Poetry improves lives: a guest post by Jason J. Michael

This is a guest post, a courtesy of a fellow blogger and poet Jason J. Michael. This essay is a bit longer than usual posts on this blog, but I encourage you to read it through – a touching story on how poetry, particularly haiku has changed his life, literally.

The Healing Power of Haiku

Believe in yourself,
And your ability to
Make a difference.

   On September 3, 2000, when I was twenty-nine, my father died. He smoked himself to death acquiring, in order, blocked arteries, throat cancer, lung cancer, emphysema, and finally congestive heart failure, which in combination with the others claimed his life. His untimely death was fully expected by everyone around him, except for me. A jazz musician, he had quietly sold off his instruments to friends, had delusions of teaching sax quartets in our kitchen, gone to the drugstore in his briefs, and had visions of a mute, glowing boy and girl that accompanied him on errands. All of these I was aware of. None of them I took that seriously. I was living home with my parents temporarily, but consumed by my career goals. I was directing, acting, and composing for a local dinner theatre, I loved the job and it held my full focus. Besides, parents are immortal, right?

I was with him in the hospital, holding his hand, when he passed. In fact, I had been the one to give permission to take him off the machines that were keeping his heart and lungs operational when my mother, in an unexpected wave of grief, refused the honor and responsibility herself, stating “I just can’t do it.” The decision by default fell to me and, sensing no recourse, I ordered him removed from the machines and held his hand till his heartbeat faded. From my point of view, I had just killed my father.

The following year was a blur of work juxtaposed against a backdrop of depression and excessive sleep. One year to the day, on the anniversary of his death, September 3, 2001, I started working as a full-time music teacher at a Catholic boys’ school in Philadelphia. It was exactly the kind of job he would’ve wanted for me, and I felt pushed into it by his overshadowing presence. Everyone there was wonderful, but the pain of his loss coupled with the guilt I had felt over “pulling the plug” was consuming me, and combined with the isolation I felt from having moved away from my family for work, I sank further into depression and almost nightly contemplated suicide.

Then one night in late fall of 2001, while sitting alone in my apartment, I started flipping through channels and stopped on a bald man with a calming presence, wry wit, and warm, gravelly, voice. His name was Dr. Wayne Dyer, the PBS special was There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, and I found myself drawn to what he was saying. Dyer’s pithy, anecdotal, personal empowerment spirituality resonated and stuck with me long after the special ended, and by the next evening I was reading his book, The Power of intention. Within a few days signature quotes such as “You’ve got to believe it to see it” and “You are a spiritual being having a human experience” started to take up permanent residence in my brain and I was feeling a bit better. One quote, “Don’t die with your music still in you,” held special significance for me.

My degree had been in Music Composition, and my father and I had spent many hours composing together in our basement. When he died the music in my head had gone silent as if it died with him, but I knew instinctively, defiantly, that that wasn’t the case. In my grief I couldn’t access it; my guilt over “killing” him, and my need for his approval had turned my creative volume setting to mute. But I knew it was there, knew that Dr. Dyer’s warning mantra was applicable to my life, and knew that I would have to start slowly if I was to ever rekindle the creative flame inside myself. As a musician I had often been both composer and lyricist. I prided myself on my ability to put words cleverly together. But I would have to start again slowly, with small projects that allowed for a big sense of accomplishment. So, on November 18, a few weeks after watching the special, I sat at a desk over lunch in the center of a crowded school hallway – a reluctant and bored hall monitor – and wrote my first haiku in twenty years.

If I ruled the world…
But wait! Life is perception.
Where did I go wrong?

I struggled to write four haiku that day, but the next day I wrote more, and more after that. By January 20, 2002 I had written a hundred little poems, and realized I was starting to feel a bit better. I still wasn’t composing, but my creative juices were flowing, and I was amassing a large body of poetry that I could be proud of.
At the time I didn’t realize the full impact that writing haiku was having on my life, or how much I had almost obsessively fallen in love with distilling my daily thoughts down to a 5-7-5 syllabic format. I didn’t realize fully the therapeutic benefit, that by putting my thoughts simply and creatively on paper and “out there” I was releasing the pent up depression, guilt, and grief that had built up inside me over the last year and a half. I just knew I was being creative and felt better, and when something makes you feel good you keep doing it, don’t you?
Sixteen years after my father’s death, practically no week has gone by that I haven’t written at least one haiku. As of this writing, I’ve composed over 4,600 of the little buggers, self-published two books of poetry, plus a third children’s book. My music took years to return to me, but when it finally did it blew in with a vengeance, and I now compose fairly regularly, along with trying to maintain my blog, of course.
Everyone’s pathway to healing is unique, and for all I know had circumstances been different, perhaps something else would have come along to intervene, lift me up, and rehabilitate my spirit. Then again, perhaps nothing would have changed, and in my grief I may have commit suicide. But thankfully, THANKFULLY, that wasn’t to be my fate, and I ran across Dr. Dyer and his life philosophy when my spirit needed him the most. And that led me to fight for my life, a little bit at a time, with seventeen syllables in a crowded hallway, and with props to Frost, “that has made all the difference” for me. So, in case you ever had any doubts that poetry has magical properties or lasting value, I’m here to tell you that I’m living proof that poetry can change or even save a life. And that is the true healing power of haiku.

Jason J. Michael is a freelance actor, director, music director, and composer. He has self-published two books of poetry, True Haiku for You and A Haiku a Day; and one children’s book, Daddy Doesn’t Purr (But I Love Him Anyway), all available on Amazon. He won the Writer’s Journal National Poetry Contest with his poem “The Greatest Treasure” many years ago and has written some 4,600 haiku to date. He lives in King George, VA with his wife, son, and three cats. His blog, Reflections from Shangri-La, can be found at https://reflectionsfromshangrila.wordpress.com/

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NaPoWriMo Day 6: 3 X 4 green haiku

Cucumber, cabbage, cauliflower:
beheaded, without voice
swirl around

shorn of leaves, travel in pieces
without choice
bounce from ground to ceramic plate

Greens of the sweetness
curled above my moist tongue
test their fate

soft, crumbled blades dream of living
for a second longer, drunk
desperately among my teeth stuck.

Maja S. Todorovic

Simplicity – the ultimate sophistication of your work


Once Jane Austine said that life has turned into a “succession of busy nothings” and unfortunately I have found a lot of truth in her words. We often forget what really matters and get caught in petty, trivial things that deplete our time and energy. About 2 years ago, I took a radically different approach to my life – mostly provoked by my health issues. I began to simplify and minimalise everything I could – from physical stuff, what and how I eat, my everyday habits, what kind of thoughts and conversations I “consume” and interesting – beside the momentary benefits like feeling more free, relaxed and lighter (in every sense!) a need for poetry was born again. And I truly believe in the saying “Less is more”, where minimalism and poetry enriched my life on so many levels.

Today I will not speak much of a poetry, but rather I will try to share my tips and views on simplification, which can help in your writing, work or business; to find what really matters, prioritize and do more of the things you love. In the long run, you will feel more content and accomplished.

1.Learn to say no and cut down on meetings

I know we usually want to please everybody, but try to analyze your obligations more clearly and think: are all those meetings, tasks and chores really necessary? Today? What can’t wait? What can you delegate? What requires your personal, undivided attention? Once you manage to clear your schedule (just a little bit :-)) you will be more productive on the things that really do matter.

2.Take digital sabbatical when ever you can

According to International Association of Business Organizing a typical U.S. worker is interrupted by communications technology every 10 minutes. It’s a productivity killer and developing habits of focusing at a priority task is of vital importance in gaining time –which is your most valuable asset.

3.Find business processes you can automate

This is especially important in our business culture – everything requires approval, signature ext. Sharing files and templates among coworkers can help reduce incoming e-mail and paper jams.

4. Lean is the new black

Once you set your priorities, try to find any gaps where you can develop your own shortcuts to make processes lean as possible. Focus your resources on the things that matter the most.

5. Go paperless

Don’t get me wrong: I know, for the writer this one can be really hard.

I personally love the smell and the sound of lisp paper.

I love having blisters on my fingers from extensive handwriting.

I like to taint my fingers with blue ink – nevertheless there are possibilities for us to cut down the paper work and therefore the clutter accumulating on our desk and in our drawers. I’ve included here this simple info-graphic with tips and tricks to help you along the way:


6.Adopt the Zen productivity mindset.

This idea is from Leo Babauta’s phenomenal blog Zen habits, where he proposes for us actually to put limits and strict rules on everything:

Besides forcing you to focus on essential tasks that have a large Return on Investment (ROI), it forces you to eliminate the non-essential tasks. No other system forces you to do that. It forces you to make the best use of your time. It forces you to limit the time you spend on things, which means you have more time for other things that are important to you, and you are able to focus on what you want to focus on, instead of everything coming at you. It simplifies your life and makes you less stressed out.

In a nutshell, limit yourself how many tasks a day you are going to execute; do one task at a time – and put rules on repetitive tasks – like, you will check your e-mail only twice a day. It’s an edgy idea but worth a try.  In my post What writing haiku taught me about business the notion of simplicity also came forth, but we can always challenge ourselves even further.

7.Cut the the weeds at their root.

It’s so easy to go back to the old habits. Once you realize you are starting to overcomplicate things again, go back to the rules. Adopting minimalism as an entrepreneurial mindset takes time and effort. Once you see the benefits, “busy nothings” will dissolve by themselves.

But I say unto you,

Take this stuff just as a stuff;
Movement is movement;
Sitting is sitting,
but don’t wobble
under any circumstances!
My stuff has turned into a dragon
and swallowed up the whole world.
Where are the poor mountains and rivers and great earth now?

Yun-men Wen-yen, (Ummon), 864-949



3 lessons that writing haiku taught me about business

Clouds come from time to time-

and bring a men chance to rest

from looking at the moon.

~ Basho

Poetry is a mindfulness in its most exquisite form. It is integral part of human nature and therefore is a sort of celebration of life in all its manifestations. Especially haiku, an “instant” form of poetry, focusing on the world around us and fostering each moment of life.

As a form of poetry, haiku originated first in Japan and later became popular in other regions. Haiku poets write short poems, consisting of only 17 syllables. In Japan these poems are valued for their simplicity, openness, depth and lightness.

In original Japanese form the structural rules are:

  • use exactly 17 syllables
  • syllables are arranged in three lines of 5-7-5
  • similes and metaphors are avoided
  • refers to a season of the year.

Haiku poems can describe anything, but mostly they are a result of the observation from the outer world, and have a major theme that appeals strongly to one of the five senses.

Writing and reading haiku is a wonderful way for us to stay connected to our true nature and recognize our role and position in the world. Further more, what we observe and conclude we can use for the purpose of our business practice and it taught me three valuable lessons:

  1. Observe on the outside, as well on the inside

When you want to start your own small business, one of the best strategies you can apply is to build a niche business, where customers are ready to pay more for specialized products/services. In order to determine your own little “gold mine” you have to carefully look around, listen, observe and sense what is that people need; where are neglected and overlooked markets that you perfectly fit in.

But that is only one side of the coin. When you identify those ignored markets, how that complies with what you like to do, with what you are good at; with your own talents, needs, goals and values; how do you actually want to contribute? For those answers wee need to look deep in ourselves and be honest, because anything that contradicts our passion and our own values – won’t produce results in the long run.

And while writing haiku, I learned to observe the world around me more carefully, to see beyond the ordinary. It also helps us learn more about ourselves, our deepest desires and what makes us tick.

2. Keep your business plan short, simple and well structured

Your business plan is a sort of your road map to success – the more simple – less chance you will get lost. That plan is for you, to help you navigate through certain milestones you want to achieve; how to utilize the resources you have; order of actions you need to take and ext. Preferably, it will lead you to do one thing at the time and leave you just enough room, for any adjustments according to the present conditions.

While writing haiku, one of the first things you learn is to live in the now, do things timely and in order. Haiku is a very short and simple poetic form, yet

business plan tree

very powerful. It has specific structure, and by following that structure while writing, you are able to capture and express the beauty of the moment in the most exhilarating way. As you go beyond that, you might get lost, distracted: just as with your business plan. The more simple and structured, the better chance is that your business plan is going to work out for you.

3. The kind of message is your business sending out to the world

Have you thought about what makes your business different form other similar businesses? What’s your uniqueness –if there is any?

The look, the sound, the feel of your business tells a lot about it and all that information people get from your business name, logo, colors, website design, marketing materials, packaging materials etc.; the written content on your site, product descriptions, newsletters; products you offer, your sales approach, and finally you – your customer service.

That everything put together forms a message about your brand and it should be clear and consistent: in every product you make, on every social media platform, in every single interaction with customers you have. The message should reflect what your business stands for and your values.

Just as haiku: it’s a clear vivid image of the world, reflected moment in our minds that is translated into the words.

Analyzing our business practice from all this corners will not only help us improve, but we will begin to appreciate the beauty of simplicity and how that is beneficial for our life in general.