Seeing a Bigger Picture

Sometimes a nature picture is a whole poem, as a poem can be uplifting. As Mary Oliver wrote in A Poetry Handbook, “…poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

Last week a bridge collapsed in Pittsburg. First responders formed a rescue “rope” — a human chain — to free people who were in a bus on the precariously collapsed bridge. We may tell ourselves that we cannot make any difference in serious life events, but when we work together we often make a huge difference. Saving someone’s life makes a monumental difference to their family, friends, and community. Even a poem can be lifesaving for some.   

John O’Donohue, Irish theologian and poet, explains the power of poetry in Eternal Echoes: “Poems are some of the amazing presences in the world. I am always amazed that poems are willing to lie down and sleep inside the flat, closed pages of books. If poems behaved according to their essence, they would be out dancing on the seashore or flying to the heavens or trying to rinse out secrets of the mountains.”

Every person likely reaches times when they question, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” This song title comes from Hal David and Burt Bacharach in the 1966 British romantic comedy Alfie. It is a phrase that my late husband and I asked each other frequently. We usually went into depths (or heights) of conversation that led us far away from the original question. Perhaps that is the point—when you want to consider the “big picture,” water, mountains, sky or planetary metaphors are within limits.

When is the last time you wrote a poem? What do you have to lose? Try writing haiku, a Japanese poetic form. After you get the hang of it, you will enjoy the elegant simplicity:

  • three lines of poetry with a total of 17 syllables,
  • 5 syllables in the first line,
  • 7 syllables in the second,
  • and 5 syllables in the third (final) line.

Here is a haiku that I wrote one day when I was frustrated with the evening news:

  • growth pains all groaning 
  • planet interdependence    
  • moves slowly and stalls

Sometimes we understand a “bigger picture” when we slow down, come into the present moment, and condense our ongoing wordiness. When we tenderly catch ourselves not paying attention to the present moment, we can pause and slow down our mind-chat. We can vow to treat our thoughts and emotions with more consciousness: “Oh, there’s anger about my job lay-off …oh, there’s loneliness. My work colleagues and I miss each other.” It is in the present moment we think about a “bigger picture.”

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

52. When do you notice a “bigger picture” than just your own personal struggles?

53. Can you write a haiku about some “big picture” issue on your mind? (I’d love to see your haiku in the Comments section below.)

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


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