Everywhere I turn in Santa Cruz, I’m astonished by the fortitude of its citizenry. Clearly I’m not referring to conquering inclement weather, withstanding horrific living standards or existing in abject community poverty. In comparison to other cities of comparable size, all of these noted needs are met for the majority of us in a spectacularly satisfactory manner. (Yes, our local hunger issues, crime upswings and cost of living woes are not to be ignored or made light of, however that’s another day and another 2,000 words.)
The overwhelming characteristic that impresses me so is the number of my fellow Santa Cruzans who are healing from something. (Included in this “healing” verb are the phrases “Working through something.” “Dealing with something.” “Cleansing something.” And my personal favorite, “Processing.”) We, Santa Cruz, are a community of professional full-time menders.
I don’t know if it’s our high, yet daily-met, standards of weather (gorgeous), environment (beautiful) and sandwich quality (seriously delicious) that give us the luxury to look inward for improvement, but I’ll tell you this: when I moved here from Chicago eight years ago, I was under the impression that I was A-OK, not a flaw or concern to be addressed. Yet, after a mere six months in my new clime, I thankfully (and shockingly) discovered that mchicy past lives were causing headaches, my qi was at a standstill and my body dysphoria was tantamount to life paralysis. Obviously my dear Mid-western grandmother’s credo, “Get over it” wasn’t going to fly here. It was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work on my newly discovered issues. But in a town filled with healing, healers and the healed, where does one start?
An essential part of the identity of Santa Cruz, whether through participation or appreciation, is art. It’s an artsy fartsy kind of place, despite the introduction of box stores and pay parking. Everywhere the arts are waiting to help us overcome our current personal crisis: the artsy arts and the healing arts. Even the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County proudly displays their motto: Advancing the Arts, Enriching Lives. And who’s to say which of these two versions of the arts enriches more? Well, this week it’s going to be me. And a host of local experts. (In the spirit of full disclosure, let me state here and now that some of the experts approached for this story are artists and healers that I have seen and/or “seen” in my personal life. However, despite all indications to the contrary, the premise of this story was not, in fact, a search for free medical, musical or expressive advice. I’m sure the fact that I feel so good and whole after preparing this article is due to something unrelated.)
So now, in early January, when many of us have replaced “making new year’s resolutions” with “addressing some issues,” let’s turn the spotlight on the why, how and who of healing, art, and the correlation between the two.
“There is a big interest in the art of living here in Santa Cruz,” Darren Huckle neatly sums up. Huckle is an L.Ac. (licensed acupuncturist), MTCM (Master of Traditional Chinese Medicine), Holistic Health Educator (Five Branches University, UCSC Holistic Dept. & Recreation Dept.), and Herbalist. “I consider the healing arts an Art, because each patient we work with is an individual context or canvas that’s been painted upon, and they paint upon themselves … we learn to honor what’s on that canvas.”
That sense of respect for the individual, the whole person, was reiterated by everyone I spoke with. As Kelly Stoll, Certified Rolfer, Registered Movement Therapist and Cranial Sacral Therapist stated, “You keep in your mind that you are touching a whole person.” And while she primarily focuses on the physical realm of her clients’ healing processes, she adds “People are triggered by physical pain, and benefit from the emotional release that happens through releasing restrictions in their bodies.” As Rolfing works with deep fascia and connective tissue alignment, restrictions are what’s on the daily menu with Stoll’s approach.
It was not a surprise that the term “balance” also came up repeatedly. Balance of our left and right brain; balance of our physical and emotional well-being; balance of stress and calm, activity and rest.
What other common terms and concerns came up again and again in these dialogues, whether from the voice of a licensed acupuncturist or from a noted theater director and writer? Humanity, expression, focus, calm, rest, guide, discovery, connection, energy. Aren’t they soothing just to read? Personally, I find them much more inviting than the more frequently heard January vocabulary of diet, exercise, denial, quitting and losing.
We all seem to be on the same page with this need for balance in our lives. Even my 8-year old son understands the equilibrium of homework and playtime. And the crossroads of art and healing is an intersection that is well traveled. But why so much? Why here? Instead of six degrees of separation from our next holistic-artistic life event, we seem to be one degree away. Is it something in the water?
I’m not the only one pondering the propensity for personal growth and improvement here. A question that came up repeatedly was “What makes Santa Cruz such a Mecca for seekers, finders and purveyors of help?” What came first, the healers or the wounded? The opinions on this ranged from the deeply spiritual, to the tangibly logical and to the downright humorously cynical.
“Santa Cruz is this nexus of new age healing … it’s wonderful for people to look at and try out these different modalities,” stated Kayla Garnet Rose, Certified Hypnotherapist and Reiki 3 Practitioner, also noting that often after someone heals from an issue in their lives they will move on to the improvement aspect, continuing the addictive, satisfying pattern of healing.
Huckle also observed that in some ways ”once you begin the journey, you’re on it forever. And so for whatever reason, there’s a lot of people in Santa Cruz who have begun the journey. There’s an environment of self-attunement here.”
Jennifer Galvin, Certified Massage Therapist and owner of Vital Body Therapy, echoed that sentiment, seeing Santa Cruz and its willingness for self-reflection and care as “… a double-edged sword. There are a lot of resources for healing, opportunity for self-reflection and trans-personal growth, but you can be in a state of always processing something, and that can potentially lead to never feeling healed or satisfied.”
Many of the practitioners I spoke with pointed to the local pioneering work of early holistic healers, herbalists and alternative method therapists, explaining that the identity of the region established itself as ground zero for this alternative self-care lifestyle as students came to learn the crafts from these masters, stayed for the quality of life, and then in turn became practitioners (and, for some, mentors and instructors themselves). The growth of the university here also continues to invite and support innovative alternative modalities. What has been nurtured here has become a natural and renewable resource.
Then again, so has our ability to take ourselves with a grain of salt.
“I don’t think the Mystery Spot stops at that sign. I think the whole damned county is a Mystery Spot, and there’s some kind of hex that once you’re here for a certain amount of time you’ll need a therapist and you’ll become an artist, and everyone’s falling in line and doing it,” spouts Matt Farrar, painter and graphic designer (who happens to be married to Massage Therapist Jane Farrar, in case you were concerned about his balance.)
If we look at data from the Employment Development Department (EDD) of California, four of the five highest wage-earning occupations in Santa Cruz County are in the care-giving field (in descending order, OBGYNs, Physicians/Surgeons, Pediatricians, and Family/General Practitioners). The fifth, ranking fourth in income, is in the Chief Executive field. (Really? We have a Chief Executive field here? Who knew.) Right there we can see the unbalanced nature of our beast. And let’s add our 12.5 percent unemployment rate in the “needs healing” column to try to even things out.
Because I can pick, choose and dovetail my facts as I see fit, let’s also look at the top five income earning sources in our county (also from the EDD). In descending order they are Bank and Corporate Income Taxes, Cigarette Tax, Alcoholic Beverage Taxes, Horse Racing License Fees, and Estate and Inheritance Taxes. So there you have it: chief executives and their unemployed co-horts boozing and smoking, betting on horses, perhaps while mourning the costly passing of a loved one. No wonder we need all of our local healers!
Our bodies bear the physical brunt of daily life (really, what else could?), whether it is from repeated poor lifestyle habits, injuries, or irritating reminders of our mortal aging and frailty. While many turn to a general practitioner for diagnosis (and all of the body workers I spoke with vocalized a support for all forms of care, including Western Medicine), the modalities featured here varied in their approach to the “chicken or egg” question of what should be addressed first, the body or the mind.
Jen Galvin and Kelly Stoll both approach their practice with the body in mind first (as opposed, I suppose, to the mind in body). Since Galvin specializes in treating athletes and deals frequently with injury recovery and prevention, she is consulted primarily for physical pain. In her deep tissue work she finds, “it may be a common occurrence for people to experience emotional release thru massage therapy, although it’s not usually the intention.” She does not, however, dismiss the impact that the pre-existing emotional self can have on her method and outcome. Tissue index: 0-2.
Stoller’s clients seek Rolfing primarily for physical pain relief, and the emotions that are released are an added benefit. When a body is balanced in gravity, as is the goal of Rolfing sessions, a person will exude a presence and sense of self. “From that place there are more choices for expression, through art or otherwise. Rolfing helps create the foundation—creating the chamber for the psyche through which the mind can come.” Tissue index: 2-4.
When posed the “chicken/egg” (body/mind) question, Garnet Rose reiterated the general consensus of “whole body, left/right brain” unity, saying, “They are all tied in.” Adding that Hypnotherapy’s guided dive into your root chakra helps discover what needs are met by bad physical habits, and often brings to the surface emotional or personally historic causes. Meeting those needs in new constructive ways can be taken on by body or mind, depending on the person and the issue. The seeds are planted by the patient, the outcome is also dependent on the willingness to change. Tissue index: 4-8.
Kea Hedberg, L.Ac., MTCM, owner of Kea Acupuncture (Traditional Five Element Acupuncture) and partner to Darren Huckle, approaches her method from the spirit level or psycho-emotional level, guiding her clients through depression, anxiety, post-partum depression or other internal crises that “… focus on deepest level of imbalance. Somehow we’ve stepped away from our authentic nature. The goal is to restore the authentic nature of the person so other healing can follow.” Other meaning physical or additional emotional journeys. Tissue index: CostCo.
Healing through art can take the form of distraction or expression. One advisor might lean toward watching the live performance of others to distract and perhaps inspire; another might push for doing art as the row to hoe – the act having more value than the resulting piece. Each person I spoke with mentioned moving your energy and/or finding your silence. “Sing in your car!” was a suggestion from an enthusiastic source. “Try a silent retreat” suggested another.
Wilma Chandler, on the board of directors for the Santa Cruz Actors Theatre, freelance director, playwright and poet, is a passionate and outspoken supporter of the arts, both as participator and appreciator, “Without the arts there’s a part of us that’s incomplete.” In particular she finds the sharing of one’s stories and the hearing of others’ stories to be therapeutic, saying, “The word—stories, language, the human voice—they heal … putting words to an anxiety or passion that seemed inexpressible, that is a gift.”
In her experience, when we are in need of healing (spiritual, emotional or psychological) what’s missing is that we’re out of touch with others, and cites the remedial benefits of community and family that develop when working on an art project together. Her improvisation work with kids in Juvenile Hall graphically illustrates the curative qualities of expression, “It was incredibly healing. Here we are in a class with armed guards, yet kids could cry out their anger, fear, self-loathing and nobody stopped them. And it peters out. It went from a class of rage … to more interesting, subtle ways of dealing with their lives.”
More emphatically, Alan Heit, musician and dentist, describes the curative properties of music this way: “The bottom line is that it feels good. And if something is healthy and feels good it invariably has to have beneficial effects.” Also a similar approach to Chandler’s, he offers that music is a form of communication, sharing biographies, stories, and history. “Music is profoundly human, in all cultures.” He feels so strongly about the benefits of music that he is a key promoter of keeping music education in our Santa Cruz public schools. He, along with a group of like-minded gentlemen, are in their third year of presenting the Young Performers’ Showcase at the Rio Theatre, which acts as both a fundraiser for the community’s music education as well as an opportunity for our talented school kids to perform on a professional stage (and for the community to appreciate what young people can do, given the tools). Does it heal? He quotes the adage, “Music soothes the savage beast,” as a time-worn cliché “derived from observed phenomenon … Music can provide peacefulness, happiness, solace, refuge.” And, studies are showing, benefits to math reasoning and school success in general. “It provides inspiration, it provides possibilities, it provides a spark.” Sounds like preventive medicine to me.
Dance is a much recognized and popular idiom of release and expression. In regard to its healing properties, David King, full-time instructor of dance at Cabrillo College and collaborator/dancer with Cid Perlman Performance Project, says, “Healing is just something that happens. If you’re living and you’re breathing, you’re healing. You can enable healing – fertilize the soil. Art is one of those great … fertilizers.” Perlman, artistic director of Cid Perlman Performance Project and part-time instructor of dance at Cabrillo College, references contemporary dance works with ambitions to heal communities. “Important pieces like Bill T. Jones’ “D-Man in the Water” doesn’t directly address, but was a direct response to the death of one of his dancers from AIDS.” She and King also named the moving solo piece “Saliva” by Keith Hennessey, which addressed the ban on body fluids at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The dancer’s need, Perlman reminds us, is “… being heard and having a voice, whether it’s a spoken voice or corporeal, embodied voice is key.” While the more explosive and free forms of dance are popular in dance therapy, and really, in Santa Cruz in general, Perlman and especially King appreciate the foundations offered through dance via a different path: discipline and control. This is especially appropriate for the key beneficiaries of their combined talents: students at our local community college. Perlman, on the students and members of her productions, observes “They come as a physical practice but it’s a place where they can be completely focused on the thing they are doing that moment – dancing. Finding that kind of focus is really important for being a whole person.” Added King, “They come for the dance and stay for the algebra.”
Farrar, whose meticulously executed art has an underlying darkness under a sheen of beauty (he describes it as “polished darkness”), discovered through his work process that, “The troubled parts of life start to bubble to the surface almost immediately.” A sense of self-confidence and ultimate control are benefits he touts when asked “Why art for healing?” He suggests learning to draw one thing well, working on it for hours, days or longer if necessary. While some may see this process as frustrating or repetitive, his enthusiasm for the visual medium bursts through when he declares, “What a great way to relax!” He works at art daily, approaching it as if it were any day job, and typically, because of his developed process, he’ll know what he’s going to create, whether it’s a single piece or a series. But only after the “stuff” bubbles to the surface does the tone to the work appear. Artists and non-artists alike will find it difficult to access this “stuff,” and struggle to reap the benefits of the act of creating the art. However, he recognizes the goal in having a non-artist express themselves in this way, “… to unlock that side of their brain. It tells the practitioner something about the person.”
My personal interest in this arts/healing/body/mind conundrum stems from numerous and zealous treks into both arts worlds to cure myself of miscellaneous ills, whether they be physical or mental, imagined or real. Sometimes I’ve combined various forms of healing, with mixed results. (However, I have yet to give Toe Reading a chance. Never heard of it? It’s like reading tea leaves, but they’re your toes. The accidental discovery of this practice made me very happy, mostly because I like saying “Toe Reading,” and my first mental image was that of using the toes as the tool, not the map, which is how it really works.)
I decided to try an experiment while probing all of these brilliant, compassionate people, and offer them a set of fictional, universal ailments, or “issues” as it were. It would be interesting to see how each would advise, treat or guide given the same set of circumstances. The results are in turn helpful, insightful and hilarious. Here, for your enjoyment, are the answers, proving there are so many ways to approach your process and so many ways to process your approach. (These conversations were very entertaining, and reminded me of the joke: Patient: “Doctor, doctor! It hurts when I do this!” Doctor: “Stop doing that!”)
The issues I chose: one physically based—“My hair is thinning and lacks luster,” and one nervo-emotionally based - “I can’t sleep through the night without waking up in a panic.”
The advice, uncredited and in random order, for your mix and match pleasure:
• Look at nature. Nature goes to sleep. Winter, hibernation—all signals for rest.
• I don’t treat symptoms, I treat the individual. I need to know who you are, see you, hear you, look at you, smell you.
• Don’t stress over it. Your body will sleep when it’s ready.
• There is one pattern that fits those two symptoms – blood deficiency in Chinese medicine.
• After blood tests first, I would ask about your level of stress, and look at the relationship between your nervous system and pain and dysfunction in your body.
• Start in the morning with your first dance class at 8, then another at 10:30, lunch, then a class at 1 ... wear yourself out.
• Up all night? Call me and we’ll talk.
• Lack of sleep and anxiety are causing hair loss. Get centered, shut down the chatter in your mind.
• What is going on in your life? What work do you do? What’s your level of stress? How do you take care of yourself?
• Wear a hat, get a wig, put on a bandana and look fabulous! Big earrings and a hat!
• Try covering a whole piece of paper in black charcoal. You’ve created night. In those hours, why not do something that’s dark?
• Instead of focusing on the hair loss, focus on nervousness and waking at night. Focus on what is relaxing and successful and wonderful and the hair loss will stop.
• Nighttime TV after midnight is so bizarre, you could watch anything and fall asleep. But don’t get on the Internet—it keeps you awake and it’s weird.
After processing the information given to me by these gifted people, I learned (“healed my previous ignorance”) through overwhelming self-involvement that really what we all need is deep inside ourselves somewhere, ready to come out with the right guide or guitar. I feel better already. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a song to write.
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