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Passage to poetry

Published: 
Tuesday, February 23, 2016

I never appreciated poetry. Perhaps this is one of the drawbacks of my education. I viewed most poems as being akin to cleverly completed word puzzles that demonstrated brilliance through the creative use of an expansive vocabulary. 

The use of rhyme and metre were undoubtedly impressive. However, the fanfare surrounding prose poetry with free flowing sentences of carefully selected words that didn’t rhyme confused me. I felt as though anyone could string together a few frivolous phrases and pass it off as poetry. My disdain for this only served to further incite skepticism about the practicality of the force-fed syllabus and encourage my teenage intellectual rebelliousness.

Oh, but now I get it! Have you ever really seen something? Usually we give something a cursory glance and our mind slaps the labels and images on it that were collected in our early childhood. What we actually see is a conditioned response to our environment and not what really is there. 

From an evolutionary perspective, this was advantageous to our survival. Our early ancestors could give an area in our field of vision a quick scan to access it for danger. A conditioned mind would slap labels on everything: tree, leaf, bush, rock, bird, etc. In this way we could quickly continue to scan other areas for possible threats and hopefully see that lion before it was too late.

Light leaves the sun and eight minutes later it bounces off of an object in all directions, some of which hits the screen in the back of our eyes, setting off chemical changes there. This in turn agitates cells that go on to pass that stimulation to the brain in the form of electrical impulses. 

It’s only at this terminus that chemical reactions and neural synapses in our brain, which is essentially our mind at work, cause the world as we know it to spring into existence. So, what we end up seeing is almost always a product of our conditioned mind, which is broken up into the separate images and ideas from our memory, and not reality.

Our mind is genetically hardwired to perceive the world in the exact way that nature deemed best for our survival. Autistic people suffer from a defect that makes their minds see the world differently. It’s plausible that other animals “see” the world in very unusual ways that have been proven to be more advantageous for their survival. Can you imagine seeing the world through the eyes of a young child? You would see things as they really are, without the conditioned mind with its labels, stories and images from your memory getting in the way of what is actually there. 

If you can stay with the cutting edge of where the present meets the future, even for just a few seconds in this place of stillness, there is no mind. You are taking in direct experience faster than the chemical reactions of the brain that form the thoughts of the mind can take place. In this way seeing and experiencing can become a form of meditation. 

To see things as they really are is to appreciate the sublime beauty of this world, and to be moved by a sense of awe at the perfection of creation. It makes you want to start writing poetry.

It is impossible to know a feeling—because you can’t quite remember it. Perhaps it’s because we are unable to spontaneously recreate the unique brain chemistry that causes them. Cut through the images and stories that the mind layers on top of the feeling, and go deep into it, to really feel the experience, whatever it is—joy, love, sadness. You will find that words simply can’t convey the depth of what it feels like to be alive. Try describing what love feels like to someone who has never been in love. You can’t do it. 

A good poem is able to almost express the unknowable depth of experience that constitutes emotions. Those carefully selected words that don’t rhyme can approach a feeling from a unique angle and caress it with a beautifully crafted metaphor. It can show you the freshness of what the world looks like through the eyes of a child, and let you again marvel at its strange and beautiful glory. When this is done right, it gives you a gentle nudge back into stillness.

Maybe everyone knew all along, but I finally understand, and I am going to start writing poetry.

•@georgebovell

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