poetry therapy

Changing the World: Education


A Poem that Holds Healing Power

By James Fadiman


Gratitude is easy when things go well. However, when life is difficult, when one teeters on the edge of anger or regret, then gratitude begins to matter. I teach Ph.D. students in psychology tools from the Sufi tradition (Islamic mysticism). Many of the students have never used poems as tools for their own development, let alone from a tradition outside their own.

Two years a woman from a difficult background joined the class. She had been an alcoholic, fallen into abusive relationships, and while recovering, was by no means free of her background. During the year she suffered a series of reversals that included illnesses that forced her to lose weeks at school, no health insurance, excessive stress at work, and troubles with roommates and relationships. Again and again, she told me, this poem came to her rescue, reminding her that there was not only help, but that the reality of such help was continual.

As we move into an era of growing fear, isolation, and continued violence, it is easy to lose heart, to wonder what is the point of teaching inner peace, of offering alternatives to violence against ourselves as well as others. Like my student, I return to this poem and recall that “to be held by the ocean is the best luck.” It lights my way back out of despair toward renewed gratitude for being alive, for being able to teach, and for being able to help.

I'd like to share a poem that has been meaningful and healing for me and for my students, Buoyancy by Rumi.


James Fadiman is a board member of The Institute for Poetic Medicine. James has an M.A. and a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University and he has held a wide variety of teaching, consulting, training, counseling and editorial positions.

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