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Nessa McCasey

Writing Our Hearts Out
A Quarterly Column
Winter 2006-'07

by Nessa McCasey

We are very pleased to welcome Nessa McCasey to SoulfulLiving.com!  With each new issue, Nessa will offer a poem or short writing based on our magazine's theme and will provide techniques for creative expression that you can use to explore the topic yourself.

The Meaning of Life

Wow. How dare I approach such a topic? Mindful of my limitations and my self-doubting (always needing to learn more), I spend an evening listening to poetry recordings on the internet and reading through my favorite poems in treasured volumes. Lines of various poems start to resonate and link with other lines until they are all connected to this discussion about the meaning of life. There is a poetic form, the Cento, which happens to be a patchwork of lines from different poems and poets. Putting together a Cento is kind of like working a puzzle or piecing a quilt together. It’s a wonderful way to start exploring and not know where you will end up, too, which I always consider great spiritual adventuring!

Below, I have included my Cento about the meaning of life. Or at least my first version of this. To help you find any of the poems that I drew from to create this Cento, I have tried to include the poet’s name and the poem the lines came from.

Now you can try this, too, and you can use poems or any of your own favorite books. It doesn’t have to be poems that you draw from. it would be good if you included references for each line, as I did, so that you would always be able to find the original material again.

The topic of The Meaning of Life will always draw very different responses from people of various backgrounds. Similarly, the cento poems we might create together would end up becoming creatively diverse (and therefore a wise body of work to educate ourselves on this topic. In fact, we could use the same lines that I used below and we would end up emphasizing different things such that we had a different meaning in the final analysis.

See what you think of this collection below. Does it tell you anything in particular about my point of view regarding the meaning of life? I think that in general, the meaning of life is different for everyone and it changes for me across time, as well, as every day I become a different person than I have ever been before, and my meanings thus have changed. Life is process for me and it is how I draw meaning that keeps deepening my connection to others, to nature, to quietness, and to my own heartbeat, my own steps in the world.

If you don’t want to create one completely on your own, feel free to take any of the lines below and rearrange them, adding new quotes to make new meaning, altered meaning. As always, please feel free to share your poems with me. I’m sure that I would learn from your writings! 

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
(Mary Oliver, in “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?”)
I am the yearning for good.
(Hildegard of Bingen, from Meditations)
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
(Mary Sarton, in “Now I Become Myself”)
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
(Walt Whitman, in “Leaves of Grass”)
The world speaks everything to us.
It is our only friend.
(William Stafford, in “Earth Dweller”)
It is not a matter of faith;
It is a matter of practice.
(Thich Nhat Hahn)
To be of use
(a Marge Piercy poem title)
Daring to be human creatures.
Vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.
(Anne Hillman)
I found god in myself
& I loved her/ I loved her fiercely
(Ntozake Shange, in for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf)
There is still a little life left inside this body,
a little wildness here and mercy
and it is the emptiness we love, touch,
enter in one another and try to fill.
(from Nothing, by Linda Hogan)
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.
(George Eliot)
This motionless turmoil, this everything dance.
(William Stafford, in Time for Serenity, Anyone?)
…Love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on through love’s eternity.
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from Sonnet 14)

Use words to bless yourself, to bless this world.

with peace and love,
Nessa McCasey

© Copyright 2006 Nessa McCasey.  All Rights Reserved.

Read Nessa McCasey's Past Columns:

Oct-Dec 2005 - Being Still and Still Moving the Pencil

July-Sept 2005 - Balance -- Creating a Map to Take You There

Oct - Dec 2004 - Letting Go and Moving Forward: Writing as a Map of Progress

Aug - Sept 2004 - Writer’s Block and Then… Moving Forward Again

April - May 2004 - Identifying Our Crossroads

January - February 2004 - Daring to Dream Out Loud

December 2003 - Joining Together with Our Words of Grace

November 2003 - Midlife Questioning: One Writer's Path to Learning

October 2003 - Can We Write (or Read) Our Way to Serenity?

Nessa McCasey
Nessa McCasey is a Certified Poetry Therapist practicing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She facilitates group and individual poetry therapy sessions (in person and online) and presents poetry and writing workshops to jump-start others in their own powers of creative expression. She is Assistant Director of BridgeXngs Poetry Center and a State Representative for the National Association for Poetry Therapy (NAPT). You can contact Nessa at poetnessa@comcast.net


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