poetry

Four Favorite Poetry Books

...and one poem.

Yesterday was a day of poetry.

I've been sharing a poem at the beginning and/or end of class on Sunday mornings again recently. Poetry used to be as important to me in class development as the asana, but as happens with the cyclical nature of things, that practice had fallen away for a few years.

It's so lovely to see how people respond to a poem...
The "mmm" murmured after a poem is read.
Coming up after class to ask for the name of the poem.
Wanting to share their favorite poet or poem or line.

It's like we're all a little bit in the closet about poetry, but once we know we're in safe company of fellow lovers, we can pull the tattered paper out of our wallets and compare notes (I carry a few hand-written lines of Rumi, gifted long ago by a friend).

Poetry is delicious medicine that has helped me make sense of life since high school. I have many old poetry collections published by Hallmark that were my grandmother's, one of which is in the Favorite Four below.

 

The second poetry moment yesterday arose out of the online philosophy class I'm teaching. We are exploring Yoga Sutra 2.1 and yesterday the discussion was around Svadhyaya, the practice of Self Study.

There are a couple of notable aspects of Svadhyaya:

  • Foremost, it is the regular practice of self-reflection and personal growth.
  • Drilling down even deeper, we get to the heart by studying ourselves in the context of sacred texts and teachings.
  • Since we are limited in the objectivity we can have with ourselves, it generally is done with a teacher, which could be a study group, a therapist, a mentor or other trusted guide.
  • For the purpose of knowing ourselves more deeply.

Homework ideas for the month included journalling, reading or memorizing poetry, reading other spiritual texts, group discussion, therapy or mentorship. 

All for the purpose of knowing yourself more deeply.

Several people in the group were interested in exploring poetry as a practice. Since it can be hard to know where to start, I offered to share a few of my favorite poetry books.

Here are four favs, with a kitty photo bomb.

poetry books

Poet Healer edited by Chip Spann
Sadly, this book is out of print, but there are a few on Amazon. It was compiled as part of a project through Sutter's Cancer Program. It is my favorite collection of poems and would be my desert island book of poetry.

Red Bird by Mary Oliver
Oliver's poems are nature and simplicity and awe. All of her books are wonderful, I just have a special affection for this one.

Poems of Awakening edited by Betsy Small
Another great compilation of spiritual poetry. From Kabir and Hafiz to Anna Swir and May Sarton, almost every page in my book is dog-eared.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
I've lived on this book like food for periods of my life. This is my grandmother's copy and it lives on my nightstand. Out of use, it falls open to the writings On Love and On Pain, which sound strangely similar. "And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast." (That's On Love!)

 

The other request I received was for the poem from class -- Below Our Strangeness by Mark Nepo. As you know, Mark is a favorite poet and writer of mine. What a lovely poem for our times.

Below Our Strangeness

I've come to believe that we were
all broken from the same nameless
heart, and everything wakes
with a piece of that original heart
aching its way into blossom. This
is why we know each other below
our strangeness, why when we fall, 
we lift each other; or when in pain, 
we hold each other; why sudden
with joy, we dance together. Life
is the many pieces of that great
heart loving itself back together.

~Mark Nepo

 

poetry month

Are you interested in receiving a poem a day?

April is poetry month, and as part of my spiritual practice, I am going to read, sit with and share a poem a day.

Get on the list to be a part of it. <--Click!

Starts April 1st.

Magic (the cat) will be there!

        

winter solstice rituals


You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
                                         -David Whyte

 
Winter Solstice -- the shortest day of the year -- is Thursday. 

“Solstice” comes from two Latin words: sol meaning "sun" and sistere meaning “to stand still.” It's the longest night of the year, where the sun seems to stand still.

After the solstice, our half of the earth (in the Northern Hemisphere) begins to tilt toward the sun again, and we round the corner back to lengthening days and the "rebirth" of the sun. (National Geographic explains the science of the solstice.)

People throughout history have celebrated the winter solstice as a symbol of hope, promise, rebirth, and the ongoing cycles of life. Monuments, tombs and temples have been constructed to celebrate and capture the solstice light since as early as 3200 B.C.E.

So what does "celebrating the solstice" mean?

You can find some beautiful ideas here, but it doesn't have to be elaborate. 

Anything that is done with your full attention, presence and personal meaning can remind you that we are all part of a larger order.

Consider these suggestions from CircleSanctuary.org.

  • Make a wreath with evergreens, which is said to symbolize the continuity of life, protection, and prosperity.
  • Build a circle of candlelight, one for each person present, and then blow them out and sit together in the darkness for a few moments offering gratitude. Then light one central, larger candle to symbolize your unity over the coming year.
  • Ring a collection of bells at sunrise and sunset.
  • Offer seeds to winter birds and other outdoor creatures.


Other simple ideas include:

  • Visit a place outdoors that is special to you.
  • Make a list of loving wishes for the people in your life.
  • Make a point to watch the sunrise or sunset.
  • Spend a dedicated amount of time in silence.
  • Offer a prayer of gratitude for the dark and faith in the light.
  • Purge or declutter a room or corner, simplifying and bringing more clarity and light.
  • Spend some time talking with a loved one or friend about your dreams for the coming year.

Regardless of your spiritual heritage, the solstice can be celebrated as a way to remember our place in nature and the cyclical ways of life. Especially this year, we can also lean on and gain strength from the promise of returning light.

In this time of cultural busyness, give yourself the gift of a few quiet moments. Even just a simple breath.

In sweet darkness...
Michelle
 

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.
-David Whyte

long way home

The most perfect description of the on-going-ness of spiritual practice and the practice of yoga -- or any relationship, for that matter -- comes from Mark Nepo, poet and teacher.

Mark's most popular book, The Book of Awakening, was recommended by a friend many years ago and has since become my constant companion and my go-to gift to loved ones. It's a daily reader that will have different meaning each year. You can read it every day, put it down and come back months later or pick it up randomly and it will offer exactly what you need that moment.

the book of awakening

My copy as been through a lot (as you can tell from the photo). If I were stuck on an island with only one book, this would be it.

 

I was fortunate to spend a weekend this summer with Mark at the Omega Institute outside of Rhinebeck, New York. It was a weekend of poems, stories, sharing, nature, tears and laughter. He is just as warm and wise in person as in writing.

There he recited many poems, most of which I'd never heard, out of his poetry compilation, The Way Under The Way.  I ordered it when I got home, and it is through this book the magical practice poem found me.

Long Way Home

I want to have a conversation
that we can return to without
conclusion, one that lasts for
years, that feels like a walk that
has no end. Until the walk
itself is home.

I want to converse this life with
you, the way the old horse and
the young bird trudge and circle
each other in snow.

I want to reach with you into
the heart of things, where the
stitching of the Universe
shows its golden knots.

~Mark Nepo

 

And isn't that what this practice offers us? A conversation that lasts for years...that we can come back to again and again without conclusion. Where we can reach into the heart of things and allow the mystery to reveal itself.

What does the poem evoke in you? Are there other ways you relate to or describe your life practice? This is a space where we can enter that conversation together.