Poetry as Stress Relief

If stress causes brain damage (and we don't want that), a logical question is, how do we minimize stress in our lives?

Oddly enough, it doesn't always mean we have to change our situations. Sometimes we can't. For instance, we might have a job that's causing us stress, and we don't have other immediate options. What can we do?

John Medina, author of Brain Rules, observes that the "biggest part of successful stress management involves getting control back into your life." He says that employees need a "way out" of the stress they feel at work. This could mean reorganizing one's priorities, letting go of a few things or of our visions for perfection, or being honest with co-workers about things that need to change.

And I'd like to suggest an overlooked option— the power we gain by writing. I'm sure there is research out there somewhere that proves this is true, but I can simply say from my own experience that writing helps us shape our pain, explore our emotions, unravel and refashion our thoughts.

Writing poetry is a particularly marvelous way to do this, as we narrow everything down to the bare essentials, the center, and express it in beautiful language. This is an act of supreme control and creativity where chaos may otherwise be reigning.

If you try your hand at writing poetry for stress relief, let the people who are doing Random Acts of Poetry know about it. Maybe your work will be featured sometime. And there's nothing like sweet recognition to provide a little stress relief too.

Thanks to High Calling Blogs for sharing this Billy Collins poetry video.


Erica's Poetry Friday
Scot McKnight's Poetry and Kathleen Norris

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Educating with Our Brains in Mind

Pen Drawing 1

Pen Drawing 3

Pen Drawing 2

Pen Drawing 4

I'm enthralled with the brain— that little piece of grey matter that directs my life and yours. I don't know that I ever thought much about it in the past, but recently I've been reading, and reading, and reading about the brain.

The implications are stunning. Really. If we were to take seriously what we now know about the brain, we might do as John Medina (author of Brain Rules) suggests and totally reorganize how we teach and learn, how we work, how we schedule, how we build, and how we plan our communities. You name it.

For today, I just wanted to say... YES! YES! YES! And I wanted to say this very simply by sharing these drawings from my 9-year-old.

I was a public school teacher. I worked with countless kids and tried to give them the space they needed to cultivate the genius that really was inside each of them. But it was hard to do within the particular systems I worked in.

Now, as a home educator I have the freedom to work with my kids' brains in ways that are helpful to their individual and universal brain needs. So. Exhibit A. My daughter did these drawings while listening to a book on tape (at a loud volume, which she prefers). She sat in a sunny spot on her floor to do it. She interrupted herself countless times to move around the room. She chose her own materials, including many small toys she used as stencils or edges. In short, she created the exact learning environment she needed to produce some very lovely drawings.

I think these drawings are fantastic, but I also think that many other children are capable of fantastic drawings, experiments, written work, building projects, math discoveries— whatever!

Maybe it really is time for us to pay attention to the matter of our little grey matter.

Drawings by Sonia. Photos by L.L. Barkat.

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In This Together

Angels Together

Over at Seedlings in Stone, I just posted about getting beyond helplessness in relation to poverty. In that post, I mentioned that the issue needs a multi-level solution: prevention, intervention, and care.

And as I said over there, I'm a prevention kind of person. Two ways I go about this are a dedication to simplicity and creation care. I know. That doesn't sound particularly poverty-eradication oriented— at least at first blush.

A life of simplicity, however, is a life that might choose, for instance, to live in rhythm with the seasons, thus buying locally-grown foods in season. This can support small family farms that fuel local economies. In this way whole communities can be prevented from being lost to poverty, both in the U.S. and abroad (the "abroad" part of this is complicated, because it's related to subsidies to large commercial farms that can undercut small farmers domestically and globally).

And creation care? The work of Wangari Maatthai and her tree-planting efforts in Kenya is wonderfully instructive. She realized that devastating land, cutting down too many trees, can cause drought. Also, in places like Sierra Leone, where much of the rain forest has been removed, there are added difficulties like forced migration that promotes overcrowding in cities, poverty and conflict.

I remember reading an article a few years back in The Atlantic Monthly that suggested environmental devastation is one of the top security issues in the world. Security issues? Well, for just the reasons I mentioned regarding Sierra Leone. Political instability is related to poverty, which can be related to environmental devastation.

None of this is simple I suppose. My head starts spinning just writing about it. It has taken me a lot of years of reading to begin to understand these things, and even now I can't fully express how it all works. But maybe I don't need to understand it all. Maybe I just need to remember the decisions I've made as a result of various things I've learned along the way: to live simply, to care for creation, to do my little part towards prevention.

And to remember that we're in this together.

Angels Together photo, taken in Marseilles, by L.L. Barkat.


The High Calling's Blog Action Day is Coming

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Stress Causes Brain Damage

Salvador's Clock

The other day, a friend of mine admitted he was feeling stressed. That same day, he made a big decision to take a social media sabbatical.

According to Dr. Richard Restak, author of Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot, my friend's decision is probably a good idea. Because stress causes brain damage.

Of course, when we're living in a stressed-out condition, we don't perceive the death of our brain cells. Yet we do feel the little deaths all around... of our sanity, of the health of our relationships, of our physical well-being. So why do we persist in our approach?

Maybe it's because we believe in the myth of multi-tasking. We think our brain can pay attention to multiple things at a time. Says molecular biologist John Medina, author of Brain Rules, "Businesses and schools praise multi-tasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes."

The statistics are startling. Medina shares, "Studies show that a person who is interrupted [supposedly multi-tasking] takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors." Some of the most dangerous scenarios? Talking on a cell-phone while driving (it's like driving drunk).

But back to our ordinary, non-vehicular lives. A mom or dad trying to muster energy to prepare healthy meals. Parents searching for patience with little ones. A young woman trying to make it through another day at the office. What does it cost to try to multi-task, when in fact the brain isn't designed to do that?

Stress. Invisible brain damage. And maybe some damage to things that aren't so invisible.

Medina recommends, "Try creating an interruption-free zone during the day— turn off your e-mail, phone, IM program, or BlackBerry— and see whether you get more done." And see, I would add, if your stress begins to fade away.

Quotes from Brain Rules are from p.93, 87, 93. Salvador Dali artwork photo taken in Paris at Espace Dali, by L.L. Barkat.

Black-Eyed Peas

Stress-Free Black-Eyed Peas

On a night when I'm looking for something really simple, this dish is a great choice.

Saute until lightly browned...

• red onion, chopped chunky

Add and saute about 5 minutes...

• 1/2 tsp cumin (add spices before tomatoes, so they dissolve in oil)
• 1/2 tsp fennel seed
• 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
• 1 TB soy "bacuns"
• garlic, minced
• two fresh tomatoes, chopped (or one small can)

Add and saute until thickened...

• 2 cups dry (soaked and then cooked) or two to three cans black-eyed peas


Toss in some fresh chives and or chopped parsley. Drizzle with olive oil.

Serve over rice or with crusty bread, green beans and salad. Relax and enjoy. : )

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Made to Last

Place de Vosges

I walk the streets and squares of Paris and think how long... how long all this has been here. I pass by churches a thousand years old or older. Cobblestones are smooth under my feet, scoured by the ages. Renaissance buildings look out over a square where once there were jousts. What fine ladies peered out the windows, from these places that were made to last?

As I walk, I think of how small I am, how brief my life. I watch my children balance where knights made good on vows or showed bravado. Horses hooves that trampled this dust are long gone, except in my imagination. I consider whether I am building anything made to last.

Maybe just this... love that nurtures little bodies and souls, that perhaps will go on to nurture bodies and souls, down through the ages rubbed clean of any memory of me. Perhaps that would be enough. It must, after all, be enough. The little cobblestones of my life set down in a line of others. Love, made to last.

(Below, just a little practical nurture for today. Black bean soup, from my small kitchen...)

Black Bean Soup

Black Bean Soup

Saute until lightly browned...

• 1 onion, chopped small
• 1 stalk celery, chopped small

Add and stir briefly...

• 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 1/4- 1/2 tsp fennel seed
• 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
• 1/2 tsp dried oregano

Add and cook 25 minutes or until thickened...

• 3 cans black beans or 2 1/2 cups dry (then cooked) black beans
• 1 carrot, chopped in small squares
• 1 heaping TB tomato paste
• water to cover


• few pours olive oil
• 1 TB lime juice (lemon in a pinch)
• small handful fresh chopped cilantro
• salt and pepper to taste


• Spoonful of salsa
• Spoonful of sour cream

Serve with homemade cornbread and coleslaw.

Place de Vosges in Paris photo, Black Bean Soup photo, by L.L. Barkat.


Paris Lost and Found

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