Mindfulness & Poetry

by Brooke Lehmann

Brooke LehmannIn my meditation circle a few weeks ago, our group leader asked us to name one of our wisdom teachers. The contemporary poet and Zen Buddhist Jane Hirshfield came to mind; I was currently reading her new collection, The Asking. Hirshfield’s poems are filled with ordinary acts such as picking figs or opening a window. Many of her poems grapple with difficult questions: the climate crisis, aging, and human suffering. They often instill a sense of wonder and gratitude alongside grief and loss.

In the early days of reading poetry, I was drawn to the imagery and music of the language. But over the years, I have realized that the poems I love the most are not just filled with writing craft, but they also teach me the most about how to live well or more mindfully. Hirshfield says, “Through poetry I know something new, and I have been changed.”

Mindfulness is living in the present moment, accepting our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment. Mindfulness is a quality everyone possesses, but we must learn how to access it. Like any new routine or habit, the more we practice, the easier it becomes over time. We can exercise mindfulness in everyday activities like walking, cooking, folding laundry, or reading a poem.

Research suggests a regular mindfulness practice reduces stress, improves mood and focus, strengthens our immune system, and stimulates learning and creativity. Mindfulness can also help us have happier relationships, make us more resilient to suffering, and allow us to cultivate compassion for ourselves and others. Similar to practicing yoga, we can feel kinder towards ourselves and others by reading mindfully.

We see poets like Craig Arnold, with his poem, “Meditation on a Grapefruit,” slow his readers down to the simple act of savoring a piece of fruit over breakfast before the day’s stressors set in. In the poem “Thank You” by Ross Gay, readers are placed barefoot on the frosty grass of a dormant garden in early fall. Through enlivening the senses, we are gifted with greater clarity in the present time. It’s one thing to be on a meditation retreat away from distractions, but by reading, we can learn to witness mindfulness in moments of daily living.

As we live in increasing uncertainty in our ever-changing world, I routinely turn to poetry to ground me in the present moment. Against the terror and dread that we face with gun violence or threats of war, reading mindfully helps me see the beauty alongside the pain in others’ experiences. It reminds me of possibilities that exist in what I often tend to overlook. Right now, the invitation to open to the dark drop of autumn and watch nature surrender to its own wisdom.

About Brooke: Brooke Lehmann is a poet and creative who draws inspiration from nature, fashion, and her love of the piano. Her poems have been featured in Tar River Poetry, Pedestal Magazine and others. She was longlisted for the 2022 Palette Poetry Sappho Prize for Women Poets, and her chapbook manuscript, Pillar of Exquisite Sorrows, was named a finalist in Tusculum Review’s 2023 Chapbook Prize. Brooke holds a B.S. from Purdue University and is a graduate of the Arts and Science Council Cultural Leadership Training program. She serves as an advisory group member of Charlotte Center for Mindfulness.

Practice Mindfulness with Brooke: “The Poetry of Presence: Reading as a Path to Mindfulness,” Thursday, November 9, 2023, 6:00-8:00 p.m., virtual via Zoom.

In this class we’ll explore a few poems and short pieces around the theme of mindfulness. Class will open with a guided body scan meditation followed by a series of readings that follow the style of lectio divina or dharma contemplations. We’ll respond to how the essence of the poems take shape in an embodied way as we hear them recited, informing our emotional and inner landscapes. As a group we’ll discuss images or phrases that catch our attention, and the way metaphor creates meaning and resonance in our lives. We will also have time for a mindful writing exercise and optional sharing. Info