Poetry, when written from a place of pain, is a natural medicine. I myself have healed often by sitting in a sacred space and writing a poem. To say that I was healed is not to say my body was cured; rather, my spirit was healed of its brokenness.
I have written poetry intermittently since my teenage years. I once asked a beloved mentor who encouraged my work if he thought I had a muse that inspired my words. He replied that he did not believe, as Greek myths suggest, that muses are external beings. Rather a muse is the person, himself, herself, and is something important within that wants expression. He was not wrong. Nor was he right. For having something to say entails having someone to say it to. Whatever and whenever I write, there “appears” before me the image of my muse, that someone to whom I want to express thoughts and feelings. It was not enough for me to want to simply say something important, but also to say it to someone who is important to me. For me, the very act of writing is a spiritual dialogue. Nearly every poem, regardless of its topic or mood, every one is an honest conversation between two voices.
I don’t use the term, spiritual, causally. Neither do I intend it to be mythic or mystic in the same sense as religions often intend it. It simply seems a fitting expression for a kind of “home” or centeredness that emanates from bonds of the heart. In writing, one can achieve that centeredness deliberately, rather than accidentally. Poetry gives you permission to feel. With the storm surge of medical protocols, surgeries, statistical outcomes, we are left with the notion that we must suppress our feelings so that we can focus on the “what, when, where, & how” of our disease. We ignore the “why” of the presence of disease in our life.
Whenever I invite clients to write a poem or a sacred letter about their experience of disease or loss, I often am met with skepticism and reluctance. The first poem is the hardest to write. For some people, the poem must fit a certain pattern. I explain that the only requirement for a poem is that it is honest. As Emily Dickinson explained: to speak the truth at a slant.
I start by asking the writer to “walk gently into your sacred space”. This space can be anywhere you have been or wish to be that invites you to sit and rest. Furnish it with objects that carry a personal history—old books, bowls and boxes, splintering chairs, photos, whatever reminds you of where you’ve been in life. Color it with sights, sounds, smells, and textures. Populate it with only one other poetic spirit who befriends you, listens to you, speaks to you. Your muse may be someone you know. It may even be yourself at a younger or older age.
I invite you to try this exercise, especially if you are dealing with a life threatening disease. Then share your work with me. I would like to hear your voice.