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Art and Nature as a Healing Presence

Posted Under: INCA Blog, News, News & Articles

by Bonney Gulino Schaub

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.

photo credit Grace Schaub

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?


  • Dear Bonney,
    Reading your article on Art and Nature as a Healing Presence brought me back to the INCP classes you and Richard taught. Thank you for sharing! I am developing complementary therapies for patients/families who are in our Hospice program based on your
    imagery and teachings. Prayers to you, Amelia and entire family.

    • Dear Ann,
      Thank you for your kind words. We are so pleased that this work has been of value in your hospice work.
      This is why we love teaching nurses. We know nurses’ work reaches out to inspire and bring healing presence to so many people. We also know it nurtures nurses as well.
      Thank you again for the update.
      Bonney and Richard


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