Online Edition: Spring 2006

This is a printer-friendly version of this article. Click here to return to Rain Taxi.

The Healing Spirit of Haiku

David Rosen and Joel Weishaus

North Atlantic Books ($14.95)

by Andrew Redhead

The Healing Spirit of Haiku is a book of reflections and haiku by two writers, accompanied by illustrations by Arthur Okamura that enhance the physical reality of the haiku experience. The authors explain it as "a haibun of the psyche... concerning specific themes connected with our own healing journeys." They relate this to Jung's notion of the collective unconscious, saying "Subjects and places aren't as important as the depth of feelings between people who have experienced them in unexpected subtle ways."

Collections of haiku often fail by falling into triviality. This book, however, effortlessly avoids every pitfall of this kind of writing. The dual authorship sets up a dynamic in which every inward movement of the individual writers is balanced by an outward movement between people. That dynamic is then amplified as each writer responds to his specific situations. In this way the Jungian harmony of introversion and extraversion finds clear expression throughout the whole course of the writing.

For example, at one point David Rosen reflects on the impending American war with Iraq while at the hermitage of St. Francis in Assisi, dwelling on the contrast between the planned conflict and the spirit of peace of the place in which he finds himself. This is then responded to by Joel Weishaus, who reflects on the psychological issues in the life of St Francis himself. The result is a situation in which each writer sets up echoes that are reflected in the other person and amplified into the wider world.

This dynamic seems to be the key to the breadth of the book. It's both particular and general, in the best spirit of haiku: particular in the sense of connecting deeply with the immediate situation in its uniqueness, and general in keeping alive the fragile spirit of the moment while relating it to the world of human experience as a whole.

I'm reminded of David Rosen's earlier achievement in his book The Tao of Jung, in which he transcends the particular trappings of historical Taoism and works directly from what Lao Tzu called the uncarved block, the authentic origin of the Tao. In this book, Rosen and Weishaus enter fully into the origins and traditions of haiku, but they then transcend the cultural trappings of the form and create authentic haiku from the original spirit of the form--haiku that are as much at home in Assisi or in Texas or New York as they would be in Kyoto. This is a book to return to, to be experienced in different ways at different times.