Thursday, March 11, 2010


I've always loved haiku and now, as my teaching schedule fills more of my time, their simplicity and quiet beauty provide a haven from the busy details of workshop venues, handout numbers and flight arrangements.

For years, I have kept a copy of Morning Mist: Thoreau and Basho Through the Seasons by Mary Kullberg, at my bedside for reading before I go to sleep. Invariably, my eye skips Thoreau's passages to rest on the peaceful images of Matsuo Basho, the seventeenth century haiku master. It wasn't until the past week, though, while reading Haiku - The Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines by Margaret D. McGee, that I began to think about writing haiku as a means of practicing mindfulness.

Being present in the moment, not worrying about the future or fretting about the past, is both a sign and a source of wellness. We encourage people seeking Compassion Fatigue resilience or a life of wellness in the presence of Chronic Sorrow to develop a meditation practice or to take "awareness pauses" throughout the day. But what about a practice of writing haiku?

Haiku is a three line form of Japanese verse known for distilling the essence of a moment in time and place through strong nature imagery. Writing Haiku invites us to place ourselves "in the moment" and then to capture the experiences of those moments on paper. The haiku we write put forth the images we see rather than explanations of those images.

frozen to tree-bark
morning silence
Doris Horton Thurston

the male pheasant
owns the road
Alice Frampton

In the rainy dusk
the flamboyant hibiscus
creates its own sunset.

Quietly quietly
the yellow petals fall -
the sound of the rapids

Margaret McGee, an American Episcopal spiritual retreat leader and author, whose work draws from Judism, Islam, Buddhism and ancient Christianity, says that, "Writing haiku can be a consciously spiritual practice for seekers of any faith tradition or no tradition". As we allow ourselves a few moments to notice and to write, we are offered the chance to:

... honour, hold, and fully experience a fleeting moment that takes you out of yourself, a moment that hints at the deeper unity that lies beneath the surface of things.

Margaret McGee offers those interested in developing a haiku-writing practice, basic information about the process of writing haiku and several exercises including a challenge to write 100 haiku in 100 days, with little or no censorship. I think I may take up that challenge. The mere thought of remembering to notice nature, intentionally, every day, makes my body relax. If you, too, would like to consider haiku as part of your spiritual practice you might be interested in reading Margaret's book and in joining me in the 100 day challenge.


Satia said...

I had not heard of McGee's book so thank you for sharing it. You might enjoy the following as well:

Seeds from a Birch Tree by Clark Strand
A lovely book about the spiritual practice of haiku, probably not unlike McGee's book.

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan
A lovely collection of haiku with meditative thoughts on each piece and information about the authors. (An excellent way to meet "new" haiku writers.)

The Spring of My Life by Issa Kobayashi
A collection of haibun--prose with haiku--that is also a lovely memoir from a haiku master.

The Healing Spirit of Haiku by Rosen and Weishaus
A correspondence in haibun with lovely sumi-e illustrations.

I'm sorry but my enthusiasm for haiku is rather easily stimulated and I am always grateful to find out that there is a book out there for me to read and then I inevitably want to share some I have read. I hope you don't mind the list.

I think you should write the poem a day for 100 days. I remember reading recently that a professor of poetry would encourage her students to write 100 (or was it 1000?) haiku so that they could better appreciate the subtlety of what appears so very simple.

Jan Spilman, MEd, RCC Compassion Fatigue Specialist said...

Thanks, Satia. I will thoroughily enjoy investigating your suggestions. And, yes, I wrote my first haiku this morning. Jan

Satia said...

Jan, I found the reference to which I alluded in my previous comment. Jorie Graham is the person who has her poetry students write 100 haiku. I read about it is Sam Hamill's wonderful book A Poet's Work.

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