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Creativity and arts at the hospital
This first step of showing up and staying in the moment is one of the hardest works patients are asked to do.
- Yuko Taniguchi

by Yuko Taniguchi

I have taught college students the importance of language and its power to communicate for the past two decades. But as a writer and faculty member of the "Arts at the Bedside Program" at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, I have learned the power and utility of narrative from patients who face the end of life.

I have written poems, short stories and, most commonly, legacy letters, based on patients' requests. I have witnessed that even in the absence of a cure, healing is possible by making their final thoughts and love visible to their family. When I was selected as a 2016 Bush Foundation Fellow, I formed a team, Project Art & Narrative (PAN), with the mission to determine the attributes within creative activities that lead to healing, wellness and resiliency.

Framing my exploration "within creative activities," instead of strictly "in writing," has been insightful. I am not only a writer. I am a dancer, a teacher, a yoga student and a passionate cook. All these creative activities seem to work collaboratively in my unconscious to uncover self-awareness.

Currently, I facilitate sessions for the patients at the psychiatric units at Mayo Clinic. I incorporate reading poetry, writing and origami making, and often receive enthusiastically positive feedback from the patients. Engaging in creative activities is "joyful," a key emotion for people to feel up for participating in an activity.

This first step of showing up and staying in the moment is among the hardest work patients are asked to do. I am asking, can you, in your exhausted, discouraged and fragile state, show up and take the risk of trying something new?

My work is to make it inviting. Once I have their attention, I rely on creative activities to allow self-engagement to "happen." For example, when patients make origami flowers and write about them, something unrelated but true about the patients merges on to the page.

Such an encounter with the deeper self is surprising to patients - and surprise is an important emotion. Expressing such a discovery in their own voice calms patients. They find a part of themselves - emotions, thoughts, awareness - that they didn't know they were searching for.

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I am learning that healing is carried forward by such a search within the self. Doing this alone isn't easy. We borrow creativity to allow us to swim deep into ourselves.

Yuko Taniguchi teaches at the Center for Learning Innovation at the University of Minnesota, Rochester campus.

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