Poetic Healing

Several years ago I attended a week long retreat in a canyon on Navajo land in Arizona with poetry therapist John Fox, author of Poetic Medicine and Finding What You Didn’t Lose. The trip was part of a longer personal journey to connect more deeply with the yearnings of my soul and to live and write from a deeper more authentic place. The combination of camping in the desert mixed with gathering in the safe and sacred space of a group using poetry, not in the traditional literary sense, but as a vehicle for healing had a profound effect. Grief I had been holding for decades from the loss of my mother when I was a teenager came to the surface to be healed. The deepest healing came as I wrote the following poem:


At sixteen I bought my first bird book,
a small green hardback, whose binding I broke
turning countless times its pages of color,
striking orange and black of oriole,
the azure sea shade of bluebird, red ember
iridescence of hummingbird’s throat,
fluttering in my hands for nearly forty years.

The year birds entered my life was
the same year my mother left it.
The woman who carried my brother and me
deep into Nature. Camping under the sun
drizzled scent of redwoods, wandering
wave tossed tidepools at ocean’s edge.

She’d pack the blue 54 Ford station wagon
every summer, to journey into wildness,
the expanses of the American West
to take in its beauty, as if through skin.
Laying our young and tender bodies
on the land, connecting us thread
by invisible thread to the earth’s intricate web.

So when her heart suddenly stopped
that summer, I was away at biology camp
discovering birds, and she slipped from the world
long before I wanted to let her go. I remained
tethered to the Earth, cradled by the great mother,
and birds became messengers
dropping from the heavens
to lift my spirits on a thousand wings,
embracing me with their songs.

– Suzanne Murray

The first few drafts of the poem I wrote through tears and beyond helping to clear the archival grief I was carrying there was a great healing from being able to honor my mother for the gift she gave me in connecting me to Nature. Everyone on the trip whether they were skilled in the craft of poetry or not had a similar healing as we gathered together to witness each others words and experiences and share poems, both our own and the work of poets like Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, Wendell Berry, Rumi, Hafiz, Naomi Shihab Nye and William Stafford who touch the human heart.

Like other forms of sacred writings, poetry is the language of the soul interfacing with a greater source of inspiration so that a good poem can stir us in ways our conscious mind may not always be aware of. We can feel the poem in our own body and soul and sense the power of the words taking us deeper into what really matters. Reading and writing poems certainly helps to anchor me in these changing times and it can inspired other forms of creativity as well.

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