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By Joel Samuels, MD

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 26 seconds 

Stone carving transformed my life of chronic pain, depression, and drug dependency into a life of renewed vitality with the ability to work, dance, and feel whole again.

After 25 years of working as an emergency room physician, I underwent several back surgeries, which resulted in many hours of physical therapy and treatments with never-ending pain and limited mobility; my life was reduced to bed rest and hot baths. So, I pursued several treatment options, including tapping into my creativity as a way of healing chronic pain.

I began by carving small hand size pieces of alabaster and marble while lying in a zero-gravity chair, and I instantly fell in love with sculpting stone. Later, I was able to carve while standing, which provided the opportunity to work on larger pieces. To my amazement, time seemed to melt away while I was engrossed in this process; my physical and mental attention deepening and widening. It was as if I had entered a spacious room, leaving the back pain outside. Something magically healing occurred in me when I entered the world of the stone carving, while at the same time, I remained in the present, discovering the shapes and lines embedded in the rock. Focused attention on carving became a meditation, complete with mindfulness of the body in motion. Previously, I discovered that distracting myself was minimally effective in relieving pain. In contrast, stone carving was highly effective. The repetitive movements of chiseling, filing, and sanding the stone were a perfect setting for mantra recitation and training the mind. I was learning to stay in the present while remaining open in this vast new room of creativity. Stone carving transformed time. Hours felt like minutes, while my body pain was in the distance, as if on the back burner. When the stone would crack and pieces would fall away, it opened me to another opportunity to use creativity and literally go with the flow. As my dear friend and source of sculpting inspiration, Shiffi Menaker-Schreiberr used to say, “The stone is the guru [teacher].” I also found that the process of carving trumped the outcome. This idea became paramount in healing. Stone carving became my medicine.

I hope my story and art will be beneficial to others. A thank you to all my doctors, healers, teachers, and friends (too numerous to name) and to my partner Ellen Vogel whose support and love made this possible. Also, special thanks to Anam Thubten Rinpoche, Darlene Cohen, and Shiffi (mentioned earlier), who were invaluable inspirations and helped guide me along the path.

Commentary

By Eric Greenleaf, PhD

“When you have a difficult problem, make an interesting design out of it.” – Milton H. Erickson, MD

Dr. Erickson employed all manner of creative devices to respond to his own physical pain, and to a patient’s emotional pain in life. He tried countervailing his own pain with distraction, like when he would press his chin into the top of a chair, and when he hallucinated that the colorful hooked rug in his office was spiraling into the air. He would also have detailed discussions with Mrs. Erickson in the middle of the night about the pain sensation in his feet. He used the conversation and detailing of the pain as a distraction until his wife would gently remind him that she and the rest of the family needed their sleep.

To reduce the emotional pain of a woodcarver’s low self-esteem, Dr. Erickson borrowed one of the patient’s ironwood carvings overnight and returned it the next day with bruised fingers and a replica of the carving that he had made. He did this to experientially show the patient the value of his (the patient’s) work.

Dr. Samuels, an experienced physician, and healer discovered a way to respond to his own crippling pain in a way his patients would recognize. He did this by putting his thoughtful, calm demeanor to work through his eyes and his hands, as he slowly changed stone to art. As was once said, “Architecture is frozen music.”

Note: Those interested in viewing Dr. Samuel’s stunning sculptural work, please see: http://mrdrjoel.tumblr.com/

For imaginative approaches to healing, using visual arts, movement, and trance, see www.miltonherickson.com.

 

This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 39, Issue No. 3 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter. 

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