ACT relevant poems

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A key feature of clinical ACT work is the de-literalization of language and cognition. Metaphor, story, experiential exercises, art work and other techniques can facilitate this perspective shift for clinicians and clients alike. Although poetry uses the medium of language, the art and magic of poetry is often written from and can be received by the spaciousness of the self as context.
These poems can be used in clinical settings to illustrate, inspire and motivate around the six core processes of ACT.
“Poetry connects us to what is deepest in ourselves. It gives us access to our own feelings, which are often shadowy, and engages us in the art of making meaning. It widens the space of our inner lives. It is a magical, mysterious, inexplicable (though not incomprehensible) event in language.” Quote from Edward Hirsch.
“Life is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Meaning and its absence are given to life by language and imagination. We are linguistic beings who inhabit a reality in which it makes sense to make sense. For life to make sense it needs purpose. Even if our aim in life is to be totally in the here and now, free from past conditioning and any idea of a goal to be reached, we still have a clear purpose – without which life would be meaningless. A purpose is formed of words and images. And we can no more step out of language and imagination than we can step out of our bodies.” Stephen Bachelor - Buddhism without Beliefs

I've also attached the poster I did for Parma World Con and these same poems in word format. Enjoy :-)

ACT Poems

The Serenity Prayer
Grant me the serenity to
Accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can; and
Wisdom to know the difference


The Guest House-- Jelaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Also From Rumi
Out beyond our ideas
Of wrong doing
And right doing
There is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the words
You and me
Have no meaning.

INSIDE by NeLi Martin
I don’t work for the CIA
MI5 or the FBI,
But I have a secret life
While they talk and share –
Try to connect,
I’m running a different show,
It’s like multi-plex.


Kindness – Namoi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.


St. Francis And The Sow by Galway Kinnell
The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;

as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.


Intrepid adventurer
– Soft with determination
– Brave and courageous.
Many lands and landscapes traversed
Many encounters
In the quest for Freedom,

Loneliness, cold with despair, lies coiled.
Huddled into itself.

Shame hatred and unworthiness – all
Keep me from seeing
The task is also
To be willing to be found.


I find I am found


STEEL WOOLY THOUGHTS - NeLi Martin April 2005

The harshness of confusion
Scratches and tears at the flesh –
Wounds deepen
As I flail in pitiful attempts
At understanding.

Not realising
Freedom lies
Patiently awaiting my surrender.

LET THE WOUND LIE OPEN by Michael Leuni, Common Prayer Collection

When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open
Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt
and let it sting
Let a stray dog lick it.
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing,
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring
Let it go. Let it out.
Let it all unravel.
Let it free and it can be
A path on which to travel.

ANGER by NeLi Martin
Angry bitter in my teeth
Angry acid on my tongue
- How could you?
- Why would you?
Vengeance will be ……. Whose?
Nothing sweet
Here, is my life
Bound and battered by
Outrage and
And you just want to see my churlish
Femme fatale.
But this bubbling cauldron of rage
This endless fury
Cannot, And never will
release me
Into the world.

Fair of Face and Full of Grace (Not) – NeLi Martin
The cards are dealt.
They flutter through the air
So full of possibility;
Anticipation …..
Gives way to expectation.
However, what is revealed
In the stark light
Of everyday life
Seems to deflate.
Let down.
In comparison to some
Just not fair.
This is not the life I dreamed.
You don’t understand…
There was that promise –
That I would be special.
My life was supposed to mean
To someone.
It’s not fair!
You don’t understand.
Miserably misunderstood

Stuck raging
Railing against injustice.
It’s not fair for me
It’s not fair for you.
Join me in my struggle.
Unite in opposition.
Strengthen the struggle
(the cause devours its own baby)
United railing and rallying and raging
Against injustice.
Against –
Against –
Angst –
Angst ridden.
Suffering succotash, here again!

"In struggling against anguish one never produces serenity; the
struggle against anguish only produces new forms of anguish."
Simone Weil (1909-43), French philosopher, mystic. Draft of
letter to Andre Weil 1940 (published in Seventy Letters, pt. 2,
no. 39, 1965).

Sebastian Moore
The rejection of our common fate
Makes us strangers to each other,
The election of that fate,
In love, reveals us as one body.


The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

PRAYING by Mary Oliver
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

MINDFUL by Mary Oliver
Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?


Eternity by William Blake
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

On Wisdom and Perspective taking by Marcel Proust

We do not receive wisdom,
we must discover it for ourselves,
after a journey through the wilderness,
which no one else can make for us,
which no one can spare us,
for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.


Breath deep
Breath deep

The air fills my lungs and then?
My blood receives
This grace by which
I live a few moments more
My every cell replenished.
With every breath
A part of me departs
And something new
Is put in place.

The rice I ate yesterday,
Where is it now?
In my muscle, in my bone.
The juice we shared,
Where has it gone?
In our arms and legs and all.

Last month
The rice waved in the sunshine
In other lands:
In the low flood plains
Of the Mississippi
Or Irrawaddy;
And the fruit hung
On trees in Cyprus
Sicily or Spain.

And before that?
Before that their substance
Was in the soil,
Was in the air,
Was in the seas.
Was in the seas
Waiting to be gathered up
Waiting to soar up into the highest reaches of the sky,
Waiting to become rain.

You and I
Are mostly water.
Last year
Most of each of us
Was in the ocean.
We circulated together
In the Atlantic
Or Pacific perhaps,
For we are mostly water.

And that water was lifted
By sunshine heat
By the impact of photons
Cascading down
Beating upon the ocean’s face.

And every photon
Comes from the sun,
From the belly of the star;
You and I were stars last year.
We chased each other
In the turbulent heart of the sun.

So who was it that lived in your house last year?
And where will you be next week?
Who is your true friend and who your foe?
And who will you be next year?
Breath deep
Breath deep.

This air is me.
This air is you.
This air we share.
I give my substance to you and
You yours to me.

With each breath I am linked
In a single orbit
With the great forests.
My out breath is their food.
Their’s fills my lungs.
Last year
I was a tree
And the tree was me.

Each day
We gather up substance
And continue the task
Of endlessly
Remaking ourselves
From one another.

Each day
We discard a portion
And continue the cycle
Of endlessly
Returning ourselves
To others.

Day by day we change
And become one another,
The substance of the universe,
Stardust and all,
Passing through us each
And we through it.

Where were you last year?
Breath deep,
Breath deep.

KNOCK KNOCK by NeLi Martin

Tight, tight.
The mind wraps the idea.


Rap, rap

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?

Wrapped tight?

To listen
To open
To inquire
- who is in there?
……the armour of the mind pops
And crackles its release.
Opening out to the vista
Of silence.


Keep on knocking
'til the joy inside
opens a window
look to see who's there


Whoever finds love
beneath hurt and grief
disappears into emptiness
with a thousand new disguises

Call Me by My True Names - Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Quote by Howard Thurman (American philosopher)
Don’t ask yourself what the world need; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world need is more people who have come alive.

WILD GEESE by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
"All the True Vows" from The House of Belonging by David Whyte.
All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don't turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,

it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,

that way you'll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

Joanna Macy
As our awareness grows, so does that of the web,
for we are the universe becoming conscious of itself.
With sensibilities evolved through a millennia of interaction,
we can turn now and know that web as our home.
It both cradles us and calls us to weave it further.


The Journey by Mary Oliver, from Dreamworld

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But it didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with it’s stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Commitment - Aziza Sa'id
Commitment creates freedom.
When you commit to a movement,
you make it with your whole body.
When you commit to a feeling,
your passion will give power to your message.
When you commit to a dance,
your feeling reaches beyond your limitations.
When you commit to your path,
give yourself over to your way of growth, Magic happens...
obstacles get out of your way, mountains lay down before you,
the sky opens up above you,
and you will find yourself transformed.

Commitment - Goethe
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

From “Little Gidding” – TS Eliot
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

The Kookaburras - Mary Oliver (costs of not taking CA)
In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to stride out of a cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, pressed against the edge of their cage,
asked me to open the door.
Years later I remember how I didn't do it,
how instead I walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn't want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.


COMMITMENT by NeLi Martin (costs of not taking CA)
Commitment tugs at my skirt edges,
Come on, you need me!
I gaze vacantly into the distance.
Make a joke.
Move on,
Pretending not to notice
The dragging at my hem line,
But all the while
feeling I’ve left something behind.

What We Knew - Carolyn Elkins from Daedalus Rising

At times we feel the need to go back
to plain things. To stones, earth,
grass, wind. To things we have known
a long time, to what we knew
when what filled the hours was dirt
and a few sticks, a pile of leaves
or some thin, white bones
from a long-dead bird.
The huge rock near the creek
was not too hard to lie on then
and the sun on bare skin felt warm.
We did not feel the press of time
as we do now. The world seemed firm
and real, and life was slow, and long, and good.

Michael Jordan

“I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career.
I've lost almost 300 games.
26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot ...
and missed.
I've failed over and over and over again in my life.
That is why I succeed.”

Lance Armstrong

The world is full of people who are trying to purchase self-confidence,
or manufacture it,
or who simply posture it.
But you can’t fake confidence,
you have to earn it.
If you ask me, the only way to do that is work.
You have to do the work.’

“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.
Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” -
Hal Borland, journalist (1900-1978)

"And the day came when the risk to remain in a bud was greater
than the risk it took to blossom." Anais Nin

A Community of the Spirit - Rumi
There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.
Open your hands,
if you want to be held.
Sit down in the circle.
Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the shepherd's love filling you.
At night, your beloved wanders.
Don't accept consolations.
Close your mouth against food.
Taste the lover's mouth in yours.
You moan, "She left me." "He left me."
Twenty more will come.
Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

I have Something to Say - NeLi Martin

I have SOMETHING to say.
Can you listen?
Will those fine bones
In your cochlear
Vibrate in a manner which will
Get your attention?
Will these vibrations
From my larynx
Fire your neurons
With a pattern of
Cognitive recognition?
Will you see you
In my words?
My neuron firing
Your neurons.
Can I make your acquaintance?
Arhh, a sea of expectant faces and this heart beats
Nervous to reveal…
And this heart rattles
At the cages of sinew and bone.
Can I get out of this skin?
To connect with you
Reach into your heart, feel
It beating
Like mine
Awaiting freedom from self consciousness
Waiting to connect
To everything. To be
To nothing,
And this heart beats
Nervous to reveal…..
And standing naked, this heart sees.
My friend, I see
I see your vulnerability
I see your vulnerability and my heart breaks
My heart breaks open
My heart breaks open and I walk
I walk on water
I drink the ocean
The ocean that is you and me
And everything we have ever been
And everything we have ever been is
Is love


Wendell Berry : "The Real Work" posted by Pete Bloom

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

The Zebra Question, by Shel Silverstein

I asked the zebra,
Are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?
Are you noisy with quiet times?
Or quiet with noisy times?
Are you happy with some sad days?
Or are you sad with some happy days?
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?
And on and on and on and on
And on and on he went.
I'll never ask a zebra
About stripes

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