A Poem A Day

Pearls of Light

Poetry Out of The Dark

“More than “curing” or “solving” particular problems, communicating truth in the spare lines of a healing poem gives life to a healthier spirit.” – John Fox

I had a dark winter this year, darker than most. My father had died 6 months earlier and I had read that 6 months could be the point where the denial wears thin. I was sitting in the chair by the window looking east over the mountains. They were sprinkled with patches of snow. It is a beautiful view and a place of sanity for me, in the midst of what felt like insanity. I was musing about all the emotional suffering in the world. My own and what seems to be the human condition.

I was wondering about how to turn what feels like meaningless suffering into something with meaning, and how to turn sadness into happiness. As my thoughts wandered through the halls of wisdom I had come to know over the years, from positive thinking, to exercise, bodywork, energy work, healing of all kinds, I landed on a simple question; what did I do to survive when I was in high school, which had been another dark time?

Poetry. It came to me at first as a funny idea. I remembered the kind of teenage dramatic poetry I wrote, “Tears like blood…” but it worked then. It gave me a way to create meaning out of my pain. It was much more helpful to write a poem than just feel rotten. It was also romantic and artsy, creative. The fantasy of being a poet was much more interesting than the fantasy of being nothing.

I decided to commit to writing a poem a day for 30 days. It’s been over 2 months now and I am still writing a poem a day. It has been transformational. After I wrote my first poem I felt a sense of accomplishment and peace that I hadn’t felt in a while. Then after two weeks I started to feel much better in general. And now I am excited about poetry and my life in ways I never thought I’d feel. Poetry gives my life mythic dimension, from the self to the universal.

I found the poems helped me move through my grief and appreciate the years i had with my father. It has helped me resolve conflicts with my loved ones as well as my inner conflicts. The poems have unleashed a creative wisdom that had been locked up inside. I write poems about everything from my dog to death, love, anger, joy, the beauty of this planet and the divine.

I like the compost analogy. My Journal is where I dump the food waste and the poetry is how I turn the soil, adding earth worms, grass clippings, hay to create rich fertile nourishing soul food.

This is the first stanza of one of my first poems about the day my father died. It flows through feelings, memories and deep appreciation for him as my father. Even now as I read it again, it soothes my heart and brings a smile to my face. It is the final gift he gave me.


He kisses me on the cheek
Saying goodbye
Five times
He is trying to say
His final words
His hands gesture
With thoughts on his

When I had written for about three weeks I decided I wanted to share the alchemical power of poetry with others. I approached a friend of mine, Beckie Elgin and told her about my idea to create an e-class to inspire people to write a poem a day. She immediately got the vision. We have been creating it ever since.

A Poem A Day For the Month of May. I am not a trained poet. This class isn’t a technical poetry class it is for all who want to play, dig deep and transmute the inner into gold.

For more information: annbarton.org/a-poem-a-day-for-31-days

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Depression as Teacher

Depression is as common as the cold. It’s something many of us have experienced. It’s a state I’ve experienced from time to time. My father and his mother struggled with it. You could say it runs in the family. You could say I am a recovering depression-aholic. Like an alcoholic, there are some chemical tendencies, though I believe much of the pattern is learned behavior that becomes a habit. And habits can be hard to break but not impossible. I do know that diet and exercise can help with the chemical tendencies and thus make the process of healing a clearer path. For the purpose of this exploration I am focusing on the repression of feelings as a learned behavior which is a cause of depression. I am not talking about suicidal depression, if you or anyone you know is talking about suicide, get help, call a suicide hot line or your local emergency room. Once you get help these principles will be helpful.

We have learned this behavior from our parents, their parents and the culture at large. I think depression is like a security blanket which can feel traumatic when it’s lost. One has to learn other ways of getting attention and expressing feelings, especially anger. Depression is like a mass of unidentified emotion, painful because of the overwhelming amount of feeling and because one feels so powerless. And yet, depression is “safer” than naming the separate feelings that make up the mass of emotion. Why? Because if we start engaging the feelings, one by one, we might have to change.

Depression is a way to stay the same, secure in the known, homeostasis. And if it was a pattern in your family, as it was in mine then it is even safer because depression was what we were taught as a coping skill, like using TV, work, alcohol, drugs, all the other ways we’re all taught to numb difficult feelings.

My dad would get depressed when he felt angry, sad, anxious, frustrated and I imagine his mother did too. She committed suicide. Her pain, anger and grief were so terrifying to her the only way she could find freedom was to leave her physical body. Though tragic, I am grateful for the lessons she passed on. We can find freedom in this life.

The power of the habit of depression: Notice if you get depressed around your family of origin. I used to. It’s the way I would tell them how angry I am. It’s actually passive aggressive (a “safe” way of expressing anger), because I know how much they want me to be happy. Do you get depressed when angry, sad or afraid or even happy? This is our body and mind’s way of telling us that these feelings are somehow not safe to feel. We’ve been taught this. Most people were not taught that it was okay to express anger, grief, fear or even joy. Feelings give us important information about who we are and what is important to us.

Anger tells us what works, what doesn’t, what we want and don’t, where we might need to set boundaries. We are resistant to feeling the anger, because if we know what we want or don’t want then we might have to say something, like NO. This is hard because we’ve been raised that saying NO or asking for what we want might get us into trouble, sometimes serious trouble. So it is safer (and often it was safer when we were children) to turn the feelings on ourselves which causes negative self talk and depression.

Grief and sadness tell us how deeply we feel about someone or something. This feeling of loss can seem unbearable. And often we saw our parents tuck away their grief, drink instead, or tell us not to cry. We might have seen them get depressed and disappear in their room as if grief were a shameful feeling. Yet if we block these feelings, we never get to appreciate what the past has given us — and it’s often sweet, when we can get past the fear of grief it then can transform into gratitude and love for those that have passed.

Fear – now this is a powerful emotion! It tells us what might not be safe and yet paradoxically it can tell us what might be an enriching and enlightening experience. Avoid what you’re afraid of and you avoid life and learning more about who you are. So, ask yourself, ok, what’s real about this fear? Can I do what I’m afraid of and still bring my fear along? Then I realize that what I am afraid of has very little to do with reality. It’s made up of the stories I tell myself and these stories are fiction. Soap operas actually, oh so dramatic. I have learned that what I am afraid of is full of power. Like the fear I felt about the Cougars and Bears in the mountains where I did my vision quest. The Native Americans believe that animals have power and wisdom for us humans if we choose to listen. That’s what our fears are trying to tell us, they have power and wisdom if we would just listen.

Fear can be a good adviser but not a guide or master. Fear may come along on the walk of life, but it’s the truth, through experience that tells us what’s real. And stuffing one’s feelings keeps us from experiencing and learning from the truth — and eventually can lead to depression. The word depression means “pushing down”. Our feelings, if we let them, can give us a key to unlocking aspects of who we truly are and helps us de-code the soap opera. Many people live and make choices because they believe their personal soap opera. How many of your fears have really come true? How much of your life have you not lived because fear became your Master?

Although it’s a hard-won skill, we all can learn to sit with, walk with and learn from our feelings, whether pleasant or dark, and the important thing to know is they can’t kill us — and eventually they liberate us because we learn to “know thyself” (the key motto from Socrates, the key to wisdom). It’s only by denying the mass of our emotions that they become the great dark unknown and fearful dragon that can overwhelm and threaten to annihilate us.

I am not suggesting you go out and slam people with your newly uncovered feelings, actually that is the opposite of what I am saying. Our feelings are a guide to deeper truths, use them to uncover your desires, dreams and what you love. Throwing them out on others is just another addiction designed to distract you from feeling vulnerable and facing your deeper desires.

The healing from this is gradual, done one step at a time, the way you tend a garden or raise a child or get to know a puppy from the pound who may have been abused and whom you get to know gradually — and win its trust. I was watching the original Star Wars the other night and here is Obi Wan telling Luke, “Go with the Force, Luke, trust your…FEELINGS!!” I was amazed. There it was in scifi folklore. The need to trust our feelings, not run from them. And, of course, it took Luke many episodes to fully learn to trust his feelings and find his “power” (himself) in the Force. The “force” was the force of awareness, honesty and courage learned from his feelings. If we do not honor the force we will fell depressed. But if we listen and honor our depression, sometimes called “the dark night of the soul” we will be guided to the power and wisdom of our unique feelings, yearnings and desires.

–Ann Barton, M.A., counselor/coach, 541-951-9136

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My Divinity Reflected In Your Eyes

My Divinity Reflected in Your Eyes

What is it about relationships? Especially our primary one — you know, “the love of your life?” Oh, the falling in love stage, it’s so sweet. It’s the time we get to see who we truly are, our divinity. We get to experience union with the beloved and it is blissful! We see our perfection through the eyes of our beloved. But then, after a few years something happens, something so disturbing and upsetting it sometimes ends the relationship.

We wake up one morning and realize we don’t have a clue who this person is we fell in love with. And the scariest part is they are feeling the same way.

Fear begins to creep into the joy, the bliss. There’s doubt, insecurity, criticism, judgment, pulling away, blame, oh yes, our good friend blame and of course there is anger. The power struggles begin, who is going to get it their way? Who’s right, who’s wrong?

This is when we need courage, lots of it sometimes, because “relationships are the master game” as my old professor used to remind us. He had been married five times and had gained a certain amount of ‘street’ wisdom about relationships. He was also the one that taught me to begin to embrace all of who I am, even the not so pretty parts.
Which brings me back to relationships. That’s why they demand courage, because when we look into the eyes of our beloved we see ourselves…all of who we are….The good, bad and the embarrassing. And that can be frightening.

I recently ran away from a relationship, took a break, thought he was the problem. I found myself wondering how much was about me and how much was about him? It didn’t take me long to realize I was really running away from me, from the uncomfortable feelings that the relationship had kicked up in my face. I wasn’t sure I wanted someone so close, so intimate. What if he didn’t like what he saw? What if I didn’t like what I saw? And what would that mean about me?

You know how they say you can’t love someone else till you love yourself? Well I don’t think that is totally true. How do we separate ourselves from another in order to learn to love ourselves? That’s right, we can’t. We aren’t separate. It is a dance, a flow back and forth — another reason why relationships can be difficult.

It’s a big question: How do I take care of myself and take care of the other at the same time and how do I let them take care of me and encourage them to take care of themselves at the same time?

But listen, this is the point, Relationships are supposed to bring up all these issues and more! That’s the nature of relationship, to bring to the surface our needs, our desires and the parts of us that want to be heard, healed and integrated. Relationships are a path, I think a spiritual path or at least a path towards greater self awareness and love.

I just read a Facebook conversation about relationships and it was filled with idealisms about how loving, open and transparent relationships should be. I think what was missed is that the mere nature of transparency is to show all of who we are and that will make the relationship not look ideal sometimes. It will get messy, painful, infantile, and frightening sometimes. But contrary to popular opinion this isn’t bad; it is good, because with presence, support and yes, love, we can learn to embrace each other’s pain, wounding and younger feelings that sometimes make us do things that aren’t ideal. And in this process of opening to our deepest vulnerabilities, we find we not only begin to love our partner more but we miraculously find we love ourselves more.

In the Greek myth Narcissus, from a Jungian perspective, Narcissus becomes enamored with his image as reflected in the pool, but over time, as he looks deeper and deeper in the pool he begins to see who he truly is and eventually falls in love with his true nature, his divinity. He then falls into the pool becoming one with the Beloved or with divinity itself. The mountain nymph, Echo, asks the pool, “Don’t you miss Narcissus, he was so beautiful?” The pool says,” Oh was he beautiful? I didn’t notice. I miss him because when he looked into the pool I could see my divinity reflected in his eyes.”

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Feelings – Call Them to Your Arms

“Embracing that hurt you feel turns to joy. Call it to your arms so it can change.”-Rumi

Presence brings inner peace. Whatever I am feeling, fear, anger, grief, even jealously or hatred will call up a feeling of inner peace when I can be present with these feelings. When I embrace them, accept them, even love them I then feel an emotional alchemy. These feelings transmute into joy, acceptance and peace.

I am reminded of the first time I was aware of this alchemy. My cousin was 5 and I was babysitting him. I was 21 and a new psychology student. He got very mad at me over something I felt bad about. I decided to talk with him about it, but before I could even get the words out of my mouth he was laughing and ready to play chase with me. I was astounded by how quickly he got over his anger, almost as if it never happened. Young children do this all the time, because they feel, express it and move on.

I had an experience of this the other day. I was on the phone trying to make an appointment with my doctor’s receptionist. She was not listening to me. I said what I wanted again and again. She just kept telling me that what I was asking for was impossible. I got more and frustrated and began to be rude and angry towards her. I stopped myself in mid–sentence when I realized how reactive I was being. So I said I would call her back later. I got off the phone and sat there feeling this anger flowing through my body, through my veins like blood. It was actually quite invigorating and felt like life force itself filling me up with a lively energy.

I began to enjoy the experience I was feeling and was able to ask myself why I had been so reactive with this woman. I then had a memory of trying to tell my mother something and she just wouldn’t listen and I realized how much I yearn to be heard and listened to. It wasn’t about getting my way; I just wanted to be acknowledged for my request.

I was then able to call her back and apologize for my rudeness. I told her about my frustration. At that point, she understood my request. I felt a deeper understanding and compassion for myself and my deep desire to be heard.

This experience brought me a feeling of inner peace because I embraced my feeling of anger. It also brought me closer to the woman on the phone and I imagine she felt a sense of inner peace as well.

Another story comes to mind. A friend of mine was studying with a spiritual teacher and he asked one of the monks whether the teacher ever has challenging feelings like he has. Or if when one is enlightened they don’t have these feelings anymore. The monk smiled and said that yes the teacher had all the feelings that all humans have, he just moves through them more quickly.

I think what this meant is that he is so present with whatever emerges out of his psyche, he immediately embraces the feelings, bringing his presence to the experience. It gets heard. The experience is allowed to complete, as it did with my five-year old cousin – angry one moment, joyful the next.

In my practice I see this happen every time a client has the courage to allow their feelings full expression. It really is emotional alchemy. “Feelin’ it, is Healin’ it”

I invite you to-“Call it to your arms so it can change”

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