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Use of Poetry in Secular Mindfulness Guidance


Despite mindfulness-based programs (MBPs) being presented and practiced in a secular context, the traditions they have drawn from are spiritually based (e.g., Buddhist). Starting with a critical discussion of the secular/spiritual nature of mindfulness practices, the objective was to show how the divide between the two might be bridged with the skillful use of poetry as an active form of meaning-making (spirituality).


The inspired poetry of meditation, contemplation, and introspection in Buddhist traditions was reviewed, indicating that spiritual aesthetics have an important place in encouraging mindful practices that might also be useful to secular MBPs. The type of poetry found in MBP handbooks/manuals, and the context in which they were used, was surveyed and then contrasted with these traditional forms.


Poetry themes overlapped with contemplative poetry from Buddhist traditions, with nature and change (as paradox) being frequently employed. Where the poetry in secular mindfulness texts differed was (1) in a lack of differentiating stages or paths, (2) in being simple and direct rather than abstract, and (3) focusing on acceptance.


Suggestions are made as to how poetry may be applied in mindfulness practices, with potential benefits of using them to address spiritual issues, including mitigating adverse effects and supporting religious backgrounds, as well as offering an active, reflexive, meaning-making activity for practitioners, instructors, and researchers that in itself could be used as a research tool.

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