haiku for mental health

Mindful reading of haiku can help you to regain a sense of calm and to find joy in the simplest of things. And most importantly, it can help you to develop a sense of appreciation for the beauty of now.

haiku for mental health

I staggered into my room, feeling horribly dejected and hopeless. I had just read the news, and my mind was burdened with shocking numbers and death rates and news of people dying for lack of oxygen. My heart beat quickened. My palms became sweaty.

And that's when I spotted a poetry collection.

I picked it up and feverishly began flipping through the pages, desperate to distract myself. A few haiku caught my attention. I stopped, plunked down on my bean bag chair, and began to read. I let the sounds and the gentle rhythm of the poems fill the air around me, making it sweet and warm. I let myself slip into the world evoked by the captivating images in the haiku, and felt my anxiety and panic disappearing. And when I finally closed the book, I felt calm, composed and relaxed. The haiku seemed to have had a magical, therapeutic effect on me, and now whenever I feel anxious or am stressed out, I simply have to hear the haiku reverberating in the depths of my soul, conjure up the images they capture, and find myself transported to a world of seemingly eternal peace and joy.

Now, what I'm describing is not a flimsy, baseless or abstract notion. It is a science, rooted in facts and research. It is the practice of bibliotherapy, which is the use of literature for helping people to deal with emotional stresses and problems in their lives. In this blog post, I will describe the therapeutic effects of haiku, in particular. I will also list some of the magical haiku that I read, and will tell you what I thought of them.

So, fasten your seat belts and pull up your socks. We are diving head-on into the world of haiku. (Drumroll, please).

Let's begin with a quick definition. According to Oxford languages, "a haiku is a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world."  Some of the notable poets who wrote haiku are- Matsuo Bashō, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, Jack Kerouac etc.

Here are some of the haiku that I read-

I come weary,
In search of an inn-
Ah! these wisteria flowers!


This haiku, composed by Bashō, is definitely one of my favourites. In fact, it is the very summation of what poems can do, what the "wisteria flowers" can do. They can rejuvenate and refresh, uplift and heal. The first line sketches the weariness and exhaustion of the poet, who is looking for an inn- a place of refuge, a place to find solace in. But the moment he stumbles across the enchanting wisteria flowers, all his weariness seems to vanish. The comma and hyphen are replaced by an exclamation mark, and the poet is filled with renewed life and vigour. Thus, the flowers become almost an inn for the poet, who absorbs himself in their beauty, their scent, and finds himself happy and rejuvenated. Similarly, in these difficult times, we can try to find solace in these little, ever-present things- flowers, birdsong, pop music, cookies, laughter, poetry- whatever you fancy. Absorb yourself in them, breathe in their scent, take in their sound, relish their taste. You will find yourself transported to a whole new world.

Drinking tea alone:
Every day the butterfly
Stops by.

                                  - Kobayashi Issa

Haiku are often known to paint contradictory images, and it is the job of the reader to use his insight and imagination to bridge the gap between the images. This haiku displays this feature to its fullest extent.

The poet, in the first line, mentions that he is "drinking tea alone". He then goes on to say that the butterfly stops by everday. To any ordinary observer, the poet would have seemed alone, but in reality, he is not alone- he is accompanied by a butterfly. Similarly, in life, too, every situation, every experience, is rarely what it appears to be. There is always a deeper meaning, a deeper reason behind things-and who knows- the difficult and trying situation that we are in today might just have a deeper, beautiful underlying meaning to it. Additionally, this poem strikes a hopeful, reassuring note- it tells us that whenever we feel lonely, we can console ourselves by recalling the fact that nature is always with us. This is a message we really need to keep in mind as we sail through the darkness.

Thought I, the fallen flowers
Are returning to their branch;
But lo! they were butterflies.
Arakida Moritake

This is one haiku that is as lovely to hear as it is to read. Read it aloud, savouring every sound. Notice the gentle 'b' sounds, and the uplifting 'l' and 'f' sounds. Immerse yourself in the gentle, rhythmic world of sound and beat. And when you are done with that, consider the deeper meaning that the poem is trying to convey. The poet considers butterlies as "fallen flowers" trying to return to their branch, but then realises that they are actually something better, something more vibrant, something more alive- they are butterflies. It seems that the fallen (and presumably wilted) flowers have transformed into alive and fluttering butterflies. Through this captivating image, one can extract a deep lesson. In life, we might lose things- opportunities, chances, jobs, positions etc. But in those moments of despair, we must not let our faith in the order of the universe waver. We must cling to the golden thread of hope, and remember that opportunities will creep back into our lives again, better and more beautiful and rewarding than ever before.

Feeling moved by these haiku? Why not try reading some more?  You can read more on this page.  And lastly, I have a word of advice- as you read these haiku, don't try very hard to glean some deep, philosophical meaning or life lesson. The message should emerge from the poem, smoothly and effortlessly, but don't worry if it doesn't. Simply taking out a few minutes from your day to read a haiku or two, to immerse yourself in a rich pool of imagery and sound, can have profound effects on your mental health. Mindful reading of haiku can help you to regain a sense of calm and to find joy in the simplest of things. And most importantly, it can help you to develop a sense of appreciation for the beauty of now.