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Calm • Serenity

Haikus and Appreciation

The most revered poem in Japanese literature was written around 1686 by Matsuo Basho — and is, famously, only three lines long:

Old pond
A frog jumps in —
The sound of water

In the haiku tradition, a poet is only ever expected to do a part, and not even the greatest part, of the work of a piece of literature. Their task is to fashion the most evocative prompt; the rest is left to the reader who — by meditating on a few exquisitely-selected words — has an opportunity to see reality afresh through the prism of their own lives and eyes. If we concentrate deeply enough on a haiku (and it would not be thought strange to spend half an hour daydreaming on one), our imagings will invariably be superior to anything that someone else can detail for us. The task of literature is not for one person to give another their most precious experiences fully formed; it is for an outsider to provide us with the tools with which to fire up our own minds.

We can — with due and enormous respect — imagine extending this tradition to a series of prompts, free of all literary pretension, with the specific intent of focusing our minds on the key ingredients of calm and rest. Each of these would, without any literary claims, try to shift consciousness back to a serenity that is within us all but that we lose sight of in ordinary life:

A little cottage in a valley
Someone who cares
Kindness, sympathy

A hot deep bath
Quiet in the house
A free mind

In bed late at night
No more obligations
A return to ourselves

Heavy rain
The smell of the earth
Memories

A long flight
The desert below
New beginnings

The Japanese tradition takes a highly optimistic view of we, the readers. We have the necessary experience. We have the scenes in us all along: frogs and ponds but also quiet evenings, peaceful dawns, tender-hearted friends, reassuring cuddles and newfound courage. We have the calm we need inside us already.

All we need is to give ourselves the time and the context to pull scenes together in our minds — and to immerse ourselves in them with suitable focus. We have known how to be calm all along; we’ve just never before been so intently asked to imagine ourselves into feeling so.

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