Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Restoring Balance September 19, 2014

Filed under: Healing — saratbaker @ 4:56 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Recently, my daily routine has been thrown off by the usual exigencies of life:  illness, weddings, fleas.

Instead of getting an early start, walking the dog and meditating in the cool of the morning, I seem to be rushing out of the house, leaving things undone—laundry, bills, insurance claims—myriad small things that add up to a crushing sense of playing catch up all the time.  I make lists:  get labs done, make vet appointment, pack Adam’s clothes, Jiffy Lube.  On the car radio, I hear of war and rumors of war, of conflicts whose intricacies I cannot hope to understand, and I have the sinking feeling of a widening disaster to which I’m somehow unwittingly a party. So much information to take in, to process.  My email is an overflowing disaster, as are the notices falling to the floor from my desk.  I seem to work unceasingly, yet have little to show for it.

I want more than anything to create order, simplicity and meaning.  I long to lose myself in the garden, where I can drop down into a river of being, my arms, hands, eyes working without thinking, my skin caressed by breezes, my ears filled with the soft rustle of the bamboo, the mourning dove’s call.  Yet I let everything else come first, and so I end up frazzled and depleted.  I haven’t solved the world’s problems or even my own.

Recently, I came across an article by Jerome S.  Bernstein which looked at Native American, in particular, Navajo, understandings of healing.  For the Navajo, illness is a symptom of lack of balance or harmony in an individual or in a community.  The Navajo believe that it is up to humans “to restore harmony when energies are out of balance.”  According to Bernstein, a medicine man he worked with put it this way, “Balancing the individual balances the world.”

The poet Adam Zagajewski in his wonderful poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” speaks to the tension of acknowledging the world’s brokenness and ruin, while also offering a way to restore a sense of harmony by remembering beauty:

 Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June’s long days,

and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.

The nettles that methodically overgrow

the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

You must praise the mutilated world.

 Further into the poem, he suggests

 Return in thought to the concert where music flared.

 I suppose that we rarely manage to find perfect balance in our lives, but the poet suggests that by both experiencing nature, beauty, and love and then by remembering those experiences, we can balance the ugliness of much of life.  What I really love about this poem is that Mr. Zagajewski doesn’t ask us to pretend that life is other than it is.  His is the mind that can tolerate paradox and live between the tension of the two.

In order to remember beauty, we have to partake of it.  So I’m going to try to make time for my garden, and for music, even if my to do list grows longer.  Maybe if I can restore my own balance, I can add to the harmony of the world.  It’s a nice thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fish Gotta Swim, Birds Got to Fly April 26, 2010

My soon to be nine-year old neighbor, Olivia, brought over her big find of the spring: a tent caterpillar .  She had found an old glass fish tank and lined it with dirt and leaves, put her new friend in and then “asked Google” about the critter.  She and Google must have had quite a conversation, because Olivia was there to tell us that he was an old caterpillar, and look, there he is beginning to spin his web.  “Where does it come from?” she said, looking at the creature.  Her mother and I squinted.  “It seems to be coming out of its mouth,” her mom said.  I told her spiders spun their silk out of their tummies (probably the limit of my great repository of knowledge about the physical world.)  We sat and watched the tent caterpillar do its thing.  “Google said it turn into a moth and only lives three days,” Olivia said gravely.  We all wondered at this.  My husband added that tent caterpillars are despised in this part of the world, their large webby cocoons festooning trees obliterated by the animal’s hunger.

Today I was talking with a friend, a painter, who is going to teach painting at a seminary, where all the seminarians are required to take classes in all the arts.  What an idea!  I told her about my interest in medical humanities, and we compared notes on teaching seminarians and med students, often young people who have had only limited exposure to the arts.  “I’m not trying to make artists out of them,” she said, “but bring them into the flow of the process, let them get lost in the process.”  I told her of often having people in my classes who had had little or no previous training, and how, once they got past fear and inhibition, they often produced powerful work.  “Creativity is part of us,” she said.  We talked about how creativity grounds us, heals us, quite contrary to the popular idea of it being the purview of a select, esoteric few.  It is, indeed, our birthright.  What teaching art to these students does is simply give them some tools to explore themselves, their life situations, their feelings.  It comes out of us naturally, just like the tent caterpillar’s cocoon.

I’ve always felt a great love for the “writing spider”, the large black and yellow spider that, if you are lucky, graces a summer garden.  Just as the spider must weave her web, so to I must write, others must dance, make art, sing their songs, knit, design bridges, solve equations.  I met a wonderful artist at the Hambidge arts colony once who said the how wasn’t the question, it was the why.  She could figure out how, but she didn’t know why.  She just knew it was what she had to do to be whole.

Olivia’s caterpillar is making great strides on his cocoon.

 

 
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