On the first evening of a nine day retreat, I was surprised to discover that the retreat had a theme: “meditation and creativity”. I was initially very intimidated by the encouragement to write or draw something, to produce an object, to “create”. But seeing and hearing how others were encouraged by the “permission” to represent ourselves in some undefined way, I decided to see if any inspirations would appear and, if so, to follow where they led.
Having observed during my meditation practice at the retreat that my thoughts most often took the form of words, phrases and monologues or conversations, I was curious if fragments of poems might arise if I had the intention of writing them down after the sit. They did. The pattern that emerged was that a phrase or image would rise to awareness unexpectedly when I was absorbed in particularly intense or meaningful states of mind. Often I noticed that these fragments seemed to capture an aspect of what had become themes in my practice at the retreat. They frequently displayed a kind of rhythm or rightness that expressed something essential about the focus or preoccupations present in my internal awareness. Once a line or two took shape — often with little conscious effort on my part — subsequent lines on the same theme would appear almost spontaneously to deepen or expand the train of associations of the original phrase. I say “almost spontaneously” because I did spend time on the cushion crafting some of the language, rearranging the images or verbal threads so that I could “hear” the whole poem as something that was coherent and close to my experience.
I was surprised and pleased to discover that there was a momentum in this process which seemed to carry me along to the completion of the poems in a way that didn’t involve too much contrivance. There was a satisfying sense of having created something in an organic fashion. Once I wrote these poems down after the sittings were over, though, I found myself revisiting them somewhat obsessively in subsequent sittings and even when I was not sitting in meditation. I replayed them in my head, listening for false notes, wondering about my choice of words, questioning my choice of imagery or phrasing. These repetitive thoughts rarely resulted in my making changes to the poems as I had originally jotted them down at the end of the sittings, but I was unable to “let go” of my compulsion to analyze and evaluate what I had written.
After a couple of days during which I produced a number of poems — my first in more than thirty years — I decided to stop because my apparent need to replay and review them afterwards simply interfered with my desire to deepen my meditation practice at the retreat. In retrospect, I am very grateful for the encouragement and support provided at the retreat for doing something I certainly had no intention of doing when I arrived.
Ten thousand things …
but who’s counting?
Bird song disappears into thin air.
Eventually, so do we.
The earth beneath us spinning like a top;
How can we be still?
The sun shines but doesn’t care.
What a relief!
Lost in thought:
even Google Maps can’t find me.
What direction am I heading
looking for my future in my past?
Unforgettable conversations with friends,
now fading echoes.
The path stretches out behind me
but dissolves in the dazzle of day.
My feet know the way.