Here's why the military turned to poetry as the antidote to PTSD
I think it’s more and more difficult to find silence. You go any place, restaurant, an airport, and people, especially children, are all figuring out ways to fill up the silence with some kind of technology. They’re listening on earphones, they’re looking at iPads, they’re playing games on their devices…
Maybe technology has evolved to meet the discomfort of silence.
West Point Teacher, MARILYN NELSON who teaches Silence and Contemplation a Noisy World to young cadets thinks Poetry just might be the antidote to PTSD.
Marilyn has taught poetry and contemplative practice to West Point cadets and college students for many years. Though she is in her fifties, a recent conversation on the phone had me wondering if she was 18 so young-sounding is she. That voice has given voice to forgotten people from history, shining a light on the complicated ancestry that can help us in what she calls “communal pondering”.
Marilyn, who happens to be Professor Emerita of English at the University of Connecticut and a chancellor of The Academy of American Poets, is helping people sink into what contemplative practices do for us.
“Yes. I think people are starved for contemplative practices.” she explained to me. “Just say we come into a classroom out of who knows what. We come into a classroom, and then we are immediately starting to talk about something. Let’s not bring all of the noise of the outside world into this classroom. Let’s release it and enter into silence. And I’ve found students love doing that.” She told me there has been quite a lot of recent research about the effect of contemplation, meditation, and silence on human physiology.
She read in a newspaper that the cleanest thing on the planet is dust. In silence, she contemplated what this meant, and wrote this poem that affords deep insight into the natural world and having gratitude for its existence:
Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
for the infinite
Nelson’s poem and the dust all around me everywhere reminds me that the unpolished and ordinary is cloaked in the extraordinary. Even as I settle back into my everyday life after talking with her, I realize, in all this dust around me are tiny tokens of the universe settled into my office. I expect I would find fragments brushed from the cliffs in Ireland blown into the air by storms in the Pacific, and burnt off comets that blundered into Earth’s atmosphere. Crumbs of the infinite lie scattered across my desk. I’m suddenly hesitant to pick up a dust rag and wipe it all away.
One simple mediation on the unlikeliest of matter worth considering shows the power of poetry to transform our everyday humdrum lives by contemplating, silently, and with verse, on the endless possibilities abounding around and in us—from the tiniest dust mites to the largest supernovas in the even larger galaxies of an infinite universe. The wonder of it all.
Bill Hinsch is illustrating the children's book Dreamcams & SlammerWhams with Kiril Alcaev—donate generously on his Kickstarter campaign.