Thoughts on Mindfulness

I was sitting in the doctor’s office yesterday, scrolling through an app on my iPhone, when a television commercial caught my eye.

“Is that lady orange?” I asked the woman sitting next to me.

Her eyes moved from the mounted television to my face. “Oh,” she said, as though I’d woken her from a dream, “I wasn’t paying any attention.”

It occurred to me then that mindfulness in this age of media saturation is truly a challenge. On one hand, in order to experience some semblance of internal peace, you need to be able to ignore the constant barrage of “Pay attention to me!” screaming from a wide range of electronic devices. Even pumping your gas or grabbing a burger, there’s a constant stream of “news” blaring from nearby screens, demanding your attention.

On the other hand, mindfulness requires that we sit in the present moment and experience what is going on around us. It’s the main reason that I write haiku poetry – it forces me to stop and pay attention to my surroundings. What do I see when I look at this acorn? How does the air smell right before a thunderstorm? How does this chili taste?

I don’t have any answers for maintaining a balance between tuning out what I am starting to think of as the rage machine of today’s media, and focusing on what truly matters to us. I suspect that the answers lie with folks who have grown up in the digital age – people who don’t remember four TV stations (CBS, NBC, ABC, and a pixelated version of PBS) or the excitement of playing that new game, Pong. I need to ask my kids for advice.

How do you retain your mindfulness in the digital age without getting overwhelmed? Let me know in the comments.  

  My cousin took this great picture of me last summer at the Missouri Botanical Garden. I was so intent on taking a picture of the dragonflies circling the lily pads that I almost missed the one on my phone!

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Newly published in the Golden Triangle

Today, I received notice from the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District that one of my haiku placed as a runner up in their recent garden haiku poetry contest. 

daffodils —
freshly cut
bangs

This means that somwhere, in downtown D.C., my haiku is posted as a sign in a flower bed. How cool is that!


Coming to my Senses

I write a monthly naturalist column as part of my volunteer work at a local nature sanctuary. These mini essays are posted near the trailhead to help visitors enjoy their experiences at the nature center. January is kind of a tricky month, because, at first glance, there’s not much to see. The trees are lifeless, the ground is muddy, and the animals are all holed up because it’s cold.

So, I decided to write about using your four senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch – to really experience nature. (You can’t use taste – it’s a nature sanctuary and you aren’t supposed to eat anything!)

I also thought I’d include a haiku poem of mine to illustrate this point, so I scoured my files for a winter-themed poem that focused on sound.

What a rude awakening! Not only do I have very few haiku written about winter, I have just a handful of haiku written about sound, and most of those are spring-themed. I am partial to frogs and woodpeckers, so frog calls and rat-a-tat-tatting show up with some frequency in my poetry. But I am seriously lacking in sensory imagery apart from visual.

I think, for the next month, I am going to focus on sound in my haiku. Care to join me? What sense are you ignoring in your poetry? If you write haiku, does a certain season dominate your work?

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My Favorite Free Haiku Contests

HaikuNow! Contests
The Haiku Foundation holds three separate contests concurrently each year. You can enter one poem in English per category: traditional, contemporary, innovative. The winner of each category receives $100 and a certificate. (Deadline: March 31)

The Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Award
Offered by The Heron’s Nest, this contest is entering its second year. You can submit up to five haiku in English. Winners receive cash prizes and other goodies. (Deadline June 1, 2014)

Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational
If cherry blossoms inspire your poetry, enter two poems about sakura here. This year’s theme is “Meet your neighbours.” There’s no monetary prize for winning this contest, but you do get publication, fame, and glory. (Deadline: June 2, 2014)

International “Kusamakura” Haiku Competition
You can enter two haiku in this contest offered by the city of Kumamoto. The grand winner receives 50,000 yen. (Deadline: mid-September)

Polish International Haiku Competition
Poets are invited to submit one poem in English. Books and diplomas are awarded to the winners. (Deadline: October 31)

Do you have a favorite free haiku contest? Share it in the comments!

Inspiration

What inspires you to write?

As a haiku poet, I tend to find myself inspired by nature. And as a mom of two school-aged kids and one preschooler, I spend a lot of time driving. So most of my haiku inspiration lies in things I see through the windshield of my car: trees, clouds, farm fields, a nearby pond.

My process for writing scifaiku is different. I go to a dreamy place in my mind when I write science fiction. Often, I am inspired by new scientific discoveries. Some days, I browse Wikipedia for inspiration. I always follow up with more technical references when I find something that appeals to me. I try to do my homework to make sure that my poems are scientifically literate!

But sometimes, inspiration finds me unexpectedly. One day, I was shopping at the craft store and found this on the wall of a toilet stall. 

Where do you find your writing inspiration?