read about all this stuff, but quite another to put it to use as a formal practice of meditation. I started sitting for a 20 or 30 minutes meditation back in the early summer and now want to make a daily practice. Conversation with J deduced that my practices (meditation, writing, exercise) all need a stronger discipline, some order to make them a reality on a daily basis, or at least more regular practice than once or twice a week. In this new life I need to allow a routine to evolve and a new wellbeing practice to emerge that involves all the things I love…