Practice Like a Poet

I hope you’re finding ways to breathe in these lush days.  The very air is hanging with a sensual freshness, both luxurious and uplifting.

At a Skagit Valley nursery, I basked in the transportive scent of a giant jasmine hedge.  I wanted to eat it, drink it, and take it in through my pores.

All the kingdom of plants feels abundant and generous.

How can we take it all in, especially with the awareness that it won’t last?

I often turn to the poets, for their pace, their sensitivity, and their skill for displaying philosophical ideas in an accessible, digestible form.  This week I found Billy Collins, just lounging on my bookshelf, with his playful genius embedded in the telling of a seemingly ordinary night.

Here is his poem, “Night Letter to the Reader”.  Listen for several voices here, cleverly animating the conflicts we often find in our own minds.   One voice seems enchanted by metaphores and sensuous connections; another sounds more practical, yet annoyed that someone isn’t paying attention.  A third voice simply names the nocturnal sensations in the garden. The poet speaks out loud  the conversation in a meditator’s mind, with moments of ease or connection, only to be continuously interrupted by all of the daily thoughts we consider to be unworthy of our meditation time, and the judging, dissatisfied part that feels like a failure.

I get up from the tangled bed and go outside,
a bird leaving its nest,
a snail taking a holiday from its shell,

but only to stand on the lawn,
an ordinary insomniac
amid the growth systems of garden and woods.

If I were younger, I might be thinking
about something I heard at a party,
about an unusual car,

or the press of Saturday night,
but as it is, I am simply conscious,
an animal in pajamas,

sensing only the pale humidity
of the night and the slight zephyrs
that stir the tops of the trees.

The dog has followed me out
and stands a little ahead,
her nose lifted as if she were inhaling

the tall white flowers,
visible tonight in the darkened garden,
and there was something else I wanted to tell you,

something about the warm orange light
in the windows of the house,
but now I am wondering if you are even listening

and why I bother to tell you these things
that will never make a difference,
flecks of ash, tiny chips of ice.

But this is all I want to do-
tell you that up in the woods
a few night birds were calling,

the grass was cold and wet on my bare feet,
and that at one point, the moon,
looking like the top of Shakespeare’s

famous forehead,
appeared, quite unexpectedly,
illuminating a band of moving clouds.

…but now I am wondering if you are even listening

and why I bother to tell you these things
that will never make a difference,

What I hear is our common human cry for connection:  is anyone even listening to who I really am?  Will I ever be met, be heard, seen, and understood?  Is it wise to be vulnerable, to feel the pale humidity, see the warm orange light, to take holiday from the shell?

These sensations he names are pure mindfulness, taking in the textured qualities of a night time saunter.  Taking them in makes all the difference.  Paying attention to our lives, makes all the difference.  Listening, feeling, seeing – this is living.

Billy Collins knows this and that is what makes him a poet.  I imagine he would continue to generate his verses whether or not you or I ever listened.  His despairing voice is resolved, pretty quickly, because “this is all I want to do-“.  He allows for the rhythmic momentum of his enjoyment to bring forth the full imagery of his evening moment, and his words carry us right along like a playful river.

In meditation, notice the voices that speak up from your internal community.  Hear the parts that simply want distraction, those whose laments you might turn away from, and the insistent voice that wants to keep going.  Rilke said, “Let everything happen to you, Beauty and terror, Just keep going, No feeling is final”.  If a voice in you wants validation, find inspiration in the poets, the philosophers, the meditators, who keep going whether or not anyone else listens.  Practice like a poet, alone on your cushion, yet feeling the deeper connection your practice brings.

Enjoy the day.


I am delighted to be able to offer scholarships again for yoga therapy.  Please don’t be shy if you are in need of support or if you know a frontline worker who you could refer to me for stress relief.  Likewise, if you’re moved to support this program as a donor, please contact me.