This current adventure began with a simple question: “What did I used to do that made me feel better?“
I listened in the pre-dawn silence of my living room for a response. I looked out the window at a glorious pink and lavender sunrise, waiting. It was as if the response stepped into the living room beside me, more visual than auditory. “Write a haiku, share the beauty you see with others,” was what I understood.
I remembered back to more than ten years ago when I would write haiku in the morning. Sunrise haiku, specifically, before my day began. I wrote a haiku word-picture and posted it on facebook for both accountability and just because it felt good.
Asked the Question
It was December 21, 2019 when I asked the question and I heard the response. I snapped a photo of sunrise before it left the sky. I wrote a haiku and uploaded it.
I smiled as I quietly gazed at the sunrise in the early December morning last year before the rest of my family was awake. Perhaps this was my answer. Could such a simple daily task possibly be the answer to the overwhelming malaise I was feeling?
Haiku. Early morning. By the fourth morning which just so happened to be 3,000 miles from where I started, it was a done deal. I would write haiku daily and take an accompanying photo and post it every morning from December 21, 2019 until January 1, 2021.
I had no idea what was coming.
Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that focuses on present moment awareness. It is, at times, simply a different way of sensing the world right in front of you. Haiku artists respond to the present moment in time in a three line poem. Most English haiku artists use the format with the first line containing five syllables, the second line containing seven syllables and the third line containing five syllables.
First, take a deep breath
allow it to roam within
next, let your breath go
Haiku doesn’t have answers, it has observations. It allows us to live in mystery rather than having a distinctive “right answer.”
One of the foremost American haiku experts, Cor van den Heuvel describes the essence of haiku like this:
“Mystery includes all the mystery of existence. How do we understand what the present moment, now, really is or means? How do we accept not only our own mystery and wonder of being, but that of all sentient and nonsentient being?”
This Daily Haiku
We could go into all sorts of details and nitpicky rules and suggestions regarding how haiku ought to be approached, but in my adventure I continue to aim at keeping the process simple so that I am most likely to show up every day and do “this daily haiku.” More than once I have received text messages from my daughter saying something like “Are you out haiku-ing again?”
Yes, my dear child, I am out in my city – inhaling sensory wonder and mystery and exhaling a seventeen syllable haiku poem.
No matter what our adventure, it is in the letting go – the exhale – that has brought me into the deep dive of new awareness, the unknown and profound message I was meant to hear and share all along.
Haiku is often written with nature themes. Because we are a part of nature, it is an easy and obvious way for us to connect to ourselves and the rest of the world as we inhale and exhale through life.
“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.”Linda Hogan
By mid-winter I had fallen into a rhythm without being very aware of it. Haiku was almost always among my first activities of the day. It was similar in importance to getting my children to school before they were all grown.
I tend toward early morning in writing haiku, but this isn’t always the case. There have been times when my everyday rhythm was off that I got close to missing my self-imposed time restraints. Wednesdays when I had meetings posed a time challenge as did days when I was traveling because in the rush to get the day started, haiku is set aside. Sundays with my many spiritual activities, ironically, cause a challenge to the haiku flow.
All in all, I have missed the morning deadline three times out of the last two hundred forty four days- and I wrote haiku past the prescribed time, anyway. The haiku itself was more important than the external rules I put on myself.
“The beauty of the natural world lies in the details.”Natalie Angier
When I started a similar writing adventure years ago, it was to stretch my ability to write sameness of sunrise in different ways. I discovered many variations on the theme of sunrise. This was when I learned how sunrise travels across the neighborhood sky throughout the year, something I had no awareness before I wrote haiku.
This time my adventure was to begin to feel better and became a way to tell the story of the rest of my life. It was a way to gain courage to face the reality I almost died in October yet I chose to stay.
I didn’t realize my 2020 haiku adventure was an invitation to experience life fully. Haiku was also the life raft itself.
Day in and day out, write haiku.
Day in and day out, share haiku.
Day in and day out, be in conversation with others that began with public posting of the haiku.
Day in and day out, I started to feel better and built momentum into healing in ways I didn’t realize I needed.
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”Sylvia Plath
There is a hidden strength in showing up every day without fail for an activity, no matter how small that daily activity is. Most of us wake up and brush our teeth, wash our face: we take care of the business of the most basic self-care. Adding an element beyond those basics and being consistent with it changed everything, especially during this time of pandemic, polarity and social unrest.
Only occasionally did my haiku stray into politics, but if an image called out to have it’s story told, I told it.
Most often, I told the story of my everyday life, which is a usually optimistic, light-in-the-darkness perspective. The intention remains the same as it was in the beginning: “feel better.”
Don’t stop feeling better. Inhale. Keep feeling better. Exhale. Repeat.
Some of the bigger surprises from writing haiku everyday are not what I imagined.
Writing haiku every day built my self-trust muscle enormously. Ironically, I didn’t know how much value there would be in coming to trust myself. I didn’t know self-trust was a barrier. Yet there it was, day after day, a feeling of satisfaction within my own follow up.
Day after day of writing seventeen syllables, taking a photo and posting it on facebook translated into “I can trust myself to show up. I can trust myself to show up for myself. I can trust myself to show up for myself and the world.”
As I followed up with haiku, I knew I could be trusted to follow up in all aspects of life.
I have been walking intentionally for the last six weeks or so. When I first started walking, I could stretch myself to walk about four city blocks before I was too tired to continue. I started to enjoy the daily challenge and discovered the health app on my phone that counts my steps.
Yesterday, after six weeks of intentional walking almost every day, I hit a new high level of steps.
It isn’t a high number for most people, but I remember back in December I was in such bad shape my daughter arranged for a wheelchair assistant so I would be able to get from gate-to-gate at the airport in time. I could walk, but I was slow. I could walk, but I felt I needed to sit down a lot. I could walk, but my knees hurt so it made walking uncomfortable.
Now I revise my step goal every two weeks and I keep walking. I trust myself to continue.
Two weeks ago I started another new goal: take 52 hikes in 52 weeks. So far I have taken three hikes. They aren’t long distance hikes and the second two hikes I’ve taken on my own. I have focused on forest bathing as much as hiking. These are my adventures. I make the rules.
Yesterday, I sat amidst a grove of Kellogg Oak trees and looked out across a burnt field of what was ponderosa pines and more oak. I was able to be present, to gaze at their beauty and acknowledge the wonder I felt.
My haiku for the day captured a slope of burnt trees reaching for the sky.
Spindly black spires reach
from sloped soil to deep blue skies
once long branches, gone
Haiku has brought me back to myself, the way I was before I was hospitalized in October. It has been more healing than medicine and continues to nudge me into more growth and more awareness and better health and attracting people I want to spend time with talking about subjects that matter instead of the weather or how angry we are at other people.
I am actually excited for my next follow up doctor appointment for when they ask the question about exercise. For the first time in years I can say “Yes! I exercise more than three times a week for at least twenty minutes a day!”
I am able to do this because of haiku. Tiny adventures build upon other tiny adventures and weave their way into a gratefully flowing life.
Seventeen syllables. Inhale and exhale. Choosing life rather than death.
Daily haiku for 377 days. Every day, you and I will be.