What is poetry? Forget everything you might have been taught about it, any rules around rhythms or rhymes. Forget the rigid structures and the conditioning that led us to believe only a select few chosen ones could dare call themselves ‘poets’.
Poetry, at its core, is about expressing truth. When written, and especially when read aloud, it is about meeting that edge of our (self-)knowledge, and the tender vulnerability of having stepped just beyond it. Poetry is ‘good’ not when executed as per the rules – it is so when it moves something within the author, and the people reading or hearing it. There truly is a poet in everyone, in everyone who dares to be brave and show their soul just a little bit more.
Embodied poetry is the phrase I have come up with to capture this essence. Over the years, in addition to spontaneously writing poems in my journal since I was a child, I got trained in ‘social poetry’. Social poetry, taught by John Stubley during the Ecosystem Leadership Program of the Presencing Institute, equipped me with a deeper understanding of the power of words, tools to access inner truth, and ways to weave in the collective dimension.
Based on these teachings, learnings from other art-based processes and my personal experience, a body of work is emerging around embodied poetry. It was such an honour to teach two workshops in Mandali! We explored the power of metaphor, and followed it to support each participant in spontaneously, without blockages, write what might be their first poem ever, or their first in a while.
Rather than being focused on something as subjective as ‘quality’ of the outcome, we are interested in the process, in what it does with us, and in how personally affected we are by the vulnerability or the power of the words that come to us. In this way, we may gain insights, clarity, discover a new mode of expression, or re-activate our creative life energy.
Marije, resident yoga teacher of this Mandali experience, wrote the following about this powerful experience: “Last year was rough. I did not only lose my mom, but I also lost my inspiration to serve and my appetite for teaching. The last few months I have felt stuck and unmotivated. And then, something changed… I took an Embodied Poetry workshop with Nora and that glimmer turned into a flame, that then opened the floodgates of new energy and new motivation. I not only wrote several poems (that I never thought I would do), I also conceived several new projects that I feel very excited about.”
In addition to activating and unlocking creativity, building the muscle of writing and gaining new personal insights through the words that land on the page, we also explored co-creation. I passed around a sheet of paper, where every participant wrote the sentence of their writing that stands out to them or resonates most. They folded the paper over before handing it to the next person, and so we co-wrote a poem without our minds interfering. This, after some minor edits, is what came out:
Poetry, embodied poetry, moves our soul. It calls to us. It reminds us of our truth, of who we are. It’s a powerful way to express ourselves, deepen our (self-)knowledge, and connect. I can’t wait to see what the seeds planted during this special time in Mandali will sprout into!
About the author
Nora Wilhelm has dedicated her life to a more just, regenerative, and beautiful world where all beings can thrive. A change-maker since her teens, she gradually moved from active citizenship and strengthening the voices of young people to systems change, co-founding Collaboratio Helvetica in 2017. Over time, the work took a toll on her, and she was diagnosed with a burn-out in 2021. In 2023, based on what this experience taught her, she co-founded The Well • Change Atelier to make art-based processes and tools to cultivate connection, creativity, and well-being available to more people. Her work was honoured by awards such as Forbes 30 under 30, UNESCO and the Dalai Lama Fellowship.