Light: Haiku, Poetry and the “Aha” Moment

Watching the moon

at midnight,

solitary, mid-sky,

I knew myself completely,

no part left out.

Izumi Shikibu, Women in Praise of the Sacred Anthology

Share the details of an “aha” moment.  What sparked your experience of awe or wholeness?  What literature or art captures your longing for deep knowing?



Late last spring I was teaching Nature and Art, a class I imagined for the Wilderness Therapy program at Naropa University that is now in it’s tenth year.  Fourteen of us gathered at Sawhill Ponds, a reclaimed gravel pit outside of Boulder that is home to fox and nesting Great Horned Owls.

After sharing the voices of Langston Hughes, Mary Oliver and haiku artists, I send my students out to find the “just right spot” to spend the next 45 minutes contemplating and writing their own verses. 

Dead tired, I thought about lazing in the sun while the students worked their words.  I’d led this exercise many times on the banks of a rushing river or by a placid lake like the one I claimed that day.

Some of my favorite word-smithing has occurred on these occasions yet the rebel inside kept nagging me to chill.  Laying down and closing my eyes the sun melted my last resistance. Then hearing a birdcall, I sat up and looked across the lake where a massive cottonwood was speaking to me.

I began taking dictation; none of my usual crossing out and backtracking scribbles sprawling across the page.  Here are the phrases that flew out of my pen:

Cottonwood speak to me

Tell me of your majesty

Your mighty arms dance

Is it Butoh?

You stand where others have fallen

Fierce beauty with green buds

on ancient twisted limbs

Teach me Zen Master

Your grace withstanding storms

When the lightning strikes

will you split open

and share your marrow?

Later we collected our circle and everyone who was moved shared their musings, reciting each poem twice in the tradition of a Japanese haiku club.  In delight and listening closely to each individual, I thanked my lucky stars the “student poet” in me was called to the “aha moment.”

Walking back to our cars a bald eagle flew low over our heads and the few remaining slivers of ice sparkled on the ponds.