So what would it be like to listen to the poetry of your life, as to the poetry of Rumi or Mary Oliver or David Whyte? Why should their poems be any more profound than your own? You need not write, per se. Just live, and see what shimmers, what arrests your attention as life flows forth from the secret spring of your heart.
In Lectio Poetica, we let ourselves be caught by a word or image, an idea, a line or stanza. We let the rest go, and sit with that one word or image. What if you looked back over a week, or even a day, with an eye for the moment that lights up, and wondered what it was trying to say to you?
A poem, especially an epic poem—like Dante’s Divine Comedy or Homer’s Iliad—contains an enormous array of words, images and ideas. So, too, your day or your week is filled with images, sounds, encounters, thoughts and feelings, good things and bad things happening. Boring stretches of nothing. Busy days in which you can barely catch your breath. Just sit and let them flow past, as if you were resting on a river bank watching your life go by, not attaching to anything. Leaves floating downstream.
Notice the subtle rhythms of your daily activities. The iambic pentameters of your grooming or cooking or driving. The free verse of your phone calls. The sonnets and odes, the haikus and limericks, the tragic and comic lines you utter day by day.
Something out of the unfolding poem of your day or week stops you, makes you squint and purse your lips. Slow down. Stay with it. Pause and ponder. Close your eyes if you want to. I’ll be here when you get back. Got it?
Treat that event, that image, that whatever happened as a message from the gods, or God, or if you like, your own soul. Take it seriously. Practice Lectio Poetica. Let the rest go, and just repeat it over and over, gently, in your mind or your mind’s eye.
For me, it’s a conversation with my uncle, who just turned 83. He’s unhappy and isolated. He spends all day, all night caring for my aunt, who is crippled with chronic pain and illness. He never gets out and does anything. He has no friends. My heart is heavy with that image. Tears spring into my eyes. I stay with it, kindly. I’m meditating on it. Something is speaking, quietly.
I ask myself what this has to do with my life—this image of my uncle, ruined by pain that does not even belong to him. How powerful and destructive! I understand, at least a little. I, too, suffer from chronic pain. I feel again the impulse to do something for people who have lost their lives to pain. The still, small voice grows more insistent. It asks me why I don’t offer some of the wisdom I have gained, through my study and practice of mindfulness and positive psychology. Why not, indeed?
The epic poem of my life has flowed into this lacuna, this momentary pause, asking me to incarnate the word I’ve heard. My soul says, Don’t forget. You can help others. I hear you, I reply.
This, too, is Lectio Poetica. This, ultimately, is what it’s all about. Listening to the poetry of our lives. And taking seriously what we hear.
—Jay E. Valusek