Haiku originated in 17th century Japan, at a time when the country was heavily steeped in Zen Buddhism. Impermanence, the basis of this philosophy, is also the basis of the shortest poems in the world. “Each haiku is an attempt to seize the moment”, underlines Pascale Senk, haiku specialist and author of several collections. Hence their brevity and the themes they address, which recall the passage of time, the living being in transformation…
Haikus and meditation, a close relationship
“The first haijins, the poets who write haiku, crossed Japan on foot, from monastery to monastery and wrote their haiku after long meditation sessions, recalls Pascale Senk. It was a way of spreading the Zen philosophy. For the specialist, haikus can be seen as “the literary side of Zen”.
The relationship between haiku and meditation does not end with Zen. The link is also obvious with mindfulness meditation, as these Japanese poems encourage us to focus our attention on the present moment, our sensations and our emotions, and on the very small things, such as insects or details of daily life. . “There is a haiku* by master Shiki which is an extraordinary example of mindfulness meditation: he tells how while cutting a pear, he feels the juice running down his wrist. It is both sensory and inscribed in the present moment. The haijin concentrates in this poem the expression of a presence in the world and in one’s own emotions. »
The philosophy of haiku therefore mixes two meditations: Zen, for impermanence, the celebration of the living and the erasure of the ego (there is no “I” in haikus), and mindfulness for sensoriality, presence in the world and non-judgment. And it goes further. The haiku is also a gateway to meditation through the work on the breath that it involves. In the original version, the haiku must be able to be said in one exhalation, hence its maximum length of 17 syllables. “The breath is essential to recite a haiku in Japanese, but, notes the specialist, meditation is also a work on the breath. »
The haiku, a source of meditation
“The haiku is what makes tilt in my mind, in my spirit”, said Roland Barthes. But not only: “we always read a haiku twice, says Pascale Senk. The silence that follows the first reading makes it possible to explore a first meaning, the re-reading leads to reflection on a second meaning”. Haikus are polysemous, and resonate with us in one way or another. They are therefore a source of meditation, she insists: “a haiku, we read it, we reread it, we think about it… Reading it or hearing it awakens feelings, memories in us, especially since a good haiku is a sensory bomb”.
Appreciating haiku is not easy at first sight, as they are the opposite of poetry as we know it in the West. But if we hang on, another world opens up to us. “I no longer look at reality in the same way, confides Pascale Senk: I have become attentive to things that we no longer look at, like a little ant walking on a hydrangea petal, or unexpected situations, like one day in the metro, my neighbor who wore a “Happy” t-shirt with a big smiley face when she had a pale face and huge dark circles under her eyes”. From these anecdotes, she drew haikus**:
between two petals
an ant engulfs
– little beauty
his dark circles of fatigue
his “Happy” t-shirt
Writing haikus, an invitation to step aside
Writing haiku is not in itself a meditative activity. But inspiration can arise only after experiences that are close to meditation. We must indeed relearn how to contemplate the manifestations of the living that we no longer see ordinarily, because we are caught up in routine, habits, machines. The haiku focuses on something else: it is a powerful celebration of the living.
In short, it is a question of stepping aside and putting oneself in the position of a benevolent observer: “it looks like a creative meditation, notes Pascale Senk: we step back, we observe and we make a creation. At the beginning, you have to provoke these observations, eventually, you do it naturally”. His advice, for those who would like to start writing haiku, is simple: always have a notebook at hand, to write down what surprised, amazed, amused, delighted us. There will always be time to work on the style afterwards, but for that, you need to have material.
* I peel a pear
From the edge of the blade
The sweet drip.
** Published in his collection changing skyLeduc, 2022
Pascale Senk is the author of several books on haikus, published by Leduc editions. The latest, Changing Sky, recounts an entire day through haikus, which testify to the emotions and energies felt over the hours of the day and night.
She regularly leads workshops to learn how to write haikus and is at the origin of a podcast, 17 syllables. Episode n°6 is devoted to the links between haiku and meditation.