Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Poetic License

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

We tell stories about our lives every day.  Some stories are happy, others sad, but all-in-all each story reveals a piece about who we are as we walk this world.  Our stories are often dependent upon who we’re with or where we are at any given time.  You may tell someone a very different story about yourself at the grocery store than you would in a support group meeting.  Our context determines the depth of our story.

As I work on my dissertation, I’m exploring the role of the “illness narrative” in the lives of those diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness.  These “illness narratives” can provide information about your health to your medical team, share your deepest concerns and fear, or simply be a way of letting others know about your experience.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that sometimes our story can be told in a more artistic fashion.  Poetry has become one method of sharing your “illness narrative”.  You may want to check out the work by Rafael Campo, “The Healing Art”, or John Fox’s book, “Poetic Medicine”, to get a broader view of how illness can be served by poetry.  In addition, check out Robert McDowell’s book, “Poetry As a Spiritual Practice”, or my friend Kim Rosen’s book, “Saved by a Poem”, to explore other ways in which poetry can positively impact your life.

I thought I’d share a poem I found while doing my research so you can see the impact and the intensity of how poetry conveys deep emotion.  I hope you enjoy the poem.  The poem is by Simmons Buntin and was in an article titled, “Special Supplement: ‘Creative/Artistic Narratives of Illness.”


After the dry shell splits

and falls, my sister (the dark-

edged butterfly) rows her deep

blue wings of Japanese paper

into the thick liquid

of the dawn.  Violet or perhaps

phlox-a flower familiar

as the bird-thin bones of her labored

hand-gives pause.  She lands,

drinks from the pearl-fruited anther,

slips suddenly into the flat palm of the wind.  Mad

at herself for giving in,

she flutters wildly against the branches hemming her life

a ribcage.  Cracked and leaning,

the sternum splits and my sister

is speared.  The disease finds

its way quickly through the light

cells of winds, body, spirit.

Rising, she crawls to the limb’s

arthritic edge.  Torn and dying,

she is the last brilliant leaf

on this failed and falling tree.

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

The Spoken Word

Welcome to Art and Healing Thursday!!

Thursday you ask?  What happened to Art and Healing Wednesday?  Well the truth is that I like many of you live my life by routine, I guess some might call it auto-pilot.  I’m usually off from work on Wednesday, but my co-worker needed a few days off so I worked yesterday.  When I logged in later in the day I realized my mistake that I hadn’t been mindful of my time and space.  I was just floating through and thought it was just another day.  So I stand corrected and look for Art and Healing next Wednesday…now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

A friend of mine, Kim Rosen, wrote a fabulous book titled, Saved by a Poem.  Kim is an amazing performance poet and an even more provocative workshop leader.  When I was at her book signing in October she said something that made me stop and really focus on the spoken word.  She said that there’s a difference between memorizing something and learning something by heart.  Memorizing is that torturous activity invoked by teachers to get us to enjoy poetry or learn certain facts.  The truth is that memorizing something keeps it in our short-term memory like when we cram for a test, but it doesn’t stay.

The spoken word on the other hand is something that inspires us to go deep within and attach those words to meaning, heart, and soul.  Learning a poem by heart, or a song, or anything spoken/sung means that you attach meaning to it.  It provides you strength, comfort, or a clearer way of expressing ourselves.  There are certain poets whose work I admire and work on learning, but I still need prompts.  It’s an ever evolving process for me, but one that is simultaneously challenging and comforting. 

I watch someone like Kim Rosen and I’m amazed at the number of poems she has learned by heart.  She has a great tickle file in her mind, her heart, and her soul.  She’s able to bring forth the spoken word that fits any given situation.  It provides a container for discussion as well a way to challenge our beliefs or to get us to strengthen our life position.  The spoken word is one more way of utilizing your creativity to support your health and healing practices. 

On your journey to wellness I hope you speak many words from the heart.  The spoken word, no matter the form, is pure and that purity allows for ultimate self-expression.

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

What if you couldn’t speak?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

What if you didn’t have the ability to speak, how would you communicate?  Even when you do speak do you really feel like your point-of-view is understood by everyone?  Are there things you’d like to say that you either don’t have the words for, or  you don’t feel comfortable saying out loud?  This is where alternative methods of communication are crucial to your health and healing.

When you’re diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness it’s easy to jump right into your head and think logically about everything you need to do.  The medical community will join you in this fantasy that the logical is the only thing to consider when it comes to treatment.  What happens if you have doubts or questions that aren’t ready to be verbalized?

There are lots of ways to express yourself without having to speak.  One of my friends, Kim Rosen,, wrote an amazing book titled, Saved by a Poem.  Following my workshop with Kim I not only thought differently about poetry as an art form, but as a way of expressing my authentic self.  It gave me the courage, even when I recite the poems of others, to express myself from my highest self, my deepest truth, and with elegance and grace.  It makes me feel heard.

In many of my workshops I have participants draw some aspect of a current health challenge.  This particular experience is particularly good for those feeling pain because different colors often signify different levels of pain depending on the participants threshold.  I’ve been in a workshop the past two days where we are using collage and creative journal expression to seek answers to questions (in our case it’s about our dissertations), but the process would be exactly the same for those looking for answers about their journey to wellness.

There are so many creative ways of expressing oneself that to feel locked in to speaking is a shame.  If we can’t find ways of expressing ourselves our level of suffering and frustration increases.  Utilizing creative strategies releases tension, engages the body, mind, and spirit, and provides an avenue for sharing your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual self with the world.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Living with Illness

Are You Afraid of Committing to a Practice?

For those of us who took music lessons as a kid the mantra our parents repeated, even screamed, was “practice makes perfect”.  How many of us lifted our instruments with less than full enthusiasm or belief that we would become virtuosos?  Tony Robbins says that “repetition is the mother of mastery”.  It’s interesting that as adults we don’t look at mastery as something to achieve.  We’re caught up in the idea of gaining as many skills as possible to pad the resume, but what if we became masters?

We hear a lot about the mind, body, spirit connection and yet many of us spend our time focusing on the physical aspects of our health challenge.  We become masters at filling the pill box, taking naps and visiting the doctor.  Is that how you want to live as a master?  If we were to shift our focus to become masters of our spiritual life would the impact of our health challenge be lessened?  I believe that to be true and I’ll share with you how I arrived at this conclusion.

It’s not a surprise that most of us facing a chronic or life-threatening illness are challenged emotionally at different points in the disease process.  We look for quick ways to feel better and that usually entails pharmaceuticals.  I’m definitely an advocate of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, but without something to complement the physical are you selling yourself short?  A practice, in this case a spiritual practice, is something done to create peace in the heart and soul.  It’s the activity, sacred space, meditation you engage in that brings calm and acceptance to the challenging situation.

When I was in graduate school to become a psychotherapist we had a community counseling center so the students could engage in psychotherapy training.  The center screened the clients thoroughly to make sure they weren’t either court ordered or suicidal for legal purposes.  We began our work in the counseling center our first week in school.  One of the students asked the professor why they were starting us out so quickly since we didn’t have any official training.  There was a fear in the voice of my fellow student.  The professor responded gently and said, “It’s not like medicine, you’re not going to kill the patient, at worst you’ll be ineffective”.  That was certainly a reality check.  The same is true for engaging and committing to a spiritual practice, at best it will help enormously and at worst it will be ineffective.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Are you on board yet?

Personally I find peace and comfort in the arts.  I’m a textile artist and my art reflects the deep questions I ask myself about how my physical, emotional and spiritual life can dance together in harmony.  I also find that writing is a great outlet allowing the deeper question to emerge.  Once the questions reveal themselves I’m free to explore how they impact my quality of life and I can make adjustments.  I try hard to write this blog Monday through Friday.  It’s important that I do something with regularity and conviction.  I am certainly on a mission and will continue because all of you are a part of my community.

Ask yourself what would be your first choice for a spiritual practice.  I know lots of people who could mentor you through a process.  Kim Rosen, poet extraordinaire , truly elicits the deep questions through poetry in her workshops.  Sarah Haskell, a weaver and community organizer has started a project called “Woven Voices”,  Jenny Finn, a woman with the grace of a gazelle engages in spiritual movement practices,  These are just a few people and there are many more out there who use the arts to engage in spiritual healing.

If you’re the outdoors type then make hiking a spiritual practice.  The point I’m trying to make is that whatever you love can become a spiritual practice.  It’s about the intention you set for engaging in the experience.  It’s your commitment and devotion that reaps the rewards I’ve been describing.  Once again…do you have anything to lose?

What’s your spiritual practice?  How does it help you with your health challenge?  What obstacles have you overcome to keep up your commitment?  Let’s spread the wealth in our community!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Lowest Common Denominators

The truth is that those who are well and those who are facing a chronic or life-threatening illness share one big secret.  We all suffer from death anxiety.  It’s interesting because the Ancient Greeks felt that to live “the good life” you had to meditate on your death.  This year Irwin Yalom came out with a book titled “Staring at the Sun”, talking about death anxiety in our culture.

Does meditating on death for those who are ill hasten the inevitable?  When we meditate our death do we speed things along when we’re in the midst of fighting for our lives?  That’s not the reality and not even what the Greeks meant when they spoke about meditating on your death.  They were truly focused on generativity, what you leave behind in this world and what you stand for while you’re still in this world.

Throughout last week’s meditation sessions we each had the opportunity to reflect not only on our lives and what our lives mean to us, but having the opportunity to get to know ourselves at the deepest levels.  Kim Rosen,, led us through an amazing array of meditations based on poetry.  She provides workshops on the transformative nature of poetry and she does this with grace and passion.

Until I went back to school I never read poetry except for those poems required in high school english.  I’ve always been a huge music lover and have found that poetry is musical.  It has a rhythm and can provide an inner melody.  Depending on who you read will determine the existential questions that are front and center.  I’m fascinated by Mary Oliver.  A poet who lives in New England and truly takes on the question, and then challenges the reader about what will each of us do with our one precious life.

Be surprised…go pick up a book of poetry and just thumb through the pages.  You’ll begin an inner dialogue that will inspire and challenge you to take a position on life and death.  It puts into words the feelings we all have in an eloquent and flowing message.

Share with me your favorite poems and poets.  Maybe we could create a resource for meditation and a dialogue about meditating on our death.