Hello Great Souls,
It’s currently that midpoint between Christmas and New Year’s, where it feels like we’re past the holidays, yet we’re not. I’ve been feeling the need to post an entry to our blog for the past few days, but had not felt an appropriate message to write. At fist, it seemed like the right thing to post something about Christmas spirit, about the light that we can each see and feel in each other, or something to that effect. But the words never came, and the inspiration was never felt.
Then, a thought struck me: perhaps I’m trying to force this a bit too much with a lofty goal and message. This Christmas entry doesn’t have to be a deeply moving message, nor does it have to be one that is a “supposed to” - in fact, we often talk to our clients about what the “supposed to” really means…but that’s another topic. No, this message is going to be much simpler: the power of simple.
Each year my family gathers for Christmas. I’m the second of five siblings, with an older brother, younger brother, and two younger sisters. My one sister Rosemary has two kids, currently 9 and 12, and she has been hosting Christmas lately so that Santa Claus can more easily find the kids at home rather than at Grandma and Grandpa’s. My younger brother and his family currently live out of state, so they often don’t get a chance to join, but the rest of us gather for the day and sometimes for Christmas Eve dinner at my other sisters’ home nearby.
Over the years, we siblings have gone back and forth between exchanging gifts amongst each other, drawing a name, drawing two names, etc. Most years, we exchange amongst everyone, including this year. During this aspect of the holidays, Heidi and I often like to use a theme for these gifts to my family. It started when we were living far away and had to send gifts in the mail. It served two purposes: it kept us connected more easily to the family as a whole rather than individuals, and it made shopping easier; there’s also an added bonus of the chance to get creative around a theme. Last year, the theme was homemade banana bread and a CD of guided visualizations and spiritual chanting that we made. This year, the theme was poetry.
The particular theme struck me one day while meditating, and I felt energy for it as I started getting creative. So, Heidi and I planted ourselves in a local bookstore that we enjoy, and started picking out poetry books for particular people. Most of the books I picked out, which felt appropriate since it was my idea, and my family.
For some, we picked out a favorite poet: Rumi, Hafiz, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, etc. (note: perhaps our top favorite is David Whyte, but at this particular store, they had none of his books). For others, there was something that drew us to a book of collected poems, perhaps because of the subject matter (the Humorous Haiku for my older brother was perfect) or even a particular poem in the collection. For the younger nieces and nephew we had to get a bit more creative: a scrapbook where they could write if they choose, or a fictional book that’s not really poetry, but is still reading.
Poetry has held a lot of meaning for us - we often use it in our coaching, quoting specific poems and interpreting messages from them. I once heard Maya Angelou (another favorite) talk about her process: start with articulating a story, and keep distilling the message and meaning until a short poem emerges. While it looks and sounds simple here, it takes a creative genius to communicate that message eloquently.
Mary Oliver, for me, is one of those geniuses who can paint a complete and intentional picture, with layers of hidden meanings in the interpreting: while the verse may be short, the impact can be great. That’s the beauty of poetry that I like: keep it short and simple, and let the reader or listener feel into the layers. Just knowing that the piece is a poem will intrinsically instruct the audience to listen for layers. But, if the poem gets too long and complex, those layers can get lost. Therefore, keep it simple.
Of course, there are exceptions to that rule where the complication is part of the message and layering. Two classics that come to mind are Homer with the Iliad, and Beowulf (which, coincidentally, was one of the gifts we gave, to our 22 year old nephew). But more often than not, the “rule” of keep it simple and let the audience decipher the nuances is one that works well for the poet. It also works well for the coach and the client.
The great lessons in life are best learned in simple form, and then we can relearn them over and over in multiple applications and settings. This is part of our philosophy in coaching, and certainly is part of my philosophy in living life.
My hope this holiday time of year is that you find the simple message that is yearning to be heard, and then keep listening for the layers within that message.
Blessings and Light,