Imagination is a medium that can connect us with deeper parts of ourselves and the multiverse in which all is present, and all is possible for healing and relationship.
Poetry as Practice
Poetry, in general, can be intimidating to people. In fact, there is a term for the fear of poetry, metrophobia. (If the word poetry is too scary for you, substitute it with something you like better, such as: writing, journaling, musing, prayer—anything, at all, that resonates with you). However, if you allow it be so, poetry can be your friend. Here are some recommendations for practicing poetry as a spiritual discipline.
The most important concept is presence. When I saw the poet, Marie Howe, speak at a Converge Lecture she said something to the effect that poets are people who will sit alone in a room with a typewriter and a blank sheet of paper. That’s a great definition. Start your practice with poetry by doing just that. Sit with your preferred method of writing; mine is a laptop. Mary Oliver, a great poet of nature, liked a notepad and a pencil. It doesn’t matter what you use. Just find a place and sit. Listen. See what happens. Allow the word or words to come to you. Write them down and don’t judge them.
Get out of the way of the story or message that the poem is tying tell you. In a way, it’s like walking, put one foot in front of the other; put one word after the other. The most important thing is to allow yourself to be open and light-hearted. After all, you’re just putting words on a page. No big deal. No commitment, so don’t judge yourself. If you continue with this practice as my students and I have done, you will find that your poetry will surprise you with its wisdom. Parts of yourself or even relationships with come alive. You will learn and grow.
Presence to yourself and the Spirit within you will open you to inspiration. You may hear a word, a phrase, or music. You might see a color or conjure a fragment of a memory or a flash of a hope. Whatever appears, allow this to be, and write yourself a note, so you don’t forget it. When you make time for it to unfold, sit with it, listen to it, watch it. Do not force your poem to go in the direction that you think it should. Let it take your hand and lead you.
This is a spiritual practice similar to extemporaneous prayer, so avoid judging your poem. No one, not even your poem, likes that. If you want to improve it, to make it clearer like you would adjust a camera lens to show you a more focused picture, walk away from it for a few hours, days, even months or years for some poems, then return to it. Ask the poem to tell you specifics. Use specific words, details, and sensory language. Poetry reaches the spirit through the five senses. Allow that type of sharp detail to delight and surprise you. See how the poem explains itself to you.
I encourage you to give yourself the gift of poetry as a spiritual practice. Try it; it’s free. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.
May every blessing grace your journey!
My Calling In
Part 1: Loss
My half-sister, Marsha, died tragically on May 31, 1988; she was forty-two, and I was twenty-two. Although there was a big difference in our ages, we were very close. She was a wonderful loving, fun, brilliant woman who treated everyone with respect and compassion. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be like her when I grew up. She was academically gifted: high school valedictorian and salutatorian from her graduating class at S.M.U., but she was not pompous. Marsha was a dedicated Methodist minister’s wife and mother of two, but she was not judgmental or a stick in the mud. When I was in college, I would sneak over a six-pack of beer, and we’d hang out in her den laughing and talking, hiding from church members who might drop in unexpectedly. She was athletically gifted, as well. She played racket ball with men because the female players at her gym were not challenging opponents.
After she had a complete hysterectomy (they did that to women back then as a matter of course), she had some hormonal imbalances. Her doctor prescribed a drug to help her sleep, which, at that time, was prescribed in the U.S. for a much longer duration than what was permitted in Europe. Now, people are allowed to be on it for two weeks, only. She and many others in the 1980s were on it for much longer than that. Unfortunately, this drug made many people homicidal or suicidal: it made Marsha suicidal. As she was driving, she a hit a rail on an overpass and stepped out of the car. She jumped from the overpass and fell sixty feet to her death.
A part of me froze on that date and remained frozen for twenty-seven years. I believed that if something that horrific could happen to someone like Marsha, then, really, anything could happen to anyone. A person could just, kind of, lose it without warning. What I did not accept is that Marsha was killed by a drug. She did not abuse the drug in any way. The drug, the way it was prescribed, was a poison, not a medicine.
When I was in college, I wrote poetry, publishing it in literary journals. After Marsha's death, poetry drifted out of my life; back then, when I entered that world of imagination, it was populated with phantasms. I felt I needed to soldier on and be “normal,” have a “normal” life. I did that, for the most part, but I grieved for Marsha and poetry. I had a reoccurring dream that she had simply left and was living a parallel life someplace else. It was like we had merely lost touch. I’d learn she was still alive, and I’d call her on the telephone, overwhelmed with sadness at all the time we had lost.
I moved into accepting that a drug had killed Marsha as I approached my late forties, older than Marsha had been when she died. I retired from teaching English and began writing poetry again, and that is how my calling in began. The first poem I was inspired to write in this new manner was, “A Communication, through Imagination, from My Saintly Sister, Marsha, Who Has Been Dead for Twenty-Seven Years.” It’s posted in the blog if you would like to read it.
Our Calling In
We, as a species, are being called in. Covid-19 and the measures we are taking to defend against its talons: social distancing, quarantine, isolation, even forced isolation are calling us in. Like mice fleeing from a hawk’s gaze into the protection of nests, we are moving inward. I had the experience of being called in for the healing of the devastating loss of my sister which resulted in several series of poems I will share on this blog. I’ve held this body of work for about two years, but it has lain dormant. I did not know what to do with it until now. I considered publishing in literary journals, but it never felt right to break up the poems, and since I have not published poetry in thirty years, the likelihood of a collection being published was remote. Plus, there was the factor of the spiritually transformative nature of work, itself, and the process in which it was gifted to me. On the first day of spring, March 19, 2020, I knew in my bones it was time to share this work and my experience as an act of service and love to those whose lives and perspectives are being changed by this pandemic.
Part 2: Journeys and Healing
Something in me changed after I wrote the first poem, “A Communication, through Imagination, from My Saintly Sister, Marsha, Who Has Been Dead for Twenty-Nine Years.” I felt so happy and sad that I had experienced her presence again. Tears flowed as a sign of the thaw that worked within me. The second poem, The Calling In,” which can read as a blog post, was very distinctive and had a very different feel from any poems I had written before. Marsha was herself, but she was more. In life, she had been a fairly conservative, preppy-type woman. This new Marsha was decidedly earthy, even primitive in her manner. Meeting her at Stonehenge to transport a rattlesnake to the Southwest was very much outside our interactions when she was alive. In some ways, it was unsettling to me that she was so different, and I was venturing into territory that was completely unfamiliar to me. I was and am a practicing Catholic, and these adventures through poetry opened me up to a way of being in imagination that I had not encountered to this extent in my life.
Around this this same time, I started teaching poetry classes, mostly, to retired adults at my church. Part of our time together involved sharing poems we were writing. I wrote over twenty-four “Marsha” poems as they came to be known in our little poetry community. The loving support and non-judgmental attitude I still experience from these kind friends gave me the courage to continue on this healing journey.
I came to understand, intuitively, poetry as a way to travel to healing realms as the poems I wrote evolved ever more outside my normal experience. I would sit at the computer and listen. The more I could get out of the way and allow the poem to unfold, the more healing I experienced. Often, I would stop writing and cry when something from the poem I was writing would unlock an understanding or an awareness of Marsha’s presence with me. I had a growing relationship with a new Marsha and new me.
These poems brought healing to my body, as well. Angela La Borde, the highly gifted massage therapist, I see noticed that my neck, which had been very tight from what I thought was an old injury, loosened considerably as I started speaking my truth in poetry. She explained that my throat chakra was opening as I began to tell myself the truth about my life and beliefs.
These experiences with writing poetry brought healing, adventure, and delight to my life. I experienced restoration of parts of myself and my relationship with my sister. I learned to listen, enter the mystery, and trust, and that is why I want to share these poems, processes, and interior explorations with people whose spirits are calling out for it. These poems were a gift, and a gift is meant to be shared. With just a laptop, a typewriter, or a pad and paper we can access realms of imagination where the spirit can flourish. Thank you for joining me in this healing journey.