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Nessa McCasey

Writing Our Hearts Out
Winter 2010

by Nessa McCasey, CPT

Writing Your Way to Conscious Breathing

For many years, working in corporate communications while also raising my young son, I used a mantra at the bottom of each side of my two-page planner layout to remind myself to slow down. The mantra was very simple: Remember to breathe.

There was little time for poetry (or breathing) at that point in my life. And surprisingly, there is still little time for poetry in my life now, unless I consciously choose for it to be there, just like that reminder to breathe was necessary for me to slow down and consciously take care of myself.

Is it in our consciousness, then, where we really create our lives? Ahhh, breathe now, I tell myself again…

Li-Young Lee, a prominent poet in America who has talked much about the breath, said this:

[My father taught me] every time you breathe in, say thank you. Every time you breathe out, say goodbye.

Lee says that most human sounds are made with the out-going breath. Try this for yourself. In fact, there are voiced and non-voiced sounds, as determined by speech pathologists and linguists, but those are still sounds.

The vocalization of poetic lines, especially those with iambic meter (one unstressed beat and one stressed beat), feels to me like the practice of conscious breathing. It’s worth experimenting with any written material, especially if you are already conscious of your breath as you vocalize, and I think that you’ll find poetic rhythms in many places. Singing, chanting, storytelling, and poetry reading are all manner of practicing conscious breathing, as is playing a wind instrument. Much like the way we practice physical activity to benefit our health, we can also learn and practice conscious breathing to benefit our well-being – spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And of course, practice is everything, whether you are learning how to write, learning a new language, learning yoga, or learning to consciously breathe your own life’s energy, fully, deeply, with care.

Here’s William Butler Yeats’ “The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner.” Try reading it aloud to yourself, pausing for a deep breath at the end of each line. Use it as a meditation, to really slow yourself down:

The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner

Although I shelter from the rain
Under a broken tree
My chair was nearest to the fire
In every company
That talked of love or politics,
Ere Time transfigured me.

Though lads are making pikes again
For some conspiracy,
And crazy rascals rage their fill
At human tyranny,
My contemplations are of Time
That has transfigured me.

There’s not a woman turns her face
Upon a broken tree,
And yet the beauties that I loved
Are in my memory;
I spit into the face of Time
That has transfigured me.

(revised text of 1925)

I think we need to read poems aloud in order to practice conscious breath. A creative exercise for you to try would be to try writing your own poem and read that aloud. See if you can consciously breathe while you are writing. Does that affect the rhythm of your poetic line?

You might want to try writing your own lamentation for the end of the year, 2009. Try this topic (or another of your choosing) for writing out a line that matches your breathing. You might end up with 5 beats in a line (iambic pentameter) or 3 or 4 beats in a line and you might even want to embed long pauses in between lines for more of a pause (and time to breathe). Poets use the line break similarly to how we use stop signs on our streets or commas in our sentences. You can even take something that you have written in your journal and try putting different line endings so that it looks like a poem instead of a journal entry. Once it is in that format, you can read it aloud again and see if there are other words that need to be added or any that should be removed. Perhaps starting with a lamentation will finally work itself into a poetic prayer for 2010.

If you are interested in learning more about the rhyme and rhythm of poetry, just google “meter” “rhythm” “and poetry” or other terms that are of interest to you. There are also good books available for learning about poetic rhythms and forms. There will be an upcoming online course in poetic forms offered if you are interested in that, too. You can email me at poetnessa@comcast.net or Lila Weisberger at bridgeXngs@aol.com for more information.

Have a happy new year and may your 2010 be filled with lovely full breaths and poetic lines to match.

poetically yours,

"Ink runs from the corners of my mouth
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry."

– Mark Strand, “Eating Poetry”

Nessa McCasey, CPT

© Copyright 2010 Nessa McCasey.  All Rights Reserved.

Read Nessa McCasey's Past Columns:

Fall 2009- Mindfulness Practice as Writing/Drawing

Summer 2009 - Conscious Life Change

Spring 2009 - Oneness is for Everyone

Winter 2007 - The Meaning of Life

Winter 2006 - Being Still and Still Moving the Pencil

July-Sept 2005 - Balance -- Creating a Map to Take You There

Oct - Dec 2004 - Letting Go and Moving Forward: Writing as a Map of Progress

Aug - Sept 2004 - Writer’s Block and Then… Moving Forward Again

April - May 2004 - Identifying Our Crossroads

January - February 2004 - Daring to Dream Out Loud

December 2003 - Joining Together with Our Words of Grace

November 2003 - Midlife Questioning: One Writer's Path to Learning

October 2003 - Can We Write (or Read) Our Way to Serenity?

Nessa McCasey
Nessa McCasey, CPT has been a former technical editor for NASA, street/performance poet in Denver, corporate writer, single mom, marketing communications specialist, and church music director. She has charted a new path for work and life in the profession of Poetry Therapy serving as Vice President of Membership for the National Association for Poetry Therapy (NAPT). She facilitates group and individual expressive writing sessions and presents poetry and creative writing workshops to jump-start others in their own powers of creative expression.

You can reach Nessa at: poetnessa@comcast.net or visit her website at www.writersofwrongs.com. 

Nessa's blog, http://web.me.com/wildridge/PoetryTherapy/Blog/Blog.html


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