Healer’s Art

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I wanted to share a picture I drew this week.  It’s based off of a drawing I did as part of my first class in Healer’s Art, an elective founded by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen at UCSF and now taught at medical schools across the country.

As some background, the purpose of this course is to help medical students clarify and cultivate their calling as physicians and recapture the heart of medicine.  It’s described in our course catalog as follows:

“For pre-clinical and clinical medical students.  Explores core dimensions of meaning, service and healing exemplified by the outstanding physician. Goals are to develop and preserve personal values such as service, harmlessness, compassion, altruism, self care, integrity, equality, justice, respect, and nurturing wholeness; to develop the compassionate listening skill that is foundational for clinical practice and for finding personal meaning and satisfaction; and to clarify a commitment to medicine as one’s life’s work.”

Healer’s Art is taught each fall at Stanford and this quarter came at a perfect time for me, as I am facing some questions of purpose and direction as I move forward into second year.  I know who I want to be, and I at least have an idea of where I want to go within medicine, but the questions are still there.  I suspect nearly everyone faces them and that they never truly disappear.  I’m okay with that, though, because the questions keep me on my toes and push me to explore more deeply why I do what I do.

In our first class, we were each given a little bag of crayons–tangy, waxy, new.  The assignment was simple yet complex: think of something which you value about yourself and don’t want to lose during your journey in medicine, and draw a picture or symbol to represent it.

And so, with my classmates, I drew.  Some of us knelt on the floor while others sat by tables, each of us working to pictorially capture flames too important to extinguish.  I felt like a kid again as I bent over my big sheet of paper with my handful of fresh crayons.  It had been years since I really used crayons.

After several quiet minutes of sketching, we broke into our small groups and scattered throughout the building to settle down and discuss the heart of our work.  Words like “trust” and “resilience” and “love” emerged, along with stories of past journeys, current experiences, and future hopes.

My own picture sprang from a part of me that has faded somewhat over the course of my collage and now medical school years.  As a child, I loved to create stories and imagine fantastic odysseys, and one of my favorite pastimes was writing fiction. I loved to imagine things that could only live in the mind, like horses made of wind that, if touched, felt like streams of cool air blown from a fan.  In the past years, however, my mind hasn’t had as much time to wander such unknown paths.  Rather, it’s travelled the paths of biochemical mechanisms and lines of reasoning, and my writing has been reincarnated as reflective blogging and poetry.  And, while I love these paths, part of me misses the imaginative adventures of childhood.

As I reflected in the quiet moment prior to starting this drawing, a picture came to mind of me as a physician sitting beside a patient’s bed–a child’s bed–telling stories to help chase away the foreign loneliness of the hospital room.  To provide a portal to another world, a wall-less world of color and fantastic creatures.  To heal with imagination.

I shared some of this with my small group, and they shared in turn that the theme running through this picture seemed to be one of hope.  As I thought about it some more, I realized that in a way, it was.

Imagine hope.

For me, imagining hope means being able to see without my eyes–to look beyond time and space and see who the person before me really is.  The child that they were, the journeys that brought them here, the heartbeat beneath the gown.

Maybe I don’t have much time for imagining winged horses anymore, but just perhaps I can imagine the wings of the human soul.

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