I am midway through my two-year training in Celtic Shamanism with Tom Cowan (His website is www.riverdrum.com). Something Tom has encouraged us to practice during our study of Celtic shamanism is memorizing and reciting poetry, which honors the ancient bard tradition. The bards studied for over 20 years, committing to memory all of the epic tales and poems of Celtic lore. It was the bards who were called upon to settle matters when a decision needed to be made or a dispute settled. This was accomplished when the bard brought forth the right story to settle the matter at hand. We could use a couple of these bards in Washington right now!
Let me just say a couple of things about what a great spiritual practice this is. First of all, don’t we all see our memories going? Even for the young who in my day never lost their memories—that was just for old people—even the young are so oversaturated and overstimulated these days, they too are groping for names, dates, places and where they left their car keys. We’re a mess! So what do you think I noticed most when I started exercising the old noggin by memorizing and reciting poems? My memory improved! I began to think and speak more clearly! What’s not to like about this?
I give poems (by reciting them from memory) to my clients at the end of their session. I flip through my mental archives and choose one relevant to where they are in their life journey, as the bards of old were called upon to do. I recite poems during my classes to illustrate spiritual concepts. I gave a poem as a birthday present recently, nervously reciting Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness” to my big brother—didn’t want to mess it up! I say them when I walk in the woods, giving them to the trees, the birds, the clouds and the rain. The Celts called this practice gean cannach, or lovetalking.
A poem can humble you, ground you, lift you up and fill you with gratitude. Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,” says Nye, “you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak it until your voice catches the thread of all sorrow and you see the size of the cloth.
Oh how grateful I am that I didn’t die before hearing that line!