Lessons in Haiku

Embracing the white space in our lives

Words by Carl Phillips

I cannot remember exactly when I was first exposed to the Japanese poetic form that is haiku, but I do remember it leaving a lasting impression.

So few words, but so much said. Stripped back, but beautiful and elegant in the right hands. A whole scene, feeling, emotion, or world could magic itself up from the page. The words punched beyond their relative weight.

The white space left on the page gave the reader room to breathe, to ponder, to ruminate, to draw their own conclusions.

Inspired into action, I started to write my own versions of haiku.

Longer-term readers of my work may know that my initial online writing adventures started with a foray into sharing my haiku. For a period of time, I had two separate blogs running (Frictionless Living and a haiku related site). Eventually I decided to concentrate efforts on one, and I hope the site is better for that decision.

However, I still enjoy writing short form poetry. I still write poems on a regular basis, as a moment inspires me, on a commute, or as a mental break from writing essays and books.

I believe there are some powerful lessons in haiku that we can leverage in our day to day lives.

Lessons in Haiku

1. Less Can Be More

Fewer words can hit beyond their weight. Similarly, less clutter in our lives can support us living with more freedom and add a sense of lightness.

The clutter in question could be physical possessions that have accumulated. It could be an over-committed diary that needs space reinstalled. It could be toxic relationships that take more from us than they give. It could be something else.

There can be a power in the right kind of less.

2. Leveraging Constraints

Traditional haiku, and any kind of short-form poetry, has a certain amount of constraint already built in. This can act as a creative lever to work with.

In our day-to-day living, constraints can also add a structure and direction for us to work with.

Constraints simplify choice. No more decision fatigue.

If you could only work two hours a week, what tasks and projects would you focus on? Which would you let go of?

If your bookshelves could only hold fifteen books, which fifteen would you choose to read over and over?

If you could only spend time with ten people, the people that bring you most joy and energy, who would they be?

So many of us complain about not having time. About being busy.

Yet, strange as it may seem, we all get the same number of hours in our days. Some of us have just lost sight of what matters most to us by letting too much other stuff in.

Or more simply, we have not aligned our lives to our truest priorities.

Constraints are powerful. They can be used in positive and healthy ways to help us zero in on what matters most. The rest, we may need to find a way to let go of.

3. White Space Matters

The white of the page gives the reader of a haiku time to form their own ideas. In our lives, we also need this space to think, to reset and recalibrate.

White space is time unplanned to do as we please. Maybe even do nothing at all.

The white space is where we have room to breathe. Where we can reset, reflect and recharge. Where we can think, where we can ponder all the questions—big and small.

The white space is quality time we need that so often suffers at the hand of deadlines and day to day pressures. Worse, some of us feel we have to account for all our time and have no room for white space. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The white space is a necessary yin to the yang of action, goals and motion in our lives. It helps us decipher the signal from the noise. In poetry and in life, white space matters.

Streamline & Simplify—Set Yourself Free

Leveraging the lessons in haiku, we can simplify where others complicate. We can subtract where many add. Finding our way back to a baseline that is personalized for us. Emptying our cup, so we are free to fill it again. Recharging. Resetting. Reconnecting.

Carl Phillips

Carl is a writer and runs Frictionless Living, a site about the pursuit of simplicity to help us focus on what matters most. It’s about finding clarity in distracted times.

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