April is National Poetry Month and a great time to consider poetry writing as a spiritual practice. Spiritual practices can be studied whether you are spiritual, religious, or both. They are thought to be activities to deepen your relationship with the sacred, with yourself, and/or the world around you. More specifically, spiritual practices help you engage with yourself and the world on a more profound level and can broaden your experiences with the human condition.
Reading and writing poetry encourages a certain connection than can help us feel as if we’re part of a larger picture and not just living in our isolated little world. We learn that other people have embarked on similar journeys and have related feelings about where they’ve been and where they’re going. We can discover new things in our mind, spirit, and imaginations. According to Mark Freeman, in his book Rewriting the Self (1993), except for their bodies, humans would not exist if they were unable to imagine who they have been and who they are. “Kill the imagination,” he says, “and you kill the self.”
One of the ways poetry does this is by tapping into all of our senses. When we use all our senses in writing poetry, the reader can more easily come alongside our journey. Using our senses also allows us to tap into our imagination and offers the opportunity of transcendence and going deeper into our feelings.
My father was a Holocaust survivor, but outside of the occasional trip to the synagogue with an uncle who was a practicing Jew, I never received nor practiced any formal religious training. However, what I did learn at an early age, is how creating poetry was a way for me to tap into my inner psyche and bring forth universal truths that could help others.
In my book Writing for Bliss, I speak about how poetry is the voice of the soul: “Poets help us see a slice of the world in a way in which we might not have observed it before. They highlight details to cast a light on a feeling, an image, or an event.”
Typically, a poem has a distinct rhythm. Poetry can share transformative moments or revelations. Regardless of the type, poetry uses an economy of words; therefore, every word is important. The more specific the language, the better it is. The best poetry inspires readers to reflect, dream, reminisce, observe, and fantasize. Poems are written in fragments, and each line should have a singular image and feeling.
In addition to spiritual practice, poetry can be a springboard for growth, healing, and transformation. When reading a powerful poem, we have the opportunity to be forever changed by the poet’s words and messages. This happens especially when the poet expresses emotions or feelings we might be experiencing ourselves about a particular situation.
Using poetry in this manner is also a way to nurture a mindfulness practice. When writing poems, we have the chance to unleash the unconscious mind. Sculpting our feelings and thoughts into a poem can take us on a journey where the conscious mind actually takes a little holiday. Writing poetry is a time to loosen up and allow the freedom of self-expression at a time when it is often needed the most.
Writing poetry also allows us to tap into our authentic voices, which can lead to self-realization–often a result of a spiritual practice. It can also be a form of meditation. Henry David Thoreau once mused that if we sit in a clearing long enough, the animals will come out of the woods and present themselves. Figuratively speaking, this also happens when we write poetry: all sorts of surprises can come to light.
Diana Raab, PhD, is a memoirist, poet, blogger, speaker, and award-winning author of nine books. She’s been published in over 1000 publications. She frequently speaks and teaches on writing for healing and transformation. Her latest book is Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Program for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. Visit: dianaraab.com.