A poem a day...
...keeps a doctor away???
So, I don't have a randomized control trial to prove this but bear with me. Especially for those who don't like poetry or say they "don't get it." It's not for everyone, all of the time. And I am not asking you to make it your new literary genre of choice, but there just might be a way to include it into your life as a wellness tool.
I can admit that I don't always "get" poetry or rather that sometimes it does not satisfy me the way a good book or even a mesmerizing blog post can. But it was in fact my personal gateway into creative writing. I haven't written poetry in several years but it was the primary way I expressed what was going on in my head initially. My parents still have framed poems in their house that I gave them as gifts during that time. One tributing my mother's role in my life and one celebrating my cultural heritage. Whenever I see them, I am amazed that I wrote them. Not because I don't have pride in my writing gifts but because they capture past moments of thought so well that I could not have written them today. They are snapshots in time that now sit in the poem written precisely for that moment.
But these days, poetry has presence in my life in two roles that have become integral to my overall wellness.
The first is at the dinner table. Yep, you knew we would get back to food in some way! We have a collection of poetry next to our dinner table, both written solely for kids or families as well as "regular" poetry for adults. And it is a common occurrence that during the week, we will read a poem together as a family either before or maybe during the meal. Now, remember all those health benefits we discussed when we invite gratitude to the table in my prior blog post? I explained how gratitude could be used as a tool for bringing ourselves to the present moment, and thus impacting digestion in a positive way.
Well, poetry is another tool for this. One of us recites a poem, we all take it in and maybe, we discuss it or just let it be there with us. But what we have all done is stopped, taken a moment together, out of our heads and brought ourselves to the present moment. I have such gratitude for these moments. Even when earth shattering impressions aren't made. Sometimes, in fact, the poem is humorous or we don't understand it but in that moment, we have stopped the train of thoughts about how our day went and what we are worried about tonight or tomorrow. We have simply come to the table, listened to the poem and we are together. An excerpt from one of our recent random selections, from When I am Among Trees by Mary Oliver...
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”
I will let you take what you want from that selection but suffice it to say that I needed that kind of encouragement that day. I needed this kind of nurturing advice in that goal and task oriented day, "...to go easy..." Sometimes a poem can say to you what others cannot.
The other role poetry has taken for me is one of a spiritual teacher. I have used so many poems as inspiration and teaching in how to manage this thing called life. In times of pain and suffering, sometimes I need words in a way that no counseling session or friend can offer me. I need the learning to be encapsulated so neatly in a short passage so I can take that in and allow myself to feel the power of the unsaid in it as well. The way an adept poet can capture a moment or an idea in a paragraph is a true art. A gift. One of my favorite poems for this is by Rumi, called "The Guest House." You may have read this iconic poem but if not, trust me, it can become a go to in times of confusion and pain.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks
Each emotion is a honorable guest, invite them all in. Let that land in your heart. Think about that. We so often resist the so called "negative" emotions, hoping they will go away or wanting them to be something we can "deal with" better. But what if they are all just unexpected, but needed visitors? What if they are "...clearing you out for some new delight?" How do you know if you push them away? I come back to this poem over and over when I am feeling fear, grief, anger, jealousy, all of those emotions that I would rather not have, but have needed to learn how suffering can be a source of strength. (That sounds like it a necessary future blog post, right?!)
I am so very grateful for the gift of poetry. For a writer's ability to capture a moment in a way that changes my own.
What will be your poetry this week? What will be the words that move you? Like I said, I don't have a study to show that a poem a day keeps the doctor away. But if I were you, I wouldn't wait for the double blinded trial. I would see how it feels for yourself. Integrate a poem into your nightly gratitude journal or into your family meal. Or maybe you capture moments by writing them down yourselves?
Let me know if you want a list of poetry to start out with. Finding your own is part of the process as well but I am happy to share.
Next time you inhale the present moment, take in a poem with it. It might just transform your present moment into a more powerful one.
Live (and read) well,