Art and Nature as a Healing Presence

How can we explore the inner processes of healing and self care and the importance of having a sense of meaning and purpose as a self care practice as well as knowing what inspires us and brings forth experiences of joy and gratitude and wonder?  This outlook can bring balance to the focus on fear, worry and what’s wrong. This is also an essential aspect of coaching that comes out of positive psychology.

Recently, walking through Central Park on my way to visit a critically ill family member in the hospital, I was moved by the exquisite beauty of the springtime reawakening that surrounded me.  Plum trees were full of white blossoms that softly floated down around me.  Their descent resembled the light dance of snowflakes, without the chill.  I walked past beds of pansies, daffodils and tulips in radiant bloom.  The heaviness and concern that I felt in my heart was fully present, but I felt soothed by the colors and fragrances that surrounded me.  I kept reminding myself to breathe all of it in, inhale it and release it.

I felt gratitude for the gardeners who had planted these thousands of bulbs for this celebration of renewal and rebirth.  I smiled at the exuberance of a little curly headed girl wanting to pick the pink tulips and her mom quickly restraining her, explaining that the flowers are for everyone.  The little girl was sure they were all there just to delight her.  I appreciated her unrestrained enthusiasm and hoped she never lost it.  I thought about the 100 daffodil and narcissus bulbs I had planted last fall, my yearly ritual of honoring the mystery and process of creation.  Will this little girl, when she grows up, want to plant bulbs in the fall?

I arrived at the hospital, entering a huge atrium bustling with activity.  I eventually made my way to Amelia’s room, first putting on a mask and gloves, gowning up and entering.  My first reaction was relief to see a glowing, smiling face, happy at my arrival.  The tears that I was holding back as I walked through the park, remained restrained.  My instinct was to reach out, touch, hold, but that was not possible.  The visit was brief, but while I was in the room I felt Amelia’s extraordinary courage and will to survive.  I felt humbled by her strength and relieved by its presence.  The journey continues.

Years ago, in my private nurse counseling practice, many of my clients were HIV positive.  At that time I sought out Larry LeShan for clinical supervision.  I sought out Dr. LeShan because he was a pioneer in therapy for cancer patients and had written two books I admired, How to Meditate (1974) and You Can Fight for Your Life (1980).  He had a delightful, wise and lively mind and I was pleased at his council to help my clients  “sing their own song.”  He said people need to motivate their immune system to take on the challenge of doing the work to get them better.  He said this was true for all of us.  What brings out our joy and love of life?  This is something we need to honor and take seriously.  Dr. LeShan embodied this for me, since his supervision often consisted of stories or references to literature and philosophy.  When I told him I was about to travel to Florence, Italy he glowed and told me places I had to see and works of art that he knew would leave me speechless, in awe.  He deeply taught me to follow what called me to joy and he was right about Florence.  Being there was a transcendent experience.

Recognizing and deepening our connection with what feeds our soul stays with us in our most challenging times.  I was deeply moved by a brief film that demonstrated the potential these connections hold.  In it, we see a gentleman in an advanced stage of Alzheimers disease, be vitalized by hearing music he loves.

Recently I came across two articles about the introduction of creative art projects being used to promote health, well-being and, quality of life and enriched social connections.  The first one, Arts on Prescription: A review of practice in the UK, describes the implementation of projects to reduce stress and anxiety as an adjunct to conventional care as well as a means of preventing people from succumbing to more serious illness.

The second one, from the Center on Aging, Health and Humanities at George Washington University, described the implementation of community-based cultural programs resulting in improved overall health, fewer doctor visits and other benefits.

I remember reading an article in the New York Times a number of years ago that truly surprised me.  It stated that on a yearly basis more people visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, than attend all the New York sporting events combined in one year.  It was interesting to note given the extent of media coverage of sporting events as opposed to special exhibits at the museum.  Clearly there is something that draws people to bear witness to the artistic creation.  Perhaps it is to marvel at and be inspired by the extraordinary human creations being shown.

C.S. Lewis used the phrase “surprised by joy” to describe that moment of inspiration that comes unexpectedly and nourishes us. He thought of it as a moment of contact with the divine.

What is it that has inspired you and brought you joy?

What moments that you have experienced in the past come back to you now?

Have you recognized and honored your capacity to be moved and delighted in this way?

Once you have deepened your awareness of this, what actions can you choose to take that will nurture this aspect of self-care?

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Barbara Dossey, PhD, RN, AHN-BC, FAAN, HWNC-BC, is an internationally recognized integrative, holistic nursing pioneer, a nurse theorist (Theory of Integral Nursing; co-author, Theory of Integrative Nurse Coaching), and Florence Nightingale Scholar. She is Co-Director, International Nurse Coach Association (INCA) and Core Faculty, Integrative Nurse Coach® Certificate Program (INCCP), Miami, Florida; International Co-Director, Nightingale Initiative for Global Health (NIGH); and Director of Holistic Nursing Consultants (HNC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has authored or co-authored 25 books including Holistic Nursing: A Handbook for Practice (7th ed., 2016); Nurse Coaching: Integrative Approaches for Health and Wellbeing (2015); The Art and Science of Nurse Coaching: The Provider’s Guide for Coaching Scope and Competencies (2013); Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer (2010, Commemorative Edition). She is a founding member of the American Holistic Nurses Association and Holistic Nurse of the Year. She is an 11-time recipient of the prestigious American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award, and has received many other awards. Barbara is also on the ANA’s Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation™ Grand Challenge Advisory Board.

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As Co-Founder of the International Nurse Coach Association for over a decade, Susan has been teaching and developing coaching program and currently through the Integrative Nurse Coach® Academy. She is Board Certified in Health and Wellness Coaching, Holistic Nursing, and Clinical Nutrition. Susan has authored several chapters on Nutrition and Environmental Health for Holistic Nursing, Integrative Nursing, and Nurse Leadership textbooks. She has co-authored Nurse Coaching and Self-Assessment chapters in; Holistic Nursing: A Handbook for Practice, 7th edition (2015-2020) and is co-author of the award winning book (ANA Gold Seal, 2015) Nurse Coaching: Integrative Approaches for Health and Wellbeing (2015) and The Art and Science of Nurse Coaching, an ANA Publication (2013), that led the way to establishing the standards for practice in the emerging Nurse Coach role. For the past 20 years, she has been the Nurse Coach and Nutrition consultant for Special Immunology Services at Mercy Hospital in Miami and is currently the Director of Nurse Coaching at Rezilir Health in Hollywood, Florida. Susan continues to integrate lifestyle health and wellness education into diverse communities, bringing her expertise and passion as a nurse, clinical nutritionist, and medical anthropologist. She has developed and implemented integrative health initiatives for diverse community organizations including the Yellow Courtyard, Integrative Health Symposium, Urban Zen, New York Open Center, The Lower East Side Girls Club, Kripalu, Omega Institute, and the University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University. As a concerned global citizen, Susan is the founder and education director of the Earthrose Institute, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to environmental health education and advocacy. She maintains a private practice as an Integrative Nurse Coach® with a focus on nutrition and the environment.

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