10 Inspiring Mindfulness Poems

10 Inspiring Mindfulness Poems 2
Nadia Colburn // February 7, 2022 // 8 Comments

Poetry is a powerful medium to pair with a mindfulness practice. A poem invites us to slow down, to pay attention, and to be present. I’m delighted to share ten mindfulness poems, some of my favorite mindful poetry. Written in different centuries and on different continents by people with very different backgrounds and life paths, each of these poems is a reminder to awaken to the wonder of being alive, to greet the world around us with openness and equanimity, and to be aware of life’s full range of experience. These mindful poems can be enjoyed by people with any spiritual orientation. They only ask that we listen and pay attention. 

There is space in a mindfulness practice, as in these mindful poems, for rage and joy, sorrow and gratitude, and for a wide range of different outlooks on life. I hope you enjoy the 10 poems below. 

Pair them with some of my writing prompts and some of my mindfulness meditation recordings. You might also enjoy my essay about the purpose of poetry, which goes into greater depth about the relationship between poetry and mindful practices. 

And check out my collection of morning poems to start your days with a poem and a writing prompt. 

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think or if you have any questions. I love to hear from you. 

 

Jade Flower Palace–Tu Fu

The stream swirls. The wind moans in
The pines. Gray rats scurry over
Broken tiles. What prince, long ago,
Built this palace, standing in
Ruins beside the cliffs? There are
Green ghost fires in the black rooms.
The shattered pavements are all
Washed away. Ten thousand organ
Pipes whistle and roar. The storm
Scatters the red autumn leaves.
His dancing girls are yellow dust.
Their painted cheeks have crumbled
Away. His gold chariots
And courtiers are gone. Only
A stone horse remains of his
Glory. I sit on the grass and
Start a poem, but the pathos of
It overcomes me. The future
Slips imperceptibly away.
Who can say what the years will bring?

 

Aware–Denise Levertov

When I found the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
whispers.
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
peacefully.

The Guest House–Rumi 

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Midwinter–Nadia Colburn

I think it’s okay
to write another poem
about the light—
about the white heron
who rises over the black oil spill
at the edge of the city.

I don’t know if the heron
is full of joy
as she lifts her long torso up,
as she hurls herself (is that
what she does?) airward.

I don’t know whether the heron
is going home or whether
she lives here,
whether she escapes
suffering or, more probably, not.

I do know I don’t need to apologize
for my own gladness, today,
midwinter, that has no
apparent cause in the daylight cast
from the sun.

Those Winter Sundays–Robert Haydon

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
 
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
 
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Part One of “Burnt Norton”–TS Eliot

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Coping–Audre Lorde

It has rained for five days
running
the world is
a round puddle
of sunless water
where small islands
are only beginning
to cope
a young boy
in my garden
is bailing out water
from his flower patch
when I ask him why
he tells me
young seeds that have not seen sun
forget
and drown easily.

Bad Things Are Going to Happen–Ellen Bass

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

The Buddha’s Last Instruction–Mary Oliver

Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire —
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

This DayJimmy Santiago Baca

I feel foolish,
like those silly robins jumping on the ditch boughs
when I run by them.
Those robins do not have the grand style of the red tailed hawk,
no design, no dream, just robins acting stupid.
They’ve never smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, consumed drugs
as I have.
In their mindless
fluttering about
filled with nonsense,
they tell me how they
love the Great Spirit,
scold me not to be self-pitying,
to open my life
and make this day a bough on a tree
leaning over infinity, where eternity flows forward
and with day the river runs
carrying all that falls in it.
Be happy Jimmy, they chirp,
Jimmy, be silly, make this day a tree
leaning over the river eternity
and fuss about in its branches.

I hope you have found these mindful poems as moving and delightful as I have! I hope you follow their invitation to see and experience differently, to wake up just a little more.

Pair them with some of my writing prompts and some of my mindfulness meditation recordings. You might also enjoy my essay about the purpose of poetry, which goes into greater depth about the relationship between poetry and mindful practices. 

And check out my collection of morning poems to start your days with a poem and a writing prompt. 

Leave a comment below with any thoughts/ questions.

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  1. Thank you for sending out these reminders. It doesn’t matter if you are part of a specific religious affiliation; being aware of the moment, slowing down, and paying attention to what is happening now will be beneficial to everyone.

  2. The diversity of these poems is simply wonderful. Such good reminders of what life is really all about. Thank you for posting these!

    1. I enjoyed these poems and will reread. For some reason I was struck with the line “He may be cleaning you out for some new delight.” I loved they were about life. Nadia you are a light and a help to so many

  3. I enjoyed these poems and the diversity and joy. I was especially struck with the lines “He may be clearing you out for some new delight” Thanks, Nadia for all you do. You’re a great light and teacher to so many people

  4. Thank you for these, Nadia. I particularly loved Ellen Bass’s poem, for some reason. I encounter too many people who fight and fight to reject, deny, or pretend away misfortune, pretend away change, aging, death. I will remember her strawberry.

  5. today is my first day of participation in your mindful writing challenge. I am so filled with gratitude today. Not only was the exercise wonderful but discovering your website was an added bonus. I love these poems: so appropriate for my present state. Thank you for posting them and I look forward to the next four days and beyond.

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