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Alison Bonds Shapiro M.B.A.

Everyday Creativity and Healing

Healing is a creative response of our bodies to injury.

My friend and teacher, Dr. Ruth Richards, who lectures throughout the country on creativity is fond of reminding me that creativity is our birthright. It is a not a special talent limited to famous artists and writers and musicians. We are all creative. We are built to be. Being human requires us to adapt to the changing circumstances of our lives. This is what Ruth calls "everyday creativity" and describes in the book she edited: Everyday Creativity and New Views of Human Nature: Psychological, Social and Spiritual Perspectives.

When I go for a hike on the mountain, even if I use the same trail it, is always different. There are rocks in new places, grass and thistles that have overgrown the path in new ways, different lizards run away from my feet in their erratic zig-zags. Every walk down that trail asks for a new response - one I have never given before in quite the same way. We are all, moment after moment, responding to our lives in creative ways.

Healing is a creative response of our bodies to injury. Even healing from something as simple as a scratch on a leg invites our bodies to evaluate the scratch, see how it's different from all other scratches we have ever had and marshal the resources necessary to heal this scratch in a particular way. Our minds and our bodies, integrated and inseparable, respond together to every specific situation that we encounter and devise unique solutions to help us cope.

And these responses are not single events. Healing is a process - not an on/off switch - a process that involves all of our abilities since our lives change as our bodies change. The scratch takes time to heal. We can't make a decision and suddenly be all better. It may take months or years and for some of us, the rest of our lives to deal with the conditions of a major injury as those conditions heal. Change is the operative word. Immediately after an injury a person may not be able to move her hand and months later she may be able to move it but experience continued weakness and months after that she may be able to move her hand with increasing strength but no flexibility and so on. I did not go from being paralyzed one day to being entirely able to do whatever I wanted with my hand the next day. The process of regaining the ability to move took many, many months and happened in countless steps.

Often when a person is injured he or she cannot use an affected limb. Maybe the arm is paralyzed. Maybe the leg is in a cast. But life goes on. It doesn't conveniently stop while we are trying to heal. We still have to do all sorts of tasks to get on with the business of living. How do we do this? We create solutions to get things done in different ways. Maybe we employ a new tool. A woman in a study in Portugal by Ana Correria de Barros and Carlos Duarte was paralyzed in one hand and began to use a kitchen cloth to stabilize vegetables while she cut them with her unaffected hand. She created a specific way to work in her kitchen, adapting her abilities in order to continue to meet her goals.

Every day brings a new opportunity to respond creatively to our injuries. We can pay attention to them, noticing what is true about them right now, and discover some new way to work with them and the limitations they bring.

At sixteen Patrick, who had an ankle injury and could not put weight on his foot for five weeks, decided that the way to get around in his mom's apartment while keeping his ankle safe was to use a simple office chair on wheels. Patrick scooted wherever he wanted to go, smiling cheerfully at his own inventiveness, making a game out of coping with his injury.

Our brains love novelty. Creativity brings satisfaction as we solve the challenges our injuries present in living our lives. When we are injured often we feel disengaged from life, as if we cannot participate unless we are well. We may feel that we have become, in some way, powerless. When we acknowledge that we are always responding creatively to our healing process, our sense of purpose improves. We are creating new ways to do things, whether we know it our not. We are not powerless. The more we recognize and celebrate this "everyday creativity" the more sense of satisfaction we can find.

As Ruth says creativity does not belong to only a handful of famous people. Creativity is part of all of us.



About the Author

Alison Bonds Shapiro, M.B.A., works with stroke survivors and their families, and is the author of Healing into Possibility: the Transformational Lessons of a Stroke.