Poetry as Mindfulness

Misty morning - HFF!

by Janice Falls

I want to tell you something.

This morning is bright after all the steady rain, and every iris,
peony, rose, opens its mouth, rejoicing.

I want to say, wake up, open your eyes, there’s a snow-covered road
ahead, a field of blankness, a sheet of paper, an empty screen.

Barbara Crooker, “Listen” (1-5)

There is much to instruct us in the
practice of mindfulness to be found in poetry. Its presence in my life has
deepened my practice in ways I could not have imagined. When I am reading a
poem that touches me, I am immersed in the images, the musicality and beauty of
the language, the felt sense that the words create – I am nowhere else. Not all
poems have this effect of course but those that do are soul medicine.


I have been collecting favourite poems for several years now, posting on my blog Heart Poemswhere I share my thoughts and feelings without any analysis or explanation of the poem’s meaning. For me, a poem that resonates is like my breath, a focal point in the chaos of my day that gently holds me in the here and now. So often I hear from readers of Heart Poems that a particular poem met them at the exact place and time in their life when those words were most needed. How does that happen? This is the magic a certain poem may work when it is true for you.

It’s easy to lose this tenderly unfolding moment.

Look for it as if it were the first green blade
after a long winter.

Listen for it as if it were the first clear tone
in a place where dawn is heralded by bells.

Pat Schneider, “Instructions for the Journey” (8-13)

A quote from the American poet
Muriel Rukeyser says “This moment is real, this moment is what we have, this
moment in which we face each other and if a poem is any damn good at all, it
invites you to bring your whole life to that moment and we are good poets
inasmuch as we bring that invitation to you, and you are good readers inasmuch
as you bring your whole life to the reading of the poem.”

Autumn Mist

To read a poem with full attention
is to be in the present moment without judgement, simply aware of the music of
the words, the effect on me as I hear them. Poetry is best appreciated spoken
aloud, hearing the rhythm and syntax and diction as they come together in this
unique collection of words. Poetry slows us down in a way that prose does not –
shorter lines, white space, succinct words all conspire to bring us into the
moment of reading or listening – until the next distraction interrupts our
attention, after which we can return to the poem, much like the breath. Some
poems ask, even demand, of us attention that excludes the outside world, the
mundane and complex worries of living a life in this century. They invite us
into a world of raw beauty or despair, consoling or challenging through their
carefully chosen language.

All day he works at his cousin’s mill, so when he gets home at night, he always sits at this one window, sees one time of day, twilight.

There should be more time like this, to sit and dream.

It’s as his cousin says:

Living—living takes you away from sitting.

Louise Glück, “Twilight” (1-6)

Poetry is a subjective experience; we each respond to it differently. These excerpts are small tastes of longer poems, available to read in full by clicking on the title. I hope these few words are enough to entice you to explore poetry, especially if you are one who says you don’t like it or don’t understand it. Though you may not understand every line, the whole of it may call to you, may sing your own song. There is a presence in poems that invites us to pay attention, to stop, breathe, focus. It is there that we are mindful of the life we are living, that we can come home to ourselves, if only for a moment.

It’s impossible to be lonely when you’re zesting an orange.

Scrape the soft rind once and the whole room fills with fruit.

Look around: you have more than enough.

Always have.

You just didn’t notice until now.

Amy Schmidt, “Abundance”

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