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Healing Haiku in Hard Times

Today we commemorate the seventh anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that swept away so many lives and traumatized so many others on March 11, 2011. People continue to cope with prolonged mourning for the losses they endure and struggle to find meaning in the devastation. Expressing our feelings through arts and music is one way that humans have sought healing and empowerment in our darkest times. The efficacy of these means are now supported by scientific studies that provide evidence that such activities as writing about traumas can enhance our well being.

The following passage is from From Mindfulness to Heartfulness: (147-48)

The calm, patient, orderly behavior following the disasters in Japan that won praise from all over the world reflects a shikata ga nai, accepting view of nature in Japan. The feeling of awe toward nature and embracing a way of respectful coexistence may come from the repeated earthquakes and other natural disasters the Japanese have experienced from earliest times. By witnessing the death and suffering of innocent people Japanese have come to understand their helplessness in the face of nature's upheavals.

One way of coping has been through writing. After the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995, in their desperate circumstances, the people of the disaster area composed hundreds of haiku. So, too, in the aftermath of the 2011 disaster, many people sought refuge in poetry. The story of tsunami survivor Isao Sato, a resident of Iwate Prefecture that was devastated by the March 2011 tsunami, is one example.

He comments, "From out of the blue, a huge tsunami came and washed away my home and all the material possessions I had worked for my whole life. But when I finally came to myself, I looked around and realized that I still had my family, and that this year, once again, the world was filled with the sweet, fresh breeze of early summer.” He composed this haiku:

Sato wrote this haiku:

身ひとつと (Mi hitotsu to) Bereft of belongings

なりて薫風 (narite kunpū) Yet blessed by the touch of the

ありしかな (arishi kana) Early summer breeze.

In this haiku we see a beautiful expression of how loss can give birth to gratitude for what remains. As if awakening from a bad dream, the poet feels the wonder of the breeze, bringing an awareness that he has survived the tragedy and is alive. Life goes on. Focusing on the beauty of the breeze is an act of courage that creates a new consciousness and will to live, overwhelming the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This enduring faith in nature, despite the tragedies it brings, became a source of inspiration not only for the victims but for people everywhere in Japan who, like all humans, must exist in an uncertain world.

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