The Words that Hold Self-Care

Breakfast often feels like poetry for me.  Here I quietly eat a sweet potato muffin with a side of full-fat yogurt and clasp my hands around a homemade latte for warmth.  My belly, heart and mind are one for a few delicious bites and sips. 

Breakfast often feels like poetry for me.  Here I quietly eat a sweet potato muffin with a side of full-fat yogurt and clasp my hands around a homemade latte for warmth.  My belly, heart and mind are one for a few delicious bites and sips. 

Hello Sweethearts,

I love helping people solve their self-care problems.  It's why I believe I am here.  However, my biggest lesson of this work is that I can't solve the problem of pain.  

Pain is built into the human existence.  We will all definitely die and lose people during our lives. It's because of this that we can also welcome new births, celebrate important milestones and kiss people under the mistletoe. 

Denial of pain is destructive. I have yet to meet a client whose grief over the pain of a big loss in life didn't factor into her self-care blocks.  By mindfully going through the layers of loss in a supported way, each one of my clients has healed in her own time.  

The secret is not trying to fix the pain.  Feeling that we could feel differently than we really do is something called suffering.  Suffering is excruciating and luckily, completely optional. 

Let me be clear because I think this is important.  Pain is not optional. Suffering is. 

I think my self-care programs work so well because when I work with a client, we minimize the suffering while making lots of space for the pain to exist.  

Working as a group, my clients realize they are not alone in feeling pain.  They relax and allow their feelings.  Allowing their feelings, they realize they are strong enough to handle all the sensation.  They feel, they grieve and they emerge feeling fully alive. 

So what does this have to do with poetry?

Poetry helps me feel fully alive.  Sometimes the pain of life is so much that only poetry makes sense to me.  Poetry is magical because it dives deeply into the well of human feeling and emerges with a glimmering cup of beauty.  It holds the poles of darkness and light with human creativity, beauty and warmth. 

Poetry reminds us that others have lost deeply and survived by grace.  Poetry makes us feel less alone. 

My holiday present for you, as you dive deeply into your own well, are the poems that bring me the most comfort and clarity during challenging moments.  Reading them is one of my favorite forms of self-care. 

I hope they help you too.  Read a poem or two in the morning with your hands warming around a cup of tea.  Let a line rock you to sleep at the end of a long day. Share them with a loved one by the fire and amplify the magic comes from a string of words, bursting at the seams with light and connection.

If you like, share your favorite poem right back to me.  I'd love it. This is how generosity works -- one hand touching another, the feeling of skin reminding us that the way home is actually just straight in through the universal heart. 



With That Moon Language
by Hafiz

Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, What every other eye in this world is dying to hear?


Variations on the Word Sleep
by Margaret Atwood

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.


"Oh, not because happiness exists,
that over-hasty profit from imminent loss,
not out of curiosity, or to practice the heart,
which could exist in the laurel......
But because being here is much, and because all
that’s here seems to need us, the ephemeral, that
strangely concerns us. We: the most ephemeral. Once,
for each thing, only once. Once, and no more. And we too,
once. Never again. But this
once, to have been, though only once,
to have been an earthly thing – seems irrevocable."
--Rainer Maria Rilke, The Ninth Elegy


by Stephen Dunn

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear   
one more friend   
waking with a tumor, one more maniac   

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness   
has come   
and changed nothing in the world   

except the way I stumbled through it,   
for a while lost   
in the ignorance of loving   

someone or something, the world shrunk   
to mouth-size,  
hand-size, and never seeming small.   

I acknowledge there is no sweetness   
that doesn’t leave a stain,   
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ....   

Tonight a friend called to say his lover   
was killed in a car   
he was driving. His voice was low   
and guttural, he repeated what he needed   
to repeat, and I repeated   
the one or two words we have for such grief   

until we were speaking only in tones.   
Often a sweetness comes   
as if on loan, stays just long enough   

to make sense of what it means to be alive,   
then returns to its dark   
source. As for me, I don’t care   

where it’s been, or what bitter road   
it’s traveled   
to come so far, to taste so good.


by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.  
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth. 

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.


White Hawk Flies Into and Out of the Field
by Mary Oliver

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —
as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.


The Promise
by Marie Howe

In the dream I had when he came back not sick
but whole, and wearing his winter coat,

he looked at me as though he couldn't speak, as if
there were a law against it, a membrane he
couldn't break

His silence was what he could not
not do, like our breathing in this world,
like our living.

As we do, in time.
And I told him: I'm reading all this
Buddhist stuff,

and listen, we don't die when we die. Death is
an event,
a threshold we pass through. We go on and on

and into light forever.
And he looked down, and then back up at me.
It was the look we'd pass

across the table when Dad was drunk again
and dangerous,
the level look that wants to tell you something,

in a crowded room, something important,
and can't