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

Who Holds the Greater Faith?

Over the past year I’ve become more and more intrigued by poetry.  I didn’t much like it while in high school, and I avoided any and all poetry courses in college…so what’s the difference?  Maybe it’s maturity (ha ha), a clearer understanding of writing styles, or a greater appreciation for all things creative.  I’m inclined to go with the latter since it seems to be the path I’m on these days.  Poetry is simply one more creative medium or language that those facing a health challenge can use as part of their treatment regimen.

One of the great poets of our time is David Whyte.  In a poem I was given during a recent workshop, Whyte states the following, “The universe is holding its breath waiting for you to take your place”.  That’s such a powerful statement.  Can it be that the Universe has more faith in us than we do?  Would you ever believe that your faith could be trumped by the Universe?  I think there is a bigger question for us all to consider and that is, “How long do we expect the universe to hold its breath for?” 

We all have a place that is rightfully ours and can’t be filled by any other person on the planet.  True some get a bit misguided along the way but eventually they find their rightful place and all is well; at least that’s the hope.  How do you see your life since your diagnosis?  What is it that you believe the Universe is holding its breath waiting for you to do?  You’re not bucking for sainthood so don’t think about it in terms of miracles unless you are one of those who walk the earth believing you are a miracle.  What would it mean for you to take your rightful place?  Are there times in your life when you have allowed the universe to exhale because you did show up?  What would it take to do it again and again, only this time with a health challenge as part of the equation?

It’s poets like David Whyte that get us thinking deeper about our lives as spiritual beings have a human experience.  The great poets throughout history have been dropping bread crumbs forever and we haven’t been hungry enough to eat those crumbs…I think the diagnosis changed that forever!

Posted in after the diagnosis, art and healing, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Having a Voice, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Open Yourself to New Opportunities

I’m amazed at the transformation we’re all capable of achieving.  We all have talents that are often hidden at it takes some dynamic force to unearth those talents and let the light shine on them.  I recently experienced this from a dynamic individual I met at my most recent educational endeavor.  My retreat roommate, Jake McArthur (, is a poet extraordinaire.  One evening he read a number of his poems and then began to tell about how his love of poetry influenced and I hope enriched the lives of others.

Jake is a hospice volunteer.  He was asked to visit a hospice patient who is living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Jake would go and visit this woman reading to her countless books.  One day he asked if she would like to hear some poetry.  He would read poetry from some of our great poets, occasionally slipping in some of his own work.  One day he asked her if she had ever written poetry or would consider writing poetry.  (Sidenote: This woman’s ALS is greatly advanced.  She has no motor skills.  Communication is made through technology that follows a beam to a keyboard and slowly words are created).

Despite the challenges of writing, the client began writing poetry.  At first the poetry was generic.  Eventually Jake asked if she would like to write about something more personal…her ALS.  I had the privlege to witness the reading of this woman’s poetry.  The work is strong, emotional, genuine, inspiring and moving–an irony since no part of her body moves physically.

Through Jake’s example, she has reignited her voice.  The words bring a strength that many facing any life-threatening illness would believe had been long gone.  She is an example of how the creative forces can provide the path to perseverance.  She’s willing to grab any micron of joyful experience through her poetry.

I’m honored to have been witness to her story.  I’m in awe of Jake’s commitment to volunteerism and to sharing his passion with us.  His example of creative passion is contagious.  Creativity is a healing force, don’t let it slip past you.