Poetry Therapy Column, April 2004
(sometimes disguised as an arts or other alternative therapy column!)
By Kara L.C. Jones

When word play leads to music...

Last summer I sat down with a woman to do a therapy session of sorts. We were doing some word play and visualizations from that play. Words that were bantered around that day were things like:

  • lotus
  • conduit
  • movement
  • sway
  • flow of energy
  • flexibility
  • weaving the continuum
  • funnel
  • surrender
  • intention of gentle power
  • circle of the visionary
  • staying fluid

My mission with this list of words was to write and then bring some aspect of those words to life. To live the words. Seems almost so simple as to be silly, doesn't it? Ha! Let me tell you that this has been a challenge in ways I never imagined.

Part of what came up in my journalling was a realization that these words are very unlike the me that I knew. I was not willing to surrender easily. I often didn't flow with the energy, but got stuck in the details. My body is the most inflexible thing on the planet since I gave up on it the day my son died. So to look at how to bring these words to life was downright scary.

I think that for a long time in my grief journey, I wanted answers. I wanted to take care of the details myself because no one else was going to do it. I just took on a lot of "stuff" that was heavy and bulky and inflexible. For a long time, I wasn't being a conduit for things and people to pass through, but rather, it became that things, issues, energy came into my life, into my very being and stayed lodged here. And I was beginning to drowned into it all. I was not asking for help. I was trying to do it all alone -- and carrying things around that just didn't belong to me.

So the next part of the challenge was how to change all that. And I began doing other writing with these words that looked at how to make changes. And here's some of what came of the writing and the manifestation:

lotus - I took this word very literally. This type of flower has always been very beautiful to me, so I started looking for it around me. In photos, in plants, in drawings, in henna, even in my cooking. I found dried lotus root for cooking and brought it into my kitchen. I found a beautiful card from India that had a lotus painting where parts of it were highlighted with glitter. I have it on my desk. In the original henna designs I was creating, I began drawing lotus flowers or just petals. And I began to study the meaning of the lotus in traditional henna designs.

conduit - I'm still working on this. For me this word has meant that what lands on my desk or in my lap is not mine to hold onto, or do, or complete. But rather what comes to me, I need to be a conduit for it. Pass on my knowledge or experience or contact information for others who would have the knowledge or experience about something. But I'm not very good at this. When things come, I tend to take them in, hold on, try to solve the whole situation, fix it, do it all. It's like moving from regular football where you tuck the ball till it's part of your body and run till your mission of scoring is done -- to instead playing tag ball, where you like tag, get the important piece, run with it, pass it on if you need help to get to the goal. Maybe that's a weird metaphor. I don't know sports very well. But you get the idea.

movement - Again a literal translation for me. Everything from moving into a living space that was more appropriate for the life and work I'm living and doing -- to getting up from my desk and moving around the land we now live on and doing things like weeding and walking.

sway - For me this word meant swaying with the range of something for a good long while before making any definitive decisions. Again, a hard thing for me. I'm quick to decide and then bulldog forward. So stopping myself. Waiting. Feeling the moment. Swaying with it from one side of the issue to the other. Letting my body and mind land in a place that was right for me. Doing that gently. Very weird thing for one who previously just had so much going on that she would decide, snap, run, go, get it done, drop from exhaustion.

flow of energy - Not as hard as I thought. Kind of a relief. Someone brings something to me. Instead of taking it on myself, I say, "Wow, really interesting. You should check out..." or something like that. I flow the energy of the person and their work on to the next thing that will help them. Passing on information. I thought this would be really hard because, for me, it would feel like passing the buck instead of doing it myself. But it's been easy to flow energy back and forth. Though I must say that there were those who were used to bringing me things and having me do it all for them. They resisted at my "flowing" moves and tried to stop me, to leave me their "stuff" if you know what I mean. So my initial "flowing" self has been easy. It's when people resist it and then I feel like I hit the challenges I talked about above with the idea of "conduit".

flexibility - Being flexible with myself as I figure all this out. Being flexible with others as they adjust to my "new" actions and reactions. Getting some flexibility back in my body -- hard for me!!!! I hate "exercise" and I am NOT a gym person. But feeling my body when I'm out weeding -- that has a purpose. And then I discovered bellydancing. Not "exercise class" but dance class. Learning a skill. I loooooooooove it. I'm not great at it. I pretty much still stink at it. I'm not good a practicing through out the week on my own. But I love the class, I love the movement. I love learning something and really feeling my body move into that space.

weaving the continuum - I want to be ONE of the weavers -- not THE weaver. For me this has meant trying really hard to be a PART of things. Instead of writing my own book, working with a team of writers to create a book. Instead of trying to do some solo exercise, becoming part of a bellydancing class that is a troupe of dancers. Instead of being a slam poet, becoming part of an improv group or a cast in a play. That kind of thing. Not easy for me. I'm a hobbit-away-alone kinda grrrrrrrrl. I'm working on this.

funnel - Taking the vast amount of information and energy that comes at me and letting funnel through -- doing what I can to make the flow happen smoothly -- but letting it all flow through. Not easy. Again, I had been letting it all pool into my bucket which was getting heavier and heavier. It was really hard to poke the hole in the side of the bucket to let stuff flow out. Like the psycho energy of the cyber-stalkers and hackers that have been hounding our Press and attacking our work for months now. I was really trying to "fix" all that. To "press charges", to "discover who they were" and to "get justice". After awhile my bucket was so heavy with that, well, I couldn't do anything else. I had to poke the hole in the bucket and let it all funnel out. Let it go. It can't be fixed because they are psycho. The more I "fixed", the worse the attacks, the more defensive I got. Let it go. It is what it is. And anyone who really knows anything about us and our work -- or anyone who is willing to look into our work past the "fake news stories" and all -- well, our work, our son's legacy stands for itself. Do what you can do to stand-fast and then stand-fast (as my lovely husband would say!).

surrender - This has been a life long struggle for me, not just about the last year's experience. I'm an old hat at the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" game. I could woulda myself to death if I weren't attentive. So surrender to the flow. Doing what I can, moving it forward, moving on, letting it go. Not trying to pull things back because three days later I think, "oh I shoulda..." -- you know?

intention of gentle power - Power as something good?? Weird. For me, power had always been evil as in corporate or political power -- lies, money, hurting people, stealing. Who wants power like that? Not me. But intentional power -- intentional gentle power. Being grounded. Saying yes or NO with confidence. Hmmmmmm??? I'm working on it. This was a HUGE shift in perspective for me, so it's been a big thing.

circle of the visionary - Again, just the being part of the circle vs. being the whole damn circle myself. Standing shoulder to shoulder. Holding the vision with the help of others. Creating an intentional space and being centered. Still working on it.

staying fluid - Not getting stuck in any of this!!! Just trying on the different hats. Trying on this flexibility, this gentle power stuff, and then staying fluid enough to even change my mind and heart about that. Fluidity is the point. Checking in at the ocean shore. Seeing the movement and patterns in the vast waterfront. Seeing starfish and anemone at low tide. Watching the the weather fronts come and go.

So you can see that this "simple game of word play" really took on a much larger intention and meaning for me. It helps to do this with another person. Make a long list of words that come from the session. Write everyday about at least one of the words. Check in with that list often. Create little "to do" lists of things you can do to make the words manifest in your life. If the other person is willing to sort of partner with you on this, then check in with each other now and again. Share your progress, the good, the bad, the difficult, with each other.

If you are a poet, incorporate the words into poems. If you are a visual artist, incorporate the words into your photography, your sculptures, your painting, your henna designs. What does that feel like? What comes of them when you put them into art that way? And how does the work and play with your list of words manifest in your life over the course of a year?

It can be a most interesting way to journal and create. Try it. Let me know how it goes!



A Comprehensive Archive

A few readers have written to say it's difficult to locate previous issues of this column, so below is a comprehensive archive. Please note that each link here will pop open a new window containing the Poetry Therapy column named:

Discovering Poetry Therapy

Pt I: Defining Poetry Therapy *and* Pt II: Coping with the Holidays

The Notion of "Healing"

National Poetry Awareness Month - 2003

At the MISS Conference: poetry and kids

So you want to be certified?

Let go, Let go

Outside, Inside

Can't you get over it?

Layers & Living - 9/11


Be Still

Reviewing "Poetic Medicine"

Day of the Dead

Letting Expression Come

Forgotten Familiar

Empty Chairs, Tiny Stockings


About the Author
Kara is an artist of many disciplines. Trained as a poet and bookmaker, she has also been known to act, bellydance, and do henna body arts. She teaches and performs through faires, festivals, local art centers, artists in the schools programs, KotaPress and independently. To find out more, see:


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