When I’m lost or troubled, I read fewer blogs and more books, real books, the kind you can hold and take notes from. The more rattled and scattered I am, the more I crave books about creativity and writing, especially those written by poets about poetry. The process of reading and note-taking calms me. Because they invoke all kinds of connection and contemplative practice, good books about writing are really guides to leading a more engaged life, inspiring us to distill the essence of our experience so we can share it creatively, and, if we’re lucky, connect with the hearts and minds of those we we long to reach.
Last week, I grabbed a pen and a notebook and re-read Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. It’s so much more than a book about understanding poetry; it’s a rallying call to experience life like a poet, to create something that has the power to change lives.
“A mind that is lively and enquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry. Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision – a faith, to use an old fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.”
(Mary Oliver, from A Poetry Handbook)
Jotting down excerpts from A Poetry Handbook was a delight. Today’s post from the archives is an old article from my Coaching Moments column, but one I hope you’ll resonate with; I don’t know anyone who visits here who isn’t a life-cherisher, a capturer and framer of moments, a wordsmith or an artist.
As a writer, you should have a sticky soul; the act of continually taking things in should be as much a part of you as your hair color. ~ Elizabeth Berg
I’m a quote-hunter, an unashamed gatherer of quotes. Capturing the words that resonate with me is like gathering wild berries, nuts and seeds, windfalls of fruit – food for thought.
Some stand out from the page or computer screen like the flash of a robin in a winter bush. Others are a rainbow of satin ribbons, waiting to be the right words to wrap around a bouquet of thoughts or to become the bow that sets off a simply wrapped sentiment. Then there’s the unexpected treasure, precious gems that dazzle with their brilliance. I keep them somewhere safe so that I can bring them out later, like a child fingering treasures wrapped in a handkerchief, hoping to find a special friend to show them to, someone who will understand.
I never go out without a pen, a notebook and a book to read. When I read a book with a ‘quotebook’ and a pen handy, it’s a signal I send to myself and to the universe. It says “I’m open. I expect nothing, but I’m prepared to be moved, enlightened or entertained. I’m a student, ready and willing to learn from the lives and the wisdom of others.”
In my Filofax, stuck on the fridge, pinned to my pinboard and incorporated into my art work, albums and blog, quotes serve as flashes of inspiration, mini mission statements and signposts to keep me on track. Dead poets become heroes, strangers become mentors.
I use a different instinct, a different skill when I capture a quote. In many ways, it’s like the honing in and the active listening I do as a coach.
Finding the perfect quote that illustrates several sentiments or pulls together a complex train of thought is similar to recognising an Aha! moment in a coaching session. It’s synchronicity’s way of helping us focus and pay attention.
Our first instincts are often the ones that bypass our censors and cruel inner critics which is why many quotes become deeply personal and precious to us. They’re like messages sent from our own souls. Every time you choose a quote that resonates with you, don’t stop to ask why; just write it down and keep it safe. Quotes are like photographs, snapshots of who you are, who you were. They’re music that moves you, lyrics that leave you scarred. They’re memories of a moment when you came upon someone else’s words and felt connected, not only to another human being, but to the moment, the thought and the feeling that overflowed from them and cried out to be heard. The ‘Me too!!’ or ‘That’s it exactly!!’ moment.
It’s our unique life experience and how we channel, choose and arrange the moments, the music and the words that makes us writers, creating collages that turn our lives into works of art.
Learning to resonate with those moments strengthens the treasure-hunting in our coaching sessions; those repeating words that draw our attention, those powerful silences when our clients connect to an answer nestling patiently in their souls, waiting to rise and take flight – they’re the gems.
I never know how my words will affect others but I do know that my best coaching happens and my best pieces write themselves in the moments when I’m most alive, aware and open. Some moments of clarity or emotion are so powerful they brim up and overflow and make me feel that if I don’t channel them into words, control them and create something from them that I will drown or that something very precious, something vital will be washed away and lost. When I sit down to recreate those moments, I feel like my whole life, everything I know and everything I am is a prism being used to refract the light of a message coming, quite simply, from somewhere else.
When I coach well, I feel the same connection.
Know then, that if anything I ever write affects, moves, touches or supports you, it was meant for you, sent from somewhere that neither of us can fully comprehend. I’m happy to be the messenger.