Poetry and Mindfulness


~ Written by Sanjay Suri ~

Sanjay joined the Teacher Training Pathway (TTP) in 2019 and qualified as a Trained Teacher in January 2022 alongside his role as a Consultant Paediatrician. Here Sanjay shares some reflections on his experience of the TTP and the poetry it inspired.

 

Poems come to me in various ways. One of these ways is when they spring forth; when the mind, full of latent expression becomes quiet. I wrote a poem called Morning meditation during my first teacher training retreat (TTR1) in Trigonos in 2019, which I was lucky enough to attend face to face before the pandemic forced us into lockdown. Here is an excerpt from that poem.

 

Morning meditation

 

For a brief moment,

I put aside

ambition, righteousness,

future-proofing, security

and the sense of my own grandeur.

 

I let the rising sun play with my face

and the wind ruffle my hair.

I listen to the lapping wave

At the water’s edge

and the story it has to tell.

 

I have had a long-standing interest in poetry and love reading as well. I was glad to come across so many poems, rich in meaning and deep in wisdom during the Teacher Training Pathway. It has made me reflect on the relationship between poetry and mindfulness.

 

Poetry is a form of expression of what was felt at the time. In that sense, the reader or the listener are invited to hold the space that poetry offers. It also has the power to connect in ways that prose may find difficult. Poems are often used to punctuate prose to allow that depth of connection to be conveyed.

 

The British playwright Alan Bennett has said,  “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

 

I have also read somewhere that the appeal of poetry may be because, for the briefest of moments, one realises that one is not alone. A poet somewhere is sharing with you what they felt and inviting you to feel with them. Judgment is arrested as you simply notice the expression of the poet’s inner experience.

 

During the Teacher Training Pathway, I noticed how the poems of Mary Oliver, Rumi and John O’Donoghue were used to convey messages that were part of the MBSR/MBCT curriculum in a very effective bite-size way, often dropped in at the end of a practice when the mind was quiet, open and receptive. Quotes are used during the pathway too but are perhaps too brief to allow the experience to flourish.

 

Poetry as a genre is everywhere when one begins to notice with sensitivity. Like the breath and the body, it has the potential to help us connect with the moment. Jon Kabat Zinn famously said: Mindfulness is simple but not easy. Poetry can be like that. Simple but not easy to access, receive, assimilate and digest. There is poetry in song and our everyday lives. If one notices, there is poetry in art and in our relationships. There is so much poetry in nature. All one has to do is to be quiet and notice it in the ever-changing gray clouds and the falling leaves.

 

My poems often come to me after a practice and are often linked to an insight that triggers creativity. I sometimes take the time to use journalling to write a poem rather than a paragraph. I use nature metaphors which I also came across during the Teacher Training. In the poetry of John O’Donoghue, he says “I would love to live like the river flows, carried by the surprise of its unfolding.” In Wild Geese, Mary Oliver says … “whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting…

 

During the Pathway, which I have just completed, I wrote many poems. Here is a short offering from one of them, which I wrote on the silent day during my retreat, when faced with the inevitable, how does one “be” when there is so much to “do”.

 

Silent day

 

You could gaze at the sunlit waves

dancing in the lake

or the blueness of the sky

echoing the song of the birds.

 

You may come across

a rusty unloved fence post

held together by rotted wood

and a hanging bolt.

 

You could watch

red ants meandering along the

pristine bark of the silver birch

along their sure and unmarked way.

 

You may notice

the tightness of the flower buds

Eager and bursting to open

into the promise of spring

 

And watch your being overflow

 

I hope you have been enriched by poetry as much as I have been and I hope your mindfulness practice gives you a way to access a genre rich in content that may help deepen your practice.


For more information about the Teacher Training Pathway and training to be a mindfulness teacher, visit: https://training.mindfulness-network.org/


Sanjay Suri is a Consultant Paediatrician based in Rotherham. He held the position of Training Programme Director with the School of Paediatrics in Yorkshire and Humber for 10 years until the end of March 2022. He has a longstanding interest in stress management and resilience and helped to launch and deliver the Surviving and Thriving course for paediatric trainees in Yorkshire. 

He developed his interest in mindfulness around 2017 after working with the local clinical psychologist and a series of his own patients with anxiety who responded positively to mindfulness interventions. He then completed an 8-week MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) course (developed by Prof Jon Kabat Zinn at Harvard who has been a pioneer in this field, raising awareness and researching mindfulness since the 1970s). Sanjay enrolled on the Bangor University Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice (CMRP) Teacher Training Pathway in 2018 and qualified in 2022.

Sanjay brings a unique skill set as an experienced doctor and educator who has supported many trainees throughout their training with a balanced and fresh perspective of mindfulness training that is invaluable in maintaining positive emotions and well-being required in the ever-increasing demand and strain within the medical profession. During the pandemic, he delivered five online 8 week courses for Rotherham NHS trust and HEE YH and introductory sessions for the SuppoRTT programme amongst other workshops and sessions for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

His website is currently under development and further details can be found at https://justobe.co.uk/

 

 

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