Photo by Sean King

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Happy National Poetry month
To you!
If you’ve been in our classes or attended our retreats, you know that we celebrate poetry every month of the year. As Lucille Clifton says, “Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language.” The best poetry uses words to transcend language, pointing to Life with a capital L. The rich, ever-changing, difficult, confusing, joyous feeling of being alive – the subject of our mindfulness practice.
In our offerings, one of the definitions we use for mindfulness is Shauna Shapiro’s and Linda Carlson’s: Mindfulness is the awareness that arises out of intentionally paying attention in an open, kind, and discerning way. There’s a warmth to this way of paying attention, a curiosity. And a willingness to be surprised. You may be thinking, “Sure, lovely idea, but how does it work?” Here’s where poetry comes in.

Sister Dang Nghiem is a Vietnamese American poet who left a life as an MD to become a nun with Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Her poem, Feather at Midday, is a perfect illustration of mindfulness in action:
If I had not stopped to watch
a feather flying by,
I would not have seen its landing —
a tiny pure white feather.
Gently, I blew a soft breath
to send it back to the spring.
If I had not looked up to watch
the feather gliding over the roof,
I would not have seen
the crescent moon

hanging at midday.


Photo by Evie S.

Ahhhh. Can you feel that? We get a sense here of the lived experience of mindfulness: open, curious, following along moment to moment. You never know what you’ll see when you’re paying attention – first a feather, next the moon.

In support of mindfulness, we also cultivate loving-kindness. We all have this innate capacity within us, but by practicing we can expand and strengthen these qualities. Rena Priest, our Washington State Poet Laureate and Lummi native, describes this practice beautifully in her poem Love ALL the people:
Love ALL the people.
The trees are people.
The animals are people.
The plants are people.
The fish are people.
The whales are people.
The mountains are people.
The oceans are people.
Love ALL the people.
The people are people!
No matter what color,
Who they love,
How they live,
Or what they believe,
The people are people.
Love ALL the people.


A deep sense of connection arises when I read this poem. I feel myself big and small, all at once. Similarly, Nikita Gill’s poem 93 Percent Stardust points to that sense of connection and wonder that mindfulness can give us access to:
We have calcium in our bones,
iron in our veins,
carbon in our souls,
and nitrogen in our brains.
93 percent stardust
with souls made of flames
we are all just stars
that have people names.

Photo by Greg Rakozy

Gill is a British-Indian poet, playwright, writer, and illustrator based in the south of England.  Using social media to engage her audience, she has over 650,000 followers on Instagram! Just goes to show, poetry is alive and well in our modern world.


Whether it’s mindfulness, loving-kindness, or any other practice, the effort is ongoing. We are never “done”; we’re always beginning, again and again. Every breath, every moment. It can be challenging, even frightening, to enter the unknown in this way. Lucille Clifton’s Blessing the Boats encourages us on the path:
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back        may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that


Photo by Lorena Pavoliene

Lucille Clifton was Maryland’s poet laureate from 1974 until 1985 and a National Book Award-winner.  When asked how she would like to be remembered, she said, “I would like to be seen as a woman whose roots go back to Africa, who tried to honor being human. My inclination is to try to help.” I know her words have helped me.
Carrying a poem around in your pocket or pasting it next to your desk can be a supportive way to remind us of what’s important. Some people even memorize a few favorite lines to draw on as needed.
Which of these poems do you find most inviting? Might you print it out, keep it close, maybe even share it? If poetry is brand new to you, I hope you made some friends today! Perhaps you already have some favorites that you turn to over and over. Either way, may we draw inspiration from the rich language of poetry as it helps us turn, again and again, toward life.
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