This week, I had the privilege of sitting in on a class at the University of Washington Medical School; it's called "The Healer's Art."
The Healer's Art is a curriculum created by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., author of "Kitchen Table Wisdom" and "My Grandfather's Blessings." I am a HUGE fan of Dr. Remen's ideas and her way of approaching the practice of medicine. I first read her books years ago, and have since re-read "My Grandfather's Blessings," and shared it with others. Every health-care provider should read it - and every patient; it is full of stories of healing, and healing presence.
Dr. Remen works in the Bay Area now, and I inquired about the possibility of taking The Healer's Art from her and her staff at ISHI. However, it is only open to physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers at this time, so they kindly referred me to the University of Washington Medical School, one of many medical schools where the class is taught. This led to meeting Dr. Michael Storck (one of the professors), who kindly invited me to observe the class. I will not be participating in the small group work, but will be observing and learning from the larger group gatherings. It was inspiring - I loved everything about it.
In this first session, we heard about the origins of the program, and introduced ourselves to the group. We learned about self-care, and spent time in quiet reflection. I left feeling uplifted, grateful and excited about being part of something so good.
As I was driving out of the parking area on the way to catch the ferry, I paused at a stop sign. Looking to the left, my eyes caught sight of a riot of pale pink blossoms. The little avenue leading down to Lake Union had been planted with cherry trees on both sides, and they are now in full bloom. It looked like cotton candy, like pink popcorn balls, like a bridesmaid's dress, like a ballerina's tulle skirt, like a heavenly cloud in the light of palest sunrise. The trees were bursting with energy, life, beauty and fullness; ripe, delicate, fluttery, soft, temporary, velvety, joyful.
My immediate thought was, "I have to take a photo of this." However, there was a problem: a bright red stop sign and thick, black electrical wires were butting into the frame, intruding upon the pure, pale pinkness. I quickly reversed course, and drove down to the end of the lane so that I could have a better angle for the photo. There was an issue from there, as well: tall, industrial-looking buildings loomed so large in the background that they distracted from the delicacy and soft color of the trees.
Dusk was falling; time for taking the photo was running out. I was frustrated for a moment, and then I thought: just look and remember this. Take a mental picture, and be happy with that.
This reminded me of the times when I have seen tourists looking at the world through their cameras' viewfinders; not being present to what was in front of them, concerned only with capturing and taking home an image of it. The most unpleasant example of this was in the Louvre in 2009, when we took David to Paris. There were hordes of people crowding the galleries, and it seemed to me that not one of them was really encountering the art in time and space. They were taking photographs of it - really, of themselves and their friends, standing in front of paintings and sculpture - as if to say, "I was here! I saw it." But nowhere did I see anyone standing silently before a work of art, regarding it, listening for what it had to say - which is the way I was taught to approach a work of art. And it was impossible for me to do that in 2009, because of the size of the crowds and their jostling for place.
I went to the Louvre on a People-to-People trip as a high school student, and I remember it as a quiet, reflective place, where I had time to stand before the masterpieces, and enjoy them - allowing them to speak to me. It was a spiritual experience.
I felt the same way at the Tate and the National Gallery in London, during my college term in England. I will always remember turning a corner in the Tate Gallery and encountering "The Kiss" by Auguste Rodin, larger than life, and emanating white-hot, yet controlled passion through the marble from which it was carved. How could something cut from cold, white stone be so alive and full of warmth?
After studying various works through books and slides during an entire year of Art History, it was a life-changing experience to see them in front of me. Yet I saw none of that kind of encounter at the Louvre in 2009. No conversation with the creation or the artist, no reflection, no seismic shifting within the individual, standing before greatness. It seemed like a tragic loss - a lost opportunity.
So last night, I took a mental photo of those glorious cherry blossoms, and am going to keep it in my heart. I hope to remember to do this more often: to encounter life on its own terms, as it is unfolding, rather than taking a picture of it to view later; to be here now.