• Paul Rutherford


Let’s start with a paradox: this post is writing about not writing. A couple of days ago, I was noodling a 500-word piece as a possible blog post, and thought it would be perfectly ended by a Coachaiku: my hybrid term for a 17-syllable reflection, in a 5-7-5 form, for personal and professional development. It would be the synthesis of the post’s central idea. A pay-off for the insight. Walking home from the railway station that evening, I was half juggling words to fit the structure and half listening to a podcast conversation on my mobile. And I abruptly stopped halfway across the road. You know that when you’re at a crowded party, and you hear someone mention your name across the room, your wide antennae focus like a laser to hear what’s going on. One of the podcast voices mentioned ‘haiku.’ The programme was about East and West culture, and how different traditions shape the way we think. One of the interviewees was Thomas Kasulis, Professor Emeritus from Ohio State University and author of Zen Action/Zen Person. He was talking about the relationship between the whole and its parts. For example, a fractal, which is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that has a repeating pattern at every scale. Kasulis says: “When I brushed my hair in the morning, I lost part of myself. A small amount of hair got lodged in my comb. It’ll grow back, and I’m still me. “But in another sense, if that hair was found at a crime scene, the CSI team would look at it ever more closely, zoom in rather than out, and they’d have everything they need - there would be the complete DNA for the whole body. “In Japanese culture, to understand you don’t stand back, you zoom in.” Kasulis went on to explain the haiku. “Early Japanese poetry was called ‘linked verse’ - lines that could be added to again and again, and it would end up with many hundreds of verses. “Then poets started to revise, reducing linked verse down to seven lines. And then finally to a three line, 17 syllable haiku. And the poet would say ‘I left nothing out that was in the longer versions’. “The author would then say that the haiku was not finished until the reader completes it. The reader has to look at the part and see the whole for her/him self.” I learned that I had the relationship upside down. So far, most of the Coachaikus were set up with the blog equivalent of the seven lines, even the linked verse. Lots of explanation, lots of narrative, leading to a prescribed ‘pay-off’. That’s neither in the spirit of haiku, nor in the practice of coaching. A Coachaiku should not be a punchline to a story, nor a puzzle to be solved. Rather, it should be a trigger for your experience and insight. No wrong, no right. Just a prompt for reflection. Hence, this post is writing about not writing, i.e. not writing the thoughts to directly set up the following Coachaiku. Instead, that’s left to you.

Coachaiku: 17-syllable reflections, in a 5-7-5 form, for personal and professional development.

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