Poetry, Nature & Mindfulness: Writing the Bright Moment

‘The miracle is not to walk on water.
The miracle is to walk on the green earth,
dwelling deeply in the present moment
and feeling truly alive.’
Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness for writers: meditation, haiku & haibun intensive

5-day online retreat
Monday 10th August to Friday 14th inclusive 2020;
or Monday 5th October – Friday 9th, 2020.
See bottom of page for costs and options.

‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.’ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Listen to my podcast on the practice of mindfulness here.

Could you, in these uncertain times, do with being in touch with a deep, still part of yourself, in the company of the universe?

What you can expect
The sessions will:
Teach you simple techniques to deal moment-by-moment with our tendency to get lost in fears, anxieties, regrets and judgements

Offer you ways of staying more present and connected throughout your day, less thrown off balance by transience and uncertainty, and more choice in how you respond

Deepen your intimacy with yourself and with Other

Deepen the quality of your attention to your life, your human relationships and your relationships with the rest of the natural world (and remind you that we’re never NOT in relationship)

Offer you a question, some writing tasks and a few inspiring lines each day to ‘fire up’ your imagination

Offer you ways in to and expert advice on writing haiku (after all, it’s easy to write 3-line poems, but often very hard to write a halfway decent haiku) and Zen-style prose haibun.

Why I use the Zen-based mindfulness approach
Mindfulness as it is known in the West is primarily associated with stress reduction. It has accelerated enormously in popularity, since it can be extremely beneficial, therapeutic and relaxing. The person largely responsible for this movement is Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose book Wherever You Go, There You Are has lived by my bed and been a profound, reliable and inspirational guide since I was given it in 1994.

I include Zen mindfulness meditation rather than the more popular MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) practice as the Zen approach, as I mention below, is about our relationship to everything, rather than specifically for our own wellbeing – although clearly it also helps with that.

So mindfulness is also more than a tool for stress reduction. In its original form and as part of a Zen outlook, it has a psychospiritual component, and is a joyful, present-moment-focused way of giving attention to each passing moment, our relationship with the self and essential nature, and our intimacy with the whole of the animate world – which is to say everything. (Original Zen practice very much involved the rest of the natural world, and the fact of our interconnectedness.)

I love how Zoë Williams in her column in the Guardian weekend magazine of 11.11.17 expressed it: ’The problem with mindfulness is that it spread across the world unhinged from the philosophy of human goodness that was supposed to underpin it… Mindfulness has to be principled, otherwise it’s just a guy in California eating a raisin really, really slowly.’
 So it’s also about reflecting on how we live.

Even five minutes of this practice can open up a sense of spaciousness in your life.

For a writer, it’s an opportunity, too, to renew your intimacy with your pen (yes, pen, not cursor).

Zen practice is about living, not about ‘believing’
Unlike monotheism, Zen is not a religion, does not require belief, doesn’t offer dogma or doctrine, and is not a cult. You don’t have to sign up for anything at all. It doesn’t separate human from human or from the other-than-human; it doesn’t separate matter from spirit. And, in fact, there’s nowhere to get to but right here, right now. It’s about taking time to really experience your experience, which helps you make wise choices.*

So Zen mindfulness is a way of cutting through all the rubbish to ‘clear mind’, a way of peeling back the layers of conditioning and habits so that you can as the Buddha said ‘make of yourself a light’, of stripping away some fears and regrets and uncertainties, of living in a simpler, more profound, more connected, compassionate and harmonious way.

It’s also not something you do in 20 minutes on a cushion or chair once a day; as my late Zen teacher used to say, mindfulness begins when you get off the meditation cushion.

So one thing this intensive course offers is a way of bringing yourself present to your daily moments – on purpose and non-judgmentally.

Part of the point of this practice is to remind us that we are all part of natural world, the web of being. You will be expected to spend time outdoors, looking, listening, being and writing, and recording the passing moment, inner and outer.

This will be a time for quiet reflection and dwelling. You will also be bringing your attention to your relationships, including with the other-than-human, and gently questioning whether how you live your life is how you want to live your life.

What does this have to do with poetry? Well, firstly you’ll be doing a fair amount of creative and reflective writing. Also, there are two literary artforms that are specifically connected with Zen mindfulness. One is the well-known haiku; the other the prose equivalent, haibun (a form I particularly like, and have been teaching for over 20 years). Both these are ways of simultaneously exploring present-moment awareness, and of expressing it. Rich, insightful but pared-back, they can offer insight to others, too.

Each day will offer writing tasks, usually at least one poem, and an image that might inspire your own writing.

This summer, the retreat week will not involve video meetings. I’ll review this later. In the first instance, there will be a private Facebook group. You are strongly encouraged to sign up, even if you delete your account afterwards – I find from the tree course that the support and exchange of creative work and information between participants is enormously inspiring and helpful for everyone.

There will also be the option of one-to-one mentoring with me (see below).

You can read more here.

On my SoundCloud page I speak about Zen mindfulness meditation practice.

This is a guided but solo week. I will send you a PDF for each day’s work the night before it’s due, plus the Introduction and the Practicals PDFs. Please join us on our private Facebook page!

This costs £125 (but if your income has been badly affected by COVID19; it’s £95. There is also one concessionary place for someone in genuine need).

If you would like a response from me on up to 8 pages of your reflective and creative work produced during the week, it’s an extra £95 (you don’t have to decide before booking: you can choose to add this option during or immediately after the retreat). Contact me via the form below, and I will give you details for paying by Paypal or bank transfer.

The Small Print
Please note:
• there are no refunds available on this course
• i
n signing up you agree that, if you want to work with a friend, that person needs to sign up and pay separately
all the material is copyright and cannot be shared or reproduced elsewhere without my written permission (it’s how I make my living).

You need to know that this is intensive, and you will need to practise every day with a self-directed formal mindfulness session (following my guidance) and some writing, and further mindfulness check-ins with yourself during the day, even if only a few minutes at a time.

This will be most effective if you can see it as a semi-retreat. If you are extremely busy, you might want to think about freeing up time later in the year. Although most participants will likely not be taking the whole week out as a retreat and the practice will probably need to be fitted around daily life, this practice is best approached when you have the time not to experience this as another pressure on the ‘to do’ list, and can devote, say, a whole morning to it, with periods to ‘dip in’ during the day.

You will also need to set aside a little time to be outdoors, no matter what the weather. There will be a psychological component to this material, and in order to immerse yourself you need to expect to spend at least one, and later a couple of hours a day with the process.

If this sounds like something you might commit to, please drop me a note via the contact form below, mentioning Mindfulness & Poetry.