How to use Haiku poetry for mindfulness

Tapping into our emotions through poetry can create a state of peace, joy and contentment, and make us more mindful of the moment. It can also help us to relate to the emotions and experiences of others, and to feel less alone.

Sometimes our emotions can feel very strong, and when we’re dealing with negative thoughts, they can take over our ability to think about anything else for moments or even hours of a day. Poetry writing can help you to focus your mind on the present moment and control racing thoughts. It’s a wonderful way to use words to release overwhelming thoughts and emotions, and to find some relief.

Poems can be written and kept as a diary of your thoughts to reflect upon privately, or to share with others. Some people find sharing poetry very rewarding, and something they look forward to – maybe in a poetry circle or club that meets up each week.

Each individual’s experience with poetry is extremely personal, so the way that you choose to interact with it is up to you. However, if you’re new to poetry, then you might not know how to start. Here, I will show you how you can use a simple but effective type of poem – the Haiku – to start putting your thoughts down on paper in a short, but beautiful way.

What is a Haiku?

The Haiku (pronounced high-coo) is a poetic form that originates from Japan, but is now followed by millions of people from all over the world. Haiku are short poems that allow us to express what we are feeling in a given moment. They are usually – but not always – inspired by nature or natural surroundings. The idea being that looking at something spectacular in nature, can be a good way to stimulate reflections and feelings, and to be more mindful of the moment.

The rules are really simple…you jot down your thoughts over three lines, keeping the whole thing to 17 beats or sounds. These beats of sounds follow a 5-7-5 pattern, which we will look at in more detail shortly.

Haiku have no titles, because they are thought of as informal thoughts. They are made up of two images or scenes and don’t usually rhyme, but they can if you want them to. There are also no set rules on capitalization or punctuation – this is left up to the poet. (Note: traditionally, if we refer to more than one Haiku, we still say Haiku, not Haikus!)

To give you a better sense of what Haiku look and sound like, let’s start by looking at some traditional versions by famous Japanese poets. As you read each Haiku, try to jot down a simple sketch or thought that comes into your mind. This will demonstrate how even though Haiku are very short, they can still create a powerful image in the mind of the reader. Also, notice how the rhyming pattern or beats work in each line:

5 beats

7 beats

5 beats

Here are a couple of traditional poems by the father of Haiku, Matsuo Basho, who is simply reflecting on what he sees and painting a memorable picture in his mind…

Temple bells die out. [5]

The fragrant blossoms remain. [7]

A perfect evening! [5]

 

Lady butterfly [5]

perfumes her wings by floating [7]

over the orchid [5]

Now let’s take a look at a couple of modern Haiku. These don’t always relate to nature, and often refer instead to whatever you are feeling in a single moment. Take a look at these ones from Carol Allen who is a writer of mysteries but loves to write Haiku.

Sometimes I need to [5]

Do precisely nothing and [7]

Let cares unravel [5]

 

Can I come back as [5]

a cat please? I want to sit [7]

and gaze through windows [5]

How to use poetry writing as a mindfulness exercise

Now that we’ve had a look at some examples, let’s put some thoughts together and work on creating some Haiku of our own. If you’re new to writing Haiku, then basing your first few on something that you’ve observed in your surroundings, can help to get you thinking, and encourage you to explore and express your emotions. I will start by taking a scene that I observed recently, before showing you how I could turn it into a Haiku.

Example 1

The scene...

Last night, I was looking up into a tree on a footpath where I was enjoying a balmy, warm evening stroll. I saw two wood pigeons side by side really enjoying each other’s company in a way that looked to me like gentle kissing, and I thought how innocent and simple. Their love making took away some gloomy thoughts about the pandemic, as we are not allowed to hug friends or family right now. However, I did envy them for being able to be close to one another.

Inspired by this scene and how it made me feel, I collected and wrote down my thoughts on my experience, before picking out any key emotions or ideas. This process allowed me to create two Haiku – one non-rhyming and another rhyming. Both use the three-line 5-7-5 format.

Non-rhyming

The pigeon-lovers [5]  Nature – the birds caught my attention

croon high up on leafy branch [7]  Creates strong image of the scene

corona envy  [5]  Expresses emotion of envy

Rhyming

Feathered mates courting [5]

on a leafy love branch high [7]  [rhyme]

Lockdown-a sad sigh [5] [rhyme]

Both poems allow me to explore how this particular scene – which really captured my attention – made me feel in that single moment. They help me to appreciate the natural beauty of the wood and the pigeons mating, whilst expressing my frustrations about my own situation. As I wrote these poems, I was able to keep my mind entirely focussed on the scene and how it made me feel. I instantly felt much calmer as any other thoughts ebbed away

Example 2

Let’s look at another example of how you could write a Haiku, focussing on the theme of love. Love takes many forms. The love of sexual partners, the love of a child-parent relationship, the love of friends – but it’s an emotion that we all feel at one time or another, and there are often reminders of it everywhere.

The scene…

I am in a churchyard and I see old tombstones with a robin flying over them. The robin reminded me of a loved one, now passed away.

In order to begin translating this scene into a Haiku, I pulled out the key thought or idea, which here was: a love lost. I then merged this idea with my observations in the churchyard, and was able to write the Haiku below.

Warm churchyard in June [5]

Watching robin hop on stone  [7]

cross. Memories still strong [5]

I hope this demonstrates how thoughts can be free in a Haiku – you don’t have to make them rhyme. It’s just a case of remembering the beats 5-7-5. Or if you fancy a challenge, you might try a rhyme. For example, let’s take the idea of love shared, which stemmed from a dream that I had about a loved one, now passed. I chose to make this one rhyme.

 

Waking from a dream [5]

Of you- my heart beats happy [7]

And memories stream [5]

Example 3

As a final example of how you can translate your thoughts and observations into Haiku, let’s take the theme of loneliness. Loneliness is a powerful state of being which is hard to describe, and can pull your mood into negativity. Haiku can help you to deal with and express thoughts about loneliness. If you plan to share your poetry with others, then sometimes the process of writing it while knowing it will be read by others, can also help you to feel less alone.

In this example, I spotted an elderly man with his dog in the street. Instantly, the theme of loneliness sprung to mind – probably because I had been feeling a bit lonely myself.

The scene…

I can see an elderly man walking a dog along the street. It is raining and they are the only ones in the scene. He is a little bit bent over and walks slowly but his dog is small and always keeps pace with him.

We could translate this into the following…

Little wet dog trots  [5] Wet dog attract my thoughts

with frail man giving him  [7] The picture of man and dog

Companionship  [5] Dog keeps loneliness at bay

Or…

 

Grey and rainy day  [5] I’m feeling a bit lonely

old man and dog walk along,  [7] This image creates a thought

two singers one song [5] And lifts my mood

I hope these guided examples have helped to give you a better idea about how to organise your thoughts, experiences and emotions into Haiku. Now, it’s time to have a go at writing your own!

Time to get writing…

Here are some suggestions about how you might start to create a Haiku of your own. Remember that the idea is to be mindful of the moment – staying with that moment to express your emotions through what you see.

1. Take a walk and see what you observe

If you’re looking for inspiration for your Haiku, then consider taking a walk. This can be to somewhere you know well or to somewhere you’ve never been before – as long as you are being mindful and concentrating on the details of what you see around you. Focussing intently on your surroundings can be easier said than done. Think about your regular, simple visits to a park, or to the high street over many years. How often do we walk along with thoughts in our head and completely miss the details of our surroundings? How much detail can you recall of what shops were where, what was in them and any window displays? What about the park or wood – do you remember which trees were there, or how many dogs or ducks or other animals you saw, and what they were doing? Chances are, you had a frustrating time getting through traffic, looking for your keys before, or something else stressful – because that is so often the case when living in the hustle and bustle of the 21st century.

Before you start your walk, give yourself a few moments to breathe deeply, relax and clear your mind. You’ll need to take a pen and paper with you so that you can jot down things you see. Try to get yourself into a state where you are ready to enjoy your walk without frustration, and to observe and focus on the smaller details – taking your mind off your distracting thoughts.

Note: Going for a walk can be particularly helpful when starting to write Haiku, as there is often more to see – making it much more likely that you will stumble across something that really captures your attention. However, you can also write about a scene that you saw out the window or on TV, or a dream you had. Anything you observe that stirs up a strong emotion in a particular moment will do.

2. Let your emotions influence how you think about what you see

Before heading out for your walk, you might have been feeling happy, sad, anxious, tired – or something else entirely. But it’s likely that whatever you feel, or have felt strongly about recently – will be reflected in what you see around you. If you are really focussed on your surroundings and letting all other thoughts go from your mind, then you should be able to use what you are seeing in any given moment to inspire or bring to the surface an emotion.

3. Sit somewhere comfortable and jot down a few thoughts

Once a scene has really captured your attention, it’s at this point that you might want to find somewhere comfortable to sit, and get your notepad and pen out. Jot down details about the particular scene that you are observing, paying particular attention to any strong thoughts and emotions that it evokes, or anything about the scene that really stands out. Continue to stay in the moment, whilst playing with ideas for your first Haiku. Don’t worry about getting it perfect – just try to get something down on paper. You can always play with it later, or create an entirely new one. Part of the beauty of the Haiku is that it’s short and simple, and you can create hundreds of them if you want to.

4. Try to keep to the pattern

When you’re translating your thoughts into a Haiku, try to remember the simple pattern 5-7-5, and work on expressing exactly how you feel within that framework. This will keep your mind focussed and help you to hone in on thoughts, feelings or observations that are most important. Once you get used to the rules of the poetry, it does become easier – and you might be surprised at how satisfying it can be. Just as an artist paints pictures to capture a scene or a feeling, a poem like a Haiku can capture a wonderful scene in the mind, as well as the emotions connected to the scene.

5. Consider keeping a Haiku diary

If you enjoy writing your first few Haiku, then consider investing in a diary to collect them in. It can be helpful to look back at them and remember how they helped you to express and relieve strong emotions in past moments. This can be incredibly rewarding, and can help you to see how your poetry writing has evolved or to see how far you’ve come with working through a particular emotion. It can also be nice to simply read a joyful Haiku that once wrote to lift your spirits or to remember fondly some of the scenes you’ve recorded.

A final note…

Writing Haiku is a wonderful way to express yourself and focus your mind on the present moment – and there are societies across the world that exist for people to share their love of this tiny poem. The British Haiku Society has a number of events, groups and competitions that you can get involved with.

I hope this article has brought you some joy and that it will encourage you to read more Haiku and create your own. I couldn’t help but end by sharing with you one last Haiku, which won third prize in the British Haiku Society’s poetry competition last year! It’s a snapshot of a very familiar and simple scene but captures a mindful moment so well.

at Marks and Spencer

an old lady lingering

by the lingerie …

By Alan Maley

 

Have you used poetry for mindfulness? Or do you have a Haiku that you’d like to share? Share it with our Haiku community or leave a comment below.

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5 thoughts on “How to use Haiku poetry for mindfulness

  1. Avatar
    Michelle Page on Reply

    Just woke up checking my emails and started to read about Haiku. I will give this a try as it’s always rewarding to try something new. Here goes:

    Open my eyes
    To hear birds singing
    New day begins

    1. Avatar
      Helen on Reply

      How wonderful that you’ve tried a haiku! Janie’s article is really rather lovely, so I hope you get to experiment with some of the deep dive exercises she offers.

      We’ve also got a Haiku conversation going on over at the Rest Less Community. We’d love you to pop over there and share

  2. Avatar
    Sarah Lowe on Reply

    This is lovely. I’ve not heard of this type of poetry before. Fabulous it can be used in such a great way. Wonderful inspiration for my business fb page too. Thank you

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