Great poetry and great leadership both have the capacity to open our hearts to the wild immediacy of this very moment. Both have the capacity to arrest our attention into startling contact with the aesthetic beauty and living truth of our shared being. Both have the capacity to create bridges that communicate information and meaning, and – beyond that – to transmit an ineffable aliveness that can touch our deepest longing.
After being a disciplined (and obsessed) student of poetry from childhood through college, it wasn’t until I began teaching at-risk youth in San Francisco and then university students at Naropa and CU Boulder that I noticed the palpable connections between my relationship with poetry and my relationship with facilitative leadership. My body, heart, and mind were giving me the very same cues that told me deep resonance was present, whether reading/writing a poem or working with a classroom of students. In sleepy, self-absorbed moments I felt isolated and lethargic, the poem or group seemingly far away. In sensitive, attuned, whole-hearted moments, I felt an identification that expanded and included the whole of my self and the poem or the group, all the minute, living nuances of each word or each human being before me.
What was it that made these holistic, flow moments (which gifted such energy and satisfaction) available, as opposed to the more isolated moments? And why, on mornings that I spent quietly communing with poems I loved, did my teaching feel acutely more alive?
I’ve come to develop and relate with a term that helps me weave together and make sense of these experiences: the Poetic. In my experience, reality itself is inherently poetic. We can tune to and be tuned by this dimension of reality. The Poetic dimension of reality is potent beyond naming, and we feel that in every layer of our being: we get goosebumps via kinesthetic empathy; our hearts swell open in emotional recognition of something larger than our personality selves; our minds still or ring with clarity as we realize larger, more inclusive perspectives. The Poetic is funny, ironic, wild, and yet also deeply still and intimate. We can meditate, organize our body posture and attention to open to the Poetic. We can put ourselves in the presence of teachers, mentors, and facilitative leaders whom we feel have a deep relationship with the Poetic: we sense that they sense this aesthetic dimension of reality, and manifest it in their leadership. We can study and become intimate with how their articulation of truth strikes us as beautiful, and the beauty of their working with others points our minds to a new kind of truth.
We can also practice working with poetry to invite the Poetic into our own facilitative leadership. We can sit down quietly with ourselves and a couple of good poems (that we already know or that are recommended by someone we trust) and allow the text to induce a meditative mind and corporeal sensitivity in our modes of perception and behavior. We can allow this to inspire our self-as-instrument, before stepping in front of that next group, and notice how the way we read the body of a poem directly relates to the way we read the body of a group. Line by line, or person by person, we perceive and sense deeply the subtle inflections and movements, the concrete communications, the overall tone. Our private experience with the complexity and power of a poem prepares us for the more public experience with the complexity and power of a group of people. And as we gain courage, we practice and play with the expression of our own uniquely poetic voice to contribute to the arc of experience for the whole.
I know now that I am a more spontaneous, artful, and heartfelt facilitative leader when I am reading and writing poetry regularly, as well as simply noticing the inherent Poetic nature of my daily life. It doesn’t have to be sweet or refined. Sometimes the Poetic is found right in the mess, or in the wide open moment right after something absurd or hilarious happens. It’s always just what wakes us up – from inside or outside ourselves – to the living truth of this very moment. It’s what brings us earnestly, playfully, and coherently into alignment with reality, whether huddled in absorption over a poem, or fully engaged in receiving and leading a group of people.
Brooke McNamara is a poet, performer, coach, and author of “Feed Your Vow, Poems for Falling into Fullness”. She holds a BA in Creative Writing (Poetry) and an MFA in Dance, and teaches on faculty at Naropa University.