A poem is a conversation vast enough for all directions.
A poem speaks surface and depth, high and low. It welcomes anger and peace, lightness and darkness. It moves up and down. Over and under. Through.
A friend and fellow author, Dr. Lina Rodriguez, shared with Ben, founder and director of the Institute, a poem by David Whyte, "Start Close In," which calls us to start the conversation the way we want to.
Ben founded the Institute to create space for people to start conversations -- in their writing as well as in dialogue -- the ways they want to. Some people begin with surface, some with the deep. Some begin high, some begin low. Some begin with anger, others with peace. Some start with lightness, others with darks. Some start outward, some start inward. Some begin up, others down. Over and under. Through.
This freewheeling lands us in new writing and the center of our own souls and shared immensity. We use poetry to launch these rediscoveries with self and fellow companions on the journey.
Our workshops are more than writing intensive. They are listening intensive. We use each other's writing to surprise us into new writing and expand the directions our hearts move. As such, we become each other's spiritual companions by default, simply by being present to listen to whatever the heart writes during our time together.
Participants are regularly delighted that they have become not only prolific writers, but athletic listeners. The more we hear, the more we have to write about. The soul uses all of it to pull us closer to who we are and "to sit there awhile in the petals," poet Jane Hirshfield has written, "altering nothing."
We tend to think of a spiritual companion or director as someone whom we might visit once a week or month, someone who will listen to us without judgment and ask open-ended questions that lead us through the thicket of our hearts.
Poetry abides with us that way, too.
Our workshops produce poetry, so we ourselves become the spiritual companions to each other not by conscious activity, but by our writing and listening. In our workshops, we alchemize each other's ideas and experiences into beauty through the poetry we generate, inspired by each other's writing and sharing.
Participants consistently express that our workshops are therapeutic. The therapy is neither intended nor complicated. We simply write toward our own discoveries, listen to each other's writing, and affirm the existence of one another's experience without advising or judging. Prompts often ask us to dignify each other's work by weaving another's insight, a surprising word someone expressed, or a shared theme into our own writing.
We leave with new understanding that our angle to reality
-- whatever its size , shape, or shade --
belongs. For our writing and listening have shown each other that this angle belongs in our workshop time together.
We have found its strange beauty in our poetry.