Haiku is a Japanese poetic form consisting of seventeen syllables over three lines. Line one has five syllables, line two seven and line three five. Originally the traditional Japanese haiku form was based on the natural world. In the traditional form there is often a juxtaposition of two images or ideas.
Nowadays, increasingly in the West the structure may stay but the focus is not always on the natural world nor is there always a juxtaposition. It has been used to create a short concise poem about any subject.
Haiku is essentially the art of being concise and choosing exactly the right word to fit the moment, image or idea. It often creates word pictures in the reader’s mind. There is a famous haiku by the Japanese poet Basho about a frog jumping into a pond and the resulting sound. Haiku captures the moment taking a slice of the instant.
Why write haiku?
In the true Japanese form it is an art and a science.
It is a discipline in ‘cutting’ verbiage – each word is chosen with great care to have the most impact.
It creates a word picture or a succinct idea.
It has instant impact.
It captures the present moment.
There are endless variations on a theme.
It creates infinite possibilities.
It can be fun.
It sharpens the mind.
It increases vocabulary.
It encourages use of the dictionary and thesaurus.
Stories are everywhere. There are stories that are already told. There are stories that are re-told. There are stories yet to be told. The potential for stories is overwhelming. As human beings we love storytelling.
Whilst on holiday this year I made a resolution to set up my story radar.
Once we reached each destination I looked around the dwelling we had arrived at and scanned the telling tales of human personality. AirB&Bs are particularly good for the whimsical and quirky and far outstrip the hotel experience if you like picking up on stories. Knickknacks, wall hangings, the choice of books and so many other details all reveal storylines. The story the observer may pick up may of course not be the truth. As the receiver of a story we interpret in our own unique way what we observe as a result of our own set of experiences. My mind was well pleased with the sleuthing that I had tasked it to perform. But what was I going to do with these stories forming in my head? Those details that appealed I noted down in my daily three pages. Who knows I might use them in a piece of creative writing. But you have got to be selective with your writing scrapbook or you can be quite overwhelmed.
Sitting in a restaurant or outside watching people pass by I can’t say I was the most attentive travel companion to my partner as I was away in a world of potential stories. There was one restaurant where I was deeply involved in working out the relationship of the owning couple and my partner was getting quite fidgety! I had to turn off my story radar sometimes or I might have been left quite alone with my own devising!
Our holiday was essentially a walking holiday with a difference. The story hunt added an extra magic. When not concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other on a rocky coastal path my mind was scanning the world around me. It dawned on me that walks provide many a storyline. Just looking at the descriptions in walking books there are many tales told about aspects of the landscape, architecture and the people that lived there. Human beings leave behind a trail of story hints wherever they have settled. The best walks we did on the holiday were those that hinted at human stories. On one Dorset walk called ‘The South West Coast Path to St Adhelm’s’ we passed a garden memorial to the Royal Marines killed between 1945 and 1990, visited the 800-year old St Adhelm’s Chapel, the Coastguard Station and a memorial to the work of radar developers in the 1940s and during WWII. Plenty of stories there and potential for some to be retold.
As mentioned there are stories already told. My story radar also had a setting to locate any authors in the areas we were visiting. In Cornwall it was Daphne du Maurier. Everywhere I looked there were references to her and I found myself reading an article on her in an old edition of Cornwall Life May 2017: ‘Daphne du Maurier – Celebrate a Literary Life in Fowey’. Unfortunately we weren’t in Fowey otherwise I would have liked to have followed her trail and perhaps retold something about her life. Next time perhaps.
But it was in Dorset that a story already told but retold came to light. It was on a very misty day that I discovered the life story of Mary Anning. We had planned to go on a coastal walk near Lulworth Cover to Durdle Door – a natural stone arch created by the movement of tectonic plates during the rising of the Alps in Europe after the end of the Cretaceous period. Geology has always fascinated me. The mist was so thick and it was raining lightly so we decided to go into the visitor centre at Lulworth Cove to let the weather pass. Browsing through the books on geology and fossils I came across a couple of books on someone called Mary Anning who collected fossils from the Dorset coast in the early 19th Century. One of the books was a non-fiction account of her life and the other was fictionalised. I chose to buy the fictionalised version of her story by Tracy Chevalier called ‘Remarkable Creatures’. Simple book cover design and tantalising title! Fictionalised versions of real people’s lives are often easier to read in my opinion and this particular story about fossils might need a bit of spice to make it palatable! I had also read and rated highly Tracy Chevalier’s novel based on a famous painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ so I knew I was in for a good read. In the retelling of Mary Anning’s life in a fictional form I have been introduced to the whole new topic of fossils. Just goes to show the power of storytelling to engage us all in life-long learning.
Whilst travelling home by car I kept myself entertained with advertising stories. Whilst sitting in a long queue on motorways I discovered amongst other advertising stories that you could have a camper van that folded in half; and more intriguingly a ‘Greener Goodbye’ funeral. Glad I wasn’t driving. No danger of an accident! Not only were the vehicle advertising stories engaging but also the number plate stories people tell by forcing numbers and letters to have meaning. I was well amused but for reasons of anonymity I won’t divulge any specific number plates!
Human beings are storytellers. Our capacity with language helps us to spin tales and create the world around us and within us. Our storytelling potential is enormous. Our inner and outer worlds can be made richer or poorer by the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we see and hear. The onus is on each and every one of us to filter the stories that will benefit rather than hinder us. Not only are we storytellers but we have the ability to choose the setting on our story radar.
Life is for dancing. Whatever stage of life you are at – dance. Whatever struggle you are going through with your life – dance. For any reason whatsoever – dance! There is no need to learn specific steps. Your body knows how it wants to move if you will just listen to it. Dance can be the most liberating activity. You may be feeling low, depressed, anxious and alone but put on a piece of music and move your body as it intuits it needs to move and after a while the endorphins kick in and dopamine floods your system and everything changes and you are more liberated and the body feels freer in the joints and muscles. The mood lifts and energy levels return. There is nothing quite like dance.
Whatever age you are you can dance. You may be fairly immobile but you can still dance with your hands. You can dance on your chair and utilise your imagination to take you to another realm of mobility. The mind can move the body, the body can move the mind. In movement liberation of the spirit happens. Moods lift. The joints and muscles become freer. You are moving in the moment.
The practice of yoga is not just about physical postures though in the West many people see yoga as simply that. Unless of course you are a practising yogi or yogini and know that there is more to yoga than a series of postures.
Yoga is essentially a lifestyle choice though personally I dislike this term as it sounds so artificial. Let’s rephrase it. Yoga is essentially a way of life if you embrace it fully. It should permeate everything you do not just the time you spend on the mat.
Yoga means ‘union’ or ‘yoke’ in Sanskrit – the ancient Indian language of yoga’s origins. The union or yoking is between mind, body and spirit. The mind and body connection is easy enough to fathom but what about the spirit?
What does yoking to the spirit actually mean? We all have a deeper nature and a deeper connection to life than we know. Union with the spiritual side of our nature is simply connecting to our higher nature – understanding that there is something bigger than ourselves. We all have different conceptions of what our higher nature might be and what that something bigger than our little selves might be. The spiritual journey is what our lives are often about.
All of us are on a spiritual journey in one way or another. All of us have our own way of connecting to our spiritual nature. Yoga is simply a science or an art or a set of tools that help us to calm body and mind so that we can more easily perceive our higher nature. Yoga was never a religion but a way of connecting to a higher reality. Anybody can practice yoga – a way of relaxing body and mind and learning to tune in to the reality of life around us. Regular practice of yoga enables us to gain a sense of inner peace – much needed in the busyness of modern life.
Inspired by the seascape at St Ives – so tranquil and calm yet remembering the sea has such great potential to stir itself – this series of sea-based haiku emerged into my consciousness this early morning.