Having looked at the rather weighty subject of impermanence in the last post, Impermanence and Gratitude, I’d like to move on to a fun little practice I’ve recently taken to that can change the way you view the world, and is more than a little therapeutic at the same time – writing Haiku.
If you’re not familiar with Haiku, it’s Japanese short form poetry traditionally consisting of no more than seventeen syllables in three lines of 5-7-5. Example:
just off the breezy seashore =
a living postcard.
Okay, so why in the world would anyone want to write Haiku? I’m glad you asked.
As you can see from the example, a Haiku captures a moment, image and/or impression. It’s like a photographic snapshot, only the words form the picture. Anything that leaves the slightest impression, or even just catches your eye, can be the subject of a Haiku.
From a Zen perspective, what it teaches you is to be observant in the present moment – and living in the present moment is the heart of Zen and mindfulness.
As you begin to write Haiku, your awareness also gets fine tuned because you not only become more aware of your surroundings, you become more aware of your own thoughts and feelings in relation to your surroundings – and awareness, as we’ve seen in previous posts, is another key aspect of Zen and mindfulness.
So not only are your powers of observation and awareness heightened, the process of actually writing the Haiku has its own benefits:
- It can be really fun trying to capture the moment, image or impression in three lines of 17 syllables or less (and who couldn’t use a little more fun in their life?).
- It engages your brain creatively
- It expands and sharpens your usage of the English language
- It can be therapeutic if capturing a difficult feeling or emotion
- It can be a stress reliever after (or even in the middle of) a tough day
- Did I mention it was fun?
Unfortunately, too many English teachers with far too bright red pens have killed the creative process during our school years, so don’t worry about “getting it right” or “making it perfect” – just jot it down. I use my phone and text myself (sounds funny but it works).
So when you see something that catches your eye – just give it a fast rough draft: 3 lines, of 17 syllables or less. That’s it. If you’re out and about, your first draft can contain whatever you want, and later you can work with it so that it’s no more than 17 syllables (as more than that strays out of haiku territory).
But do yourself a creatively Zen favor and give it a shot.
If you let go of perfectionism, writing Haiku really is fun (did I mention that?) and you may very well find yourself becoming a Haiku poet, having a heightened awareness of your surroundings, a heightened awareness of your thoughts and feelings, and capturing the impression-making moments of your life.
In fact, I’ve so taken to it that I’ve dared to create a page for sharing Haiku I’ve written (he said, masking his anxiety). So if you’d like to, please feel free to pop over to https://575haikuplace.wordpress.com/. As I said on that page, brew up some tea, pull up a chair, and enjoy.
Then try it yourself!
That’s it for now so I’ll leave you with this quite thought-provoking Haiku that I wish I had written, but, alas, can’t take credit for. It’s by Gary Thorp, author of Sweeping Changes:
We are all haiku—
Only here for seventeen
Syllables, three lines.