Poetry as a Portal to Love

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Poetry as a Portal to Love

By Jessica Soares

Poetry Was One of My First Teachers

I have long been a lover of language, and I’ve been drawn to poetry for as long as I can remember. As an early reader, I delighted over the playful verses of Shel Silverstein. My middle school self dove into the words of Emily Dickinson, and my hopeless romantic late teen years were filled with love for Shakespeare’s sonnets. Likely since my very first encounters with nursery rhymes illustrated with drawings of friendly animals, I’ve been captivated by rhyme, meter, and poetry’s unique ability to capture the ineffable

As life continued to unfold, poetry remained a way that I could understand that which often felt beyond understanding. Ultimately, it became a doorway into becoming intimate with my internal landscape and grasping the experiences I was having that I couldn’t necessarily put words to. As a writer, being able to utilize language to frame, share, and reflect on an experience has always been something I’ve valued. However, even as a self-proclaimed bard, I recognize that the moment we begin to put language onto an experience, we are no longer fully in the experience. We are beginning to create concepts. And while conceptualizing, like all things, has its place, I and many others have found that it can be a hurdle on the spiritual path. Or, as Nietzche reminds us, “Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon the absolute truth.” When seeking to surrender to the ineffable, concepts, or perhaps more truthfully, the attachment to concepts, can become an obstacle to the absolute. 

For me, poetry often serves as the exception that proves that rule. World-famous writer Stephen King once wrote, “The most important things are the hardest to say because words diminish them.” And while this may often be true…perhaps it’s not always true. Maybe poetry can serve as an example that challenges this perspective. 

Something that both surprised me and deeply delighted me when I began my journey at Hridaya was the widespread presence of beautiful mystical poetry. There is something incredibly special about walking past a bulletin board and pausing to take in the words of Rumi. Or sitting in morning meditation and hearing the words of Rabia being recited. It’s like an instant reminder. No matter what else is going on, in just a few words of surprising metaphors and unexpected juxtapositions, taking in these words has the unique ability to connect me instantly to Love. 

In the realm of spirituality, where words often fall short and concepts transcend the tangible, poetry emerges as a doorway, an entry point into that which would otherwise remain obscured.  Through the dance of language and emotion and the power of direct experience, mystics throughout history have sought to articulate the ineffable and, through their beautiful offerings, have provided pathways and glimpses into the vast realms of Consciousness. In this way, reading and reflecting on the poetry of mystics can serve as a spiritual practice on its own.

There are many ways to define what a spiritual practice is and what is not. And I believe this is an answer we each must find within ourselves. I ask myself: does this bring me closer to Love or further away from it? And poetry? It brings me oh-so-close to Love. When I’ve forgotten and strayed from the path, I know poetry will always bring me right back to it. 

We live in a time where we are lucky enough to have access to wisdom from mystics across many diverse traditions. We are not and have never been starting from ground zero. When I forget, I can turn to the words of Hafiz or Rilke and feel my heart crack open through the expressions of their profound experiences with God. The first time I read the following words, I felt a piece of my being return that I hadn’t even known was missing.

Oh mightiest Lord!
Even when there is a deluge of those miseries
May I not only be free from fear,
But may I also enjoy the blissful, supreme
Exultation at the touch of your body.

While woven into your being
This entire universe
Is also projected outward.
I have come to understand this through strong determination.
May I realize it also
Through sensual experience. 

Utpaladeva expressed this longing as he reflected on his sadhana. Thousands of years later, they are here supporting me in mine. This is the power of poetry.

Where Poetry and Mysticism Meet

Like mysticism, poetry lies at the convergence of paradox and ambiguity. Mystical experiences frequently transcend the limits of language, leaving us to grapple with how to articulate that which was not meant to be articulated but experienced. When we are fortunate enough to encounter even a taste of the radiant, ecstatic center within, how do we share it with the world? If we look to the mystics for clues, we can see that those words fall gently from the lips in the form of poetry. As language that is both ambiguous and paradoxical yet pierces through to the truth with a clarity that most other language aspires to yet often falls short of. Through metaphor and symbolism, poets can convey layers of meaning that resonate on multiple levels of consciousness, inviting readers to delve into the realm of intuitive understanding beneath the surface of words. In this way, poetry moves beyond hardened concepts into invitations that meet people exactly where they are. 

Not only does poetry serve as an entry point to deeper intuition, it also encourages a state of heightened awareness. Moving beyond the patterns of ordinary discourse requires a different kind of focus and attention. We are less attached to ideas as we know them to be and more open to them as they could be. In reading or reciting poetry, we are not just reading a list of facts and the analysis around them. We are being invited into the inner world and direct experience of another. And if we are open and attentive enough, this brings us greater intimacy with our own inner world. To understand what is being shared, we must loosen the grip on what we believe we know. This process can invite a dissolution of the ego—I am no longer declaring who I am; I am asking the question instead.

From this open and inquisitive place, we are ushered into a state of contemplation. Engaging with poetry offers the opportunity to find solace, stillness, and reconnection with the deeper dimensions of our being. The rhythm, the heightened language, the unabashed expression…it all serves to guide readers into a state of contemplative stillness, where the chatter of the monkey mind subsides, and the silence of the Heart amplifies.

Poetry as Path and Practice

In the words of Rumi, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Reading poetry and perhaps even trying your hand at writing it can simply be one of the ways you kneel to kiss the ground. Just one of the ways in which you connect to the sacred. We are lucky enough to have the words of great mystics illuminating the path to the Heart. We would be wise to honor and engage with them. In a world yearning for transcendence and meaning, poetry stands as a timeless reminder of the inherent divinity that dwells within us all, beckoning us to awaken to the mystery and wonder of existence.

If you’re inspired to begin an exploration of poetry and how it can serve your spiritual path, I recommend picking up a copy of Love Poems from God and/or checking out the podcast
Poetry Unbound. If you are near one of the Hridaya Centers, you can also get a copy of the Hridaya book of poems and quotations. 
Jessica is a Hridaya student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.

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