Susie Kearley demonstrates how mindfulness in poetry and creative writing can help you feel more centred
People have used poetry to achieve a higher state of awareness, or mindfulness, for centuries. William Wordsworth was inspired by the Lake District’s natural beauty when he said “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, in the poem, Daffodils. He noticed the daffodils ‘dancing in the breeze’, and the sparkling water of the lakes. He acknowledged the stars and the Milky Way, too.
By describing what you see, hear, smell and feel in writing, you become more immersed in the world around you and focused on the moment. You’re more able to appreciate the fullness of the human experience – the way it is right now. Try penning your own poems – what do you see, hear, smell or feel? Describe it as fully as you can, and be aware of small details that often go unnoticed in daily life.
Get outdoors in nature, describe the quiet sounds, beautiful landscapes, fragrances and the gentle breeze (or the roaring wind!). How do they make you feel? How do they affect your sense of peace? Describe the humidity, the sky, the way the world moves around you: people, animals, clouds and insects.
Poetry and mindfulness programmes
Melli O’Brien, a.k.a. Mrs Mindfulness, runs ‘immersion’ retreats and mindfulness courses in Australia. She shares poetry to convey important messages about being present. The poems encourage people to slow down, forget efficiency and speed, and open themselves up to the amazing experience of just being here, right now. The Center for Mindfulness at the University of California also reads poetry in their Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Classes. The University of Warwick, similarly uses poetry to improve people’s well-being in their online course: Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing, (delivered free of charge on futurelearn.com).
Professor Jonathan Bate, who presents the University of Warwick course, says poetry engenders a state of inner calm. “You’re just content to let it be,” he says. “The best poetic moments [are when] you’re content to reside in the moment without looking to the distant future.”
Reading and writing poetry can therefore help you become more mindful, and in so doing, it may relieve stress, trauma, feeling down, and other well-being challenges. To get started writing poetry, why not emulate the style of your favourite poets? Learn their rhythm and create your own prose, inspired by the world around you.
Creative writing or storytelling can also be mindful, because you become more observant as you search for story ideas and watch how people respond to situations around you. Your environment becomes a source of inspiration, making you more attentive in the here and now. Creative writing can get you out and about, meeting new people and researching diverse topics. Exploring ideas can keep you in the moment, rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future. It’s all good for a clear and intuitive mind. Don’t worry if you’re no good at writing or poetry. Ignore that internal chatter that says you can’t do it. Of course you can! Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. Just let the words flow and your poetry, creative writing or storytelling will get better with practice!
Leisure by W. H. Davies is a good poem for meditation if you want to slow down and relax for a while. Why not use it as inspiration to write your own poetry, based on your own modern day reality?
Simply sit in a quiet place and slowly read the words below. Have a think about what comes to mind with each sentence and note it down in your journal as a starting point.
“What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare
No time to stand beneath the boughs And stare as long as sheep or cows
No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass
No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance
No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began
A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare”
We asked some poets how mindfulness and poetry work in harmony for them…
“Mindfulness and poetry definitely complement one another. For me, mindfulness brings awareness to the flow of feelings I am trying to convey in my poetry. Putting it down on paper helps me untangle the mess of emotional motivation for doing things.” – Laura Knight (Writer/poet, Buckinghamshire)
“Poetry is the burn and balm, and I could not live without reading the words of others every day. I write poetry and journal daily. Writing poetry can make you more mindful, as it requires an awareness of yourself, others, and the world we live in.” – Sam Dutton (Poet, Devon)
“A lot of Buddhists use poetry as part of their practice. Some teach mindfulness and write poetry too. Given mindfulness is a core aspect and teaching of Buddhism, there’s a strong link.” – Vicky Newham (Novelist/blogger, Kent)
“Poetry, more than any other form of creative writing, seems to inspire a particularly concentrated focus. There’s something all-consuming about trying to distil thoughts, emotions, feelings and even simple observations into not just words, but the best possible words. It engages with the soul of your reader in a shared process of exploration for deeper meaning. It’s a very creative quest.” – Clare Elstow (Poet, Buckinghamshire)
About the author…
Susie Kearley is a freelance writer and photographer working for magazines and newspapers around the world. She covers a wide range of subjects – from military stories, to the paranormal. A qualified nutritionist, she also writes regularly for a variety of publications on well-being and nutrition. susiekearley.co.uk