My father had an embarrassing habit. He would unexpectedly break into poetry at odd moments, and, more embarrassing still – his own poetry. He wrote colourfully, but mostly didactically, insisting that his methods add spice to learning. Since he taught homeopathy, his poems were embellished (or encumbered) with anatomical parts, bodily functions and psychosomatic turns of phrase – topics I rarely touched, especially over the dinner table.

Imagine my concern when I found myself following in his footsteps.

Teaching mindfulness to students is a blessing of a job. My classrooms are full of people who actually want to be there. There’s no marking, no exams, and we follow that most engaging of curriculums: the human heart and mind. And as I hear about my students’ mindful journeys, it inspires me to follow my own. I’m sure I learn as much or more from their insights than they ever do from me. Then again, my approach is never to teach, but more to share. Forty years of tumultuous inner life comes in handy – so I have been spared the imposter syndrome that plagues some teachers. That is … until I started sharing my poems.

One of my greatest pleasures in meditation is to take time afterwards to write. I search for a way to describe to myself what went on. Can I find a way to express even the most humdrum meditation let alone the most profound? I play with words and metaphors; and feel an exquisite pleasure when they fit ‘just right’. Often they tell me something about myself that I did not know.

The occupational hazard of all this is the way it lingers. I’m liable to turn up for a class with a poem still in mind, and when a hapless student unwittingly asks a question that touches on the same theme, I can’t help myself. ‘I wrote a poem about that this morning!’ I proffer. The words are out of my mouth before I know it. ‘Oh help,’ I mutter, turning red, ‘I’m turning out just like my dad.’

Possibly more forgiving of me than I was of him though, my students encourage me. They like the poems (they say); it helps them understand their own meditation. And so my Gentle Guides to Meditation came to life, including both poems and prose. If my poems could help me learn – might they also help others?

Journeys to the Deep is the first of three slim volumes, each exploring different aspects of meditation – in this case Setting Out, Curiosity and Enjoyment, and Listening Within. I hope you enjoy the book. Who knows? Perhaps it may even inspire you to write, or draw, or sing about your own inner journeys too?

ELIZABETH ENGLISH