Lost for Words: The poetry of mindfulness and non-duality


Lost for Words

by Martin Wells /www.mantra-books.com

The essence of mindfulness philosophy is that everything in our universe is one. This is realised by the observation of not two, not separate, a non-dual perspective. In effect we are not our thoughts, our stories, our personalities or our bodies.

In a mindfulness group recently a patient who had suffered with chronic depression for over 25 years described a profound realisation: 

“Now I know I’m not my thoughts!” 

Her sense of liberation was life changing. She continued to have the old ‘I’ thoughts but no longer identified with them and as such was free. The effect on her mental health was immediate. She began to be in touch with her true nature beyond the story of her. Not only did she realise she was not her thoughts but also not her story. For example as a result of her childhood sexual abuse she had told herself, as many victims do, there was something wrong with her. When we stop identifying with these thoughts it leads to the realisation that there is fundamentally nothing wrong with us.

Our thoughts are great separators, especially thoughts of ‘I’. We perceive things as separate entities. As subjects and objects, including ourselves. The reality is that everything in the cosmos is connected as one. This is confirmed by quantum physicists as well as mystics over the ages. The 13th century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said that if we could really see a tree we would never need to go to church again. As soon as we say ‘a tree’ we have separated it from the earth, the light, the moisture, the birds and insects without which it has no existence. Apply this to ourselves and we may get some glimpse our fundamental connectedness to our world.

Of course not only mystics and scientists help us to see things as they really are but this is a feature of great art, literature, music and poetry. The capacity to point to a deeper truth to go beyond the veil of duality.

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.


On a personal level this meant a dissolving of the illusion that I was separate, which had fuelled countless attempts to fit in, into the realisation that this distinct form called ‘me’ is merely a wave in the ocean of consciousness, completely one with the air that I breathe and the light that sustains life.

This understanding led to a clarity about the inter-relatedness of everyone and everything. A radically new perspective on my work as a psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher and to my relationships with others and the world around me. It led to a deep acceptance of what life brings and falling away of resistance and struggle. This transition also prompted an outpouring of poetry. It was as if this medium, which was new to me, – as I’d never written any poetry before – came into awareness, each poem waking me before dawn, perhaps, to remind my essential being and others of our true nature. 

Images arose about: the responsibilities of snowdrops, conversations between an ant and an ostrich. A park bench is given a voice, an olive tree a view on life. The fundamental stillness of Nature emerged as a central theme. Everything simply being itself. Identification with the natural world then an invitation to the reader to return to their essential being, silent, still and free.

‘The background needs no foreground

Except to know itself.

The silence is alone fulfilled

and does not need the poet

Although it calls him home

And back into the source

His words then our reminders

Of this shared silent presence,

The beings that we are.’

Lost for Words

We cannot know who we are while we are still searching, still looking outside ourselves for the answers, for self-improvement.

In my past psychotherapy and meditation seemed perfect methods of the self improvement many of us are seeking. It was only decades later, after years of this searching, I came to see that this was futile – a dead end. I realised there was no progress to be made, no path to take, each step taken a step away from who I was.

This progressive path had become more and more frustrating, jaded. In the end the realisation arrived in one moment!

A French psychiatrist, who was giving a talk to the Royal college of Psychiatrists in London said:

“Stop searching! Be who you truly are!”.

Although given to an audience of over a hundred people these words felt directed at me. All the energy of my personal search dissolved in an instant along with the emergence of a profound sense of stillness and freedom.

I later learnt that the speaker, Jean-Marc Mantel, now a friend and colleague, had been a student of Jean Klein who in turn had in been influenced by Krishna Menon all immersed in the teachings of non-duality – Advaita Vedanta.

For the next two years or so I too immersed myself in these teachings to bring an understanding to the experience of that afternoon. I came to realise to what we mean when we say ‘therapy without the therapist’, ‘no one teaching’, ‘no one writing’ or when it comes to sport ‘no one playing’.

The path (although no longer a path) was then not about self improvement or making progress – not about adding anything but more the stripping away of the conditioned self and enquiring into who we are beyond our thoughts and our stories:

‘How did you sculpt the horse? ‘

Sculptor ‘I just took away the bits that weren’t horse’.

Poetry can perhaps challenge these illusory views of who we think we are in a way that prose cannot, leave more space for the reader to find their own images, to challenge our fixed perceptions and point to the silence and the stillness that is the infinite background to life. 

And in the land of no nouns

Would we see things as they really are?

The hard edges dissolved

No separation

No one writing this

And to no one else

Just life resonating

Say ‘I wrote you a poem’ and

The poem is dead.

Lost for Words

Perhaps poetry is a medium that can also highlight the paradoxical nature of this perspective? ‘Lost for Words’ uses words to point to their absence. Suggests we lose something for something else to be revealed. Lose our grip on our perceived reality, on our fixed views on what we call reality, look beyond the words to the blank page on which they sit, to a fundamental spaciousness and silence. A silence that is not just an experience but a mirror to the silent being that is our true nature.

Lost for Words is a collection of poems that speaks to that deep longing for union and freedom at the source of each of us.

Lost for words is available from wherever books are sold.

Book Link: https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/mantra-books/our-books/lost-for-words-poetry-mindfulness-non-duality

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