A. MacLeod- Spring, 2006 

The Arts as Gateway and Guide

In the walk with suffering and celebration

Healing is about Connecting with Love


Serena was a young woman in her mid-thirties.  She lay in the bed in a small room in the triage area of the Emergency Room triage area.  She had been there for days as the hospital did not have any beds available in the intensive care unit.  She had had surgery a number of months ago.  There seemed to be residual complications and she was in constant severe pain.  Pain which was only mildly and intermittently relieved by the strongest of medications.  Sienna spoke mostly of her three small children who she had not seen for nearly a week.  They were too young to able to be allowed admittance into the emergency room triage area. 

Gilbert was a man in his early forties.  He was tall and slender with chiseled features and an inquisitive, alert demeanor.  During my time with him, a member of the hospital staff entered his cubicle to tell Gilbert that all the laboratory tests that they had run had come back fine and that he would be freed to go to the psych clinic. 

When I walk into the hospital with my art supplies - what do I have to offer to Serena and Gilbert?  What can we as artists, entering the domain of medicine, bring to those with whom we come in contact?  What learnings have I gathered from the materials and presentations in this course of study in Arts-in-Medicine that will be of enlivening value as I go into the clinics and engage with the people and meet the situations I find there?

In the first portions of our class's exploration of the arts' relationship to the healing process we considered the nature of healing, the philosophies of medicine, and the use of the arts in medical environments.  In this final section we have investigated the nature of pain and suffering, the passage of dying, and the configuration of the body and functioning of energy.  These latest elements have combined with the prior studies of creativity and supportive relationships, helping to provide me with the understandings and resources to begin my encounters with the individuals, the arts, and the mysterious presence of creative.

Walking into the hospital, often the first thing that one meets is with pain.  In Living Pain:  Mystery or Puzzle?, the author relays that "authoritative figures prepared to the year 1983 estimated that 90 million Americans endure chronic pain, 60 million were either partially or totally disabled"(p.19).  Pain, the writer explains is "not defined as a sensation but as an experience" (p.16); and that experience is often suffering.
The Arts as Gateway and Guide                                                                                     A. MacLeod

The information regarding the physiology of pain that our seminar speaker, Andra Davis, presented, were sobering to me.  Her descriptions of the functioning of the nervous system and the brain's recording of physical trauma in pathophysiology, nociceptive and neuropathic pain were graphic (p.9).  As someone who has not had a lot of physical pain, Ms. Davis's revelations helped me to comprehend and fostered my empathy for the relentless, unmitigated bodily pain with which many others are living. 

Western medicine has become marvelously proficient in dealing with the mechanical aspects of the body.  Incredible technologies provide accurate diagnosis of physical conditions and provide extraordinary means of repairing the broken pieces of the mechanisms of the human body.  McCaffery and Pasero suggest other means that can ease suffering such as relaxation and distraction techniques. (p.413).  Heartland Hospice conveys the value of an interdisciplinary approach, including spiritual as well as cognitive elements, to address the "multidimensional experience of pain" (p. 4).

Western strategies are a part of the global picture of human kind's pursuit of wellbeing.  Historically, both Western and Eastern medicine viewed the human being from an interrelated, wholelistic perspective.  In the West, the healers were often individuals who were highly attuned to nature, such as herbalists, and those who were spiritually oriented, such as the priests and monks.  With the emergence of a scientific methodology that promoted analyzing the parts, the West moved away from models of health which addressed the person as an integrated system, and began to focus increasingly on that which was measurable by the newly available equipment. 
While many life saving remedies have been formed by this scientific approach, many have also experienced the alienation and isolation of the eighteenth century born scientific paradigm.  "Some believe that we are in command of our destinies…  In the Western world human beings have become defined by their minds and will.  The body is often conceived of as an exasperating nuisance… In a world dominated by knowing .. there isn't much place for art.  Is it possible that our definitions are wrong.?? Perhaps we need to reconnect and redefine ourselves. …. in ways which include the reality that human life is too intricate, too varied and complex to be dealt with by any formula."   (Dixon. p 33)

Music has the power to ease tension within the heart and to loosen
the grip of obscure emotions.  The enthusiasm of the heart expresses itself involuntarily in a burst of song, in dance and the rhythmic movements of the body.  From immemorial times, music was looked upon as something holy. 
It fell to music to glorify the virtues and thus to construct a bridge to the world
of the unseen.  In the temple men drew near to God with music and pantomime.
(Wilhelm, p.68-69)
The Arts as Gateway and Guide                                                                                     A. MacLeod

Other parts of the world sustained their vision of the human being as "the bridge that stands between the heavens and the earth" (Viscaya).  Oriental medicine continued to develop their own in-depth understanding of the structure and functioning of the human body.  As Leslie Tuchmann described in her presentation on energetic medicine, the body, according to some healing practices, can be understood to be a composite of chakras- energy receptive and out-flowing centers.  This model is very similar to the Sufi traditions, in which these body centers are understood to resonate with very distinct vibrational frequencies.  Each center, as explained by Oscar Ichazo (Arica 40-day training), operates with its own wavelength and is the master of specific functions of the body, thought processes, and emotional expressions.  In the Sufi healing practices sound (music) and color and pattern (visual arts), which correlate with the natural frequency of the center, can be used to strengthen these centers.  Perhaps this is the process which Daitz demonstrated as the grains of sand formed beautiful patterns, responding to the sounds emanating from the contact of his bow as it glided along the rim of the metal plate where the sand was gathered.

Whatever point of view one's stance may render on the issue of medicine, it is clear, I suspect, to all of us as we travel through life, that suffering is not confined to the machinery of the human body.  There is also much suffering that is of the heart and psyche.  "Every body has pain. Everybody is wounded.  You see," says Dr. Rachel Ramen,  "it is our woundedness that allows us to trust each other.  Out of that trust we can begin to pay attention to our own wounds and to each other's wounds - and to heal and be healed (p. 344-345)."  Each of us holds dearly and deeply a longing for wellbeing.

The way in which we pursue our wellbeing can have a profound effect upon our experience of life and our degree of success in the attainment of our desire for contentment and joy.  In our culture the image of wellbeing is often pictured as finding a 'cure to what ails us'. 
Dr. Rachel Remen speaks eloquently about the difference between curing and healing, and the consequences of approaching a crisis seeking to help and with the intention of fixing.

"In medical school", Dr. Ramen explains, "I was taught the attitude that if somebody dies, that's my failure and that when I do my work right, nobody dies, ever.  But there is a way that people can die which is healing.  People can heal and live, and people can heal and die.  Healing is different from curing, you know.  Healing is a process we're involved with all the time.  It is very close to the process of education.  "Educare", the root of "education', means "leading forth, wholeness, or integrity."  Healing is also the leading forth of wholeness in people." (p344) 

The Arts as Gateway and Guide                                                                                     A. MacLeod

As an artist-in-medicine it is my intention to make a contribution to this positive process in the lives of those in the hospital where I serve.  The readings in our class have given much information and clues as to how we may best fulfill this desire.  Along with the knowledge of the physical body, the material has also addressed life enhancing attitudes that can support the experience of wellbeing. 

Jonas and Chez speak of "the responsibility of science to determine the effectiveness of interventions, while the art of medicine is required to identify which if these interventions is best suited to any one individual (p. 172)".  I believe that the development this sensitivity is also very important as an essential guide to the practice of an artist in medicine as they become attuned to needs and the ways in which their media can be a facilitator.

It is an asset to realize that individuals have different avenues of receiving and expressing.  Some people's natural medium is visual, others are adept in the auditory or kinesthetic realms.  In whatever manner we work, art "helps us to connect with what is most real in us (Remen.p 348)".  In the art lies a gateway to the grand mystery of creation and the authentic self which was formed with beautiful completeness.  " I think that creativity and healing are very close to each other (Remen. p. 349)".           

In her center for patients, Ramen explains:  "We don't fix the people who come here, we simply offer them an experience which allows them the opportunity to explore who they are as human beings.  I think the greatest thing that you can ever give someone is your attention- not with judgement, but just listening." (p.345)  She relays the story of a patient who had "a very powerful experience which culminated with the spontaneous image of a hawk riding, balanced, on the updraft.  I wasn't telling him anything, I was simply directing his attention inward, and something within him spoke to him.  That is his healer, not me (p.330)."

"There is more in a human life than our theories of it allow (p 1)", declares archetypal psychologist James Hillman.  There is a " a link between pure spirit and material body"(Corbin p79).  Mary Watkins, in her book Invisible Guests, describes that in the Hasidic apprehension of reality "a divine spark lives in everything and being.  One can re-join with the Origin by holding holy converse with the thing and using it in a holy manner.  This manner of holy converse describes equally well our relations with beings of nature, with ourselves and others, and with that which we would take to be divine" (p.35).

The Arts as Gateway and Guide                                                                                     A. MacLeod

            " Deep inside, we are whole.  There is something in every one of us that is invulnerable to loss, suffering, and decay, that just shines on.  We don't usually talk about these things with each other" (Remen. p.362).

In the hospital, where all is striped down to the essentials, a patient is sporting no costumes of position, no masks of socially contrived or enforced identities.  Here, I have the treasured opportunity to meet the real person.  As an artist-in-medicine I can offer to Serena and Gilbert an opportunity to explore their genuine expression.  As an artist-in-medicine I have the chance to encourage honesty in expression and to honor and celebrate with each person- their authentic presence.  

What I have to offer to those I meet, as an artist-in-medicine, is the same thing that I am being given. An experience of a kind of rare, raw reality.  The experience of wonder and awe at the beauty of the manifestation of the creative which reveals itself in the genuine, living connection with another human being.  This for me is a haven of a place, a sacred space, a heaven.