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Writing Haiku

Natural Mystics in Training

By Geoffrey Philp Published 11 months ago 4 min read
Top Story - July 2023
44
Geoffrey Philp & Midjourney

In a recent Facebook post, the poet Roger Robinson advises artists ‘To have an MVAS: a Minimum Viable Artistic Starter. This would be a very small creative act to get your day started.” For the past three years, my MVAS has been to write haiku.

Each morning after I've read the newspapers and had breakfast with my wife, I grab my phone and walk to Greynolds Park, which is about half a mile from my apartment. On these long walks, I follow Joseph Campbell's advice in “The Power of Myth”: “You must have a room or a certain hour a day or so... A place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is a place of creative incubation. ”

During these moments of “creative incubation,” when I’ve experienced the “natural mystic blowing through the air ,” I’ve noticed a change that William James outlines in the seminal work "The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature ." According to James, these experiences have four defining features: passivity, transiency, ineffability, and a noetic quality.

Although James asserts that passivity and transiency are not essential, he concedes that they often accompany the change in perspective, which can be created by “fixing the attention.” This is no doubt what Basho had in mind when he advised his students:

“Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one – when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there. However well-phrased your poetry may be, if your feeling is not natural – if the object and yourself are separate – then your poetry is not true poetry but merely your subjective counterfeit .”

Simone Weil, whom Albert Camus dubbed ‘The only great spirit of our times,’ had a similar idea when she wrote, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer. ”

During these moments of intense attention, and if we are lucky, the “radiance” of this object, as James Joyce called it, shines through . This is the second defining characteristic that James called transiency: “ Mystical states cannot be sustained for long… Often, when faded, their quality can but imperfectly be reproduced in memory; but when they recur it is recognized .” This is why I usually take my iPhone on my walks to take photos and dictate a few lines, even though I know, as Heinrich Zimmer said to Joseph Campbell: “The best things can’t be told, because they transcend thought. The second best are misunderstood, because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about, you know. And one gets stuck with the thoughts. The third best are what we talk about. ”

Campbell’s recollection fits James's description of ineffability, “ The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. ” But we still try. And although traditional haiku with 17 syllables in 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 can sometimes fall into obliqueness, we still attempt to capture “the space between objects, the silence between sounds and the stillness between actions .”

Finally, there is a noetic quality that feels as if you've gained a special kind of knowledge. Even though that knowledge is gone in a flash, the feeling has a particular type of power that resonates with us even after the experience. Quite frequently, the insight resembles Frank Wilczek's assertion, “You can recognize a deep truth by the feature that its opposite is also a deep truth. ”

This “inner richness" of being in the NOW, as New Age gurus advise, gives haiku its unique appeal. Although I may be experiencing some of these every day—the sun's heat, the songs of sparrows, the smell of mango blossoms, or the taste of tamarind, the relationships between them change depending on the weather, the time of year or whether my toast is burnt. It’s like turning a kaleidoscope where the pattern changes with every turn. Writing haiku is like going to a well that will never run out of water because change and transformation are at the heart of haiku.

Sources:

1. "Ep. 1: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth - The Hero's Adventure (Audio)" - Bill Moyers - [https://billmoyers.com/content/ep-1-joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-the-hero’s-adventure-audio/](https://billmoyers.com/content/ep-1-joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-the-hero’s-adventure-audio/)

2. "Natural Mystic" - Bob Marley - [https://www.bobmarley.com/release/natural-mystic/](https://www.bobmarley.com/release/natural-mystic/)

3. "William James: Varieties of Consciousness" - The Marginalian - [https://www.themarginalian.org/2018/06/04/william-james-varieties-consciousness/](https://www.themarginalian.org/2018/06/04/william-james-varieties-consciousness/)

4. "Basho on Poetry" - Sulayman Ibn Qiddees - [https://blogs.harvard.edu/sulaymanibnqiddees/2015/02/28/basho-on-poetry/](https://blogs.harvard.edu/sulaymanibnqiddees/2015/02/28/basho-on-poetry/)

5. "Simone Weil: Attention, Gravity, and Grace" - The Marginalian - [https://www.themarginalian.org/2015/08/19/simone-weil-attention-gravity-and-grace/](https://www.themarginalian.org/2015/08/19/simone-weil-attention-gravity-and-grace/)

6. "Ep. 3: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth - The Hero's Adventure (Audio)" - Bill Moyers - [https://billmoyers.com/content/ep-1-joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-the-hero’s-adventure-audio/](https://billmoyers.com/content/ep-1-joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-the-hero’s-adventure-audio/)

7. "William James: Varieties of Consciousness" - The Marginalian - [https://www.themarginalian.org/2018/06/04/william-james-varieties-consciousness/](https://www.themarginalian.org/2018/06/04/william-james-varieties-consciousness/)

8. "New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners" - Lakshmi Iyer - [https://thehaikufoundation.org/new-to-haiku-advice-for-beginners-lakshmi-iyer/](https://thehaikufoundation.org/new-to-haiku-advice-for-beginners-lakshmi-iyer/)

9. "William James: Varieties of Consciousness" - The Marginalian - [https://www.themarginalian.org/2018/06/04/william-james-varieties-consciousness/](https://www.themarginalian.org/2018/06/04/william-james-varieties-consciousness/)

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About the Creator

Geoffrey Philp

I am a Jamaican writer. I write poems (haiku & haibun), stories & essays about climate change, Marcus Garvey, music icons such as Bob Marley, and the craft of writing through personal reflection & societal engagement.

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (22)

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  • PK Colleran11 months ago

    Well researched and very thought provoking. 🌄

  • Ruth Stewart11 months ago

    Great Top Story, well deserved!

  • Michael Neils11 months ago

    Lovely Story

  • Mackenzie Davis11 months ago

    Bravo, this is just a fantastic essay! I want to devour every book you cite, and begin my days with MVAS. Congratulations on Top Story! Very well-deserved, sir.

  • Joelle E🌙11 months ago

    Wow, I love how actionable this is and how it merges spirituality and practical tips!! Thanks for sharing!!

  • SAIVAM11 months ago

    Nice top story 👏

  • Wilson Victory11 months ago

    That is nice

  • Dana Crandell11 months ago

    This makes me realize how much I need to get back to the mountains. Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Caroline Jane11 months ago

    This is marvellous. Thank you for sharing the wisdom. ❤

  • Naveedkk 11 months ago

    Congratulation on your Top Story,

  • Alex H Mittelman 11 months ago

    This is great! Thank you!

  • Awesome ✨ Congratulations on your Top Story❤️😉🎉

  • Cathy holmes11 months ago

    Great article. Congrats on the TS

  • Melissa Ingoldsby11 months ago

    I did enjoy your personal narrative. I watch I’m thinking of Ending Things and The Midnight Gospel to warm myself up and get ready to expel my heart ❤️ I appreciate your raw energy

  • Dana Stewart11 months ago

    So inspiring, this sage advice. It makes me think of ‘warming up’ our creative muscles like professional athletes. Excellent advice. Thank you!

  • sleepy drafts11 months ago

    Wow! This is seriously powerful advice. Beautifully done. Thank you for sharing this, and congratulations on Top Story!

  • Judey Kalchik 11 months ago

    Wow! What a masterful mix of quotes, observations, and information. I wish you had included a haiku or two!

  • Congratulation on your Top Story, well deserved

  • D. ALEXANDRA PORTER11 months ago

    I enjoyed your article and the admirable list of sources. Have a wonderful day.

  • Kristen Balyeat11 months ago

    Oh my, this is a gorgeous piece just dripping with beautiful insight! It actually gave me goosebumps at some points. Thank you for writing this! It was very inspiring! I’m a massive haiku lover, so this totally resonated! Great article, Geoffrey! Now off to write a haiku…it’s been a while. 💫

  • Andrene Bonner11 months ago

    Reads like a midrash. Insightful and powerful homage to the Haiku and the masters. Thank you, Geoffrey.

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