Biannual Newsletter • MARCH 15, 2011
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Spring-Summer 2011

Works of Art
by Bernie Siegel, MD

I can’t but help to react to common terms more intensely and question their meaning because of my work as a surgeon.  Some of the terms that struck me recently were ‘finger painting’, ‘hand-made’ and ‘rubbed the wrong way.

When we touch another life, we are creating a work of art. If we view other people as blank canvases then we can create a finger painting and provide them with a sense of beauty and trust by our touch. Those who have been marred by life can be repainted, repaired and touched up. The wounds and scars can be covered by hands of love finger painting on the wounded body and soul. I may be getting a little melodramatic, but I don’t think there is anything more potent than the touch of love.

Look at what studies demonstrate on the newborn of every species. They develop and grow faster when they are treated creatively, like works of art, and touched lovingly.

We are all hand-made; made by the touch of those who have cared for us. For some, the touch is like plastic surgery making us feel beautiful and loved. For others, the absence of touch or exposure to abuse is destructive and what is created is a vulnerable human being who will have to struggle to survive free of disease and addictions. Such a person will have to recreate him or herself by his or her own hands.

When you have been abused, it is hard to accept the touch of another person until the abuse has been dealt with and trust reestablished. When you have been rubbed the wrong way, every touch reminds you of that painful experience. Our bodies store it all and the painful memories are brought back by a touch. Even a loving embrace may bring back memories of physical abuse. Our past history must be dealt with in order to be healed. I have seen this when I hugged patients who became stiff like telephone poles in response to my touch. I learned to ask for permission first and to understand that each person’s past experience was important.

I also know that once trust is reestablished, touch is welcomed and healing truly begins. So many people have been hurt by their experiences that they are afraid of developing relationships that make them vulnerable to pain again. They don’t want to risk a relationship, or loving another, because they fear the pain of rejection one again.

Only by persistently loving these wounded souls can they be brought back to trusting and relating to others. As a physician, I have seen this happen to many individuals only when their lives are threatened. Then they stepped forward and accepted the challenge that life presents to us all: to become hand made works of art. When you accept that you are a work of art, you can accept being vulnerable and expose yourself to the difficulties of life.

A work of art is not about perfection, but rather material in the process of being made into something of value. Just think of seeing everyone before you as having the potential to become someone talented, creative, beautiful and more. Think about poor Dumbo born with ears he tripped over. He was funny looking, teased by the other kids and had little to look forward to each day. Who could love such an unsightly child? Someone who sees his potential and teaches him to fly. Now he has a gift and special talent. He is now no longer disabled, he is totally enabled and brings joy into our lives.

Hand-made individuals don’t let their bodies limit them. They participate in the Special Olympics, paint with a brush held in their mouth and more.

Don’t let the body’s limitations limit your potential to become someone unique and a work of art. As humans, we tend to think and accept our limitations while other species simply find new ways of doing things. I have seen two legged dogs have no trouble getting around and a raccoon learn to walk balanced only on its front paws. We have so many mechanical aides that we forget what we are capable of. So keep touching, finger painting and reminding people of their potential.

There is no limit to what the inspired artist can create. The universe came from the undifferentiated potential to create. So don’t accept limits and if you find the inspiration, then proper instruction and practice will lead to creating some beautiful finger paintings commonly known as human beings.

Let us hope we can incorporate finger painting into parenting and teach parents to rub their children the right way and hand-make some beautiful works of art. Until people awaken to the importance of touch, keep teaching them, one work of art at a time.

“The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them.”                    
-Bernard M. Baruch
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