As part of the Shalem Institute's Spiritual Guidance Program residency, we've been exploring Haiku poetry as a contemplative practice. In its Zen Buddhist roots, it is a skillful means for fostering wide open, non-dual awareness of the present moment. The essence of the form is to move beyond ego into a more expansive consciousness of what is real. It is a practice of co-inherence, an experience of communion.
Haiku is direct, simple, and evocative, giving expression to what is: right here, right now. Saturday night I shared Evensong with a tree:
moss in glory
The next morning I walked along the creek bed, newly alive with the spring thaw.
Noticing the ground - and the sound - beneath my feet:
Occasionally, we experience what Tilden Edwards calls participative seeing, beyond the subject-object split. We are simply alive in God, in the is-ness of it all. How different life can be when we act from this contemplative orientation. As Kathleen Norris notes in The Cloister Walk: "Poets understand that they do not know what they mean, and that this is their strength . . . writing teaches us to recognize when we have reached the limits of language, and our knowing, and are dependent on our senses to 'know' for us."
Haiku is a way of "knowing" by "unknowing" - letting go of our discursive, analytical ordering of experience so as to simply be in it. It cultivates a more subtle, interior spiritual sense. Our culture, awash in meaningless materialism and on the verge of global ecological collapse, desperately needs to recover this contemplative way of knowing, and feeling, and acting.