(Originally posted on the Space Bangkok Blog.)
You know those moments when you are going full tilt, rushed and preoccupied, and then you see something? Or hear something? Or smell something? And it stops you in your tracks. Just for a moment?
Lately I have been working on turning these moments into mindful moments – taking those brief seconds to lean into the moment and notice the details. To mark the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. Sometimes to snap a photo or start a haiku. To breathe and remember that breath. To cradle gently the wisp of light and bit of pause, like a few frames of slow motion in the middle of a continual, inescapable, multifaceted narrative.
While I used to write poetry when I was younger, I wrote my first haiku only recently. In fact, I had completely stopped writing poetry far too many years ago. I suppose my rational, adult brain decided I had grown out of that phase and poetry was, of course, for others to write. And then the poem came as an assignment. Something I was obliged to do as part of my participation in a particular event. The process was a bit of a struggle as I strove to follow the instructions I’d been given and represent the fullness of the complexity of answers to the event organizers’ questions in just a few syllables.
As John Paul Lederach writes in his book, The Moral Imagination, “Five-seven-five, in seventeen syllables, the haiku must capture the fullness of a human experience … Haiku is not reductionism. The discipline is not to reduce complexity to facts. Haiku is synthesis. It captures the complexity of an organic whole by reaching its simplest composition. It sees things in the heart. When you capture the heart of complex experience, you have arrived at insight and often at ways forward. The discipline is to hold complexity and simplicity together. The art is to capture both in an ah-hah image.”
Since that first experience with this discipline and art, writing haiku has become a regular fixture in my life and I often mark mindful moments with haiku. Yet, beyond that, I also find myself turning to the practice for help in times of distraction. At times when I need to settle my mind, I intentionally start to notice until my senses rest on something particular. And then I write a haiku, surrendering my full attention to the process as my mind embraces the complexity of an idea, wades through it, and emerges into the simplicity on the other side all while my fingers count out syllables and I search for more expressive and appropriate words and phrases. In the end, I am left breathing, still, quiet, focused, and present, carrying the echo of the last line of the haiku deep within as I turn to what’s next in my day. And, lest you think writing haiku requires a particular conducive atmosphere, you should know that a noisy commuter train rather reminiscent of a sardine can gone to carnival is frequently the backdrop for my haiku writing.
Here’s an example. I recently attended a course on nonviolent communication. On the morning of the first day, I showed up to the outdoor teaching space a bit early in an attempt to settle my thoughts. I was rather unsuccessful, until I noticed. There it hung, a huge yellow leaf held in a swath of morning sunlight. I snapped a quick picture and stared at the leaf, counting out the syllables for haiku lines on my fingers.
So I breathed. And I plunged. And that moment impacted every other that followed.