Painting cancer

I’m painting near someone who has cancer. She’s been painting the cancer leaving her body, as she has no doubt been taught in visualization or guided imagery exercises. It makes sense. It’s probably one of the breakthroughs in cancer therapy, to treat the imagery of the mind and not just the disease of the body.

So why is Barbara suggesting that she not paint the cancer leaving her body? Rather, that she take the next step and face the darkness? She’s not suggesting specific imagery, she’s merely asking the woman to trust the process enough to question her assumptions.

Do we excise the darkness by only painting the light? Do we find beauty by banishing ugliness? In painting for process we learn another way. The truth as healer. The truth as an end in itself, regardless of what physical or mental healing takes place. Truth without bargaining. Can we really ask of the universe, “Save my life at all costs, get rid of this horrible thing inside me” (even though death is already “inside” us all, biding its time)? You can’t attach conditions to truth, you can’t say, Give me truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—except for the part where I’m going to die. The ultimate goal of all therapies is to cheat death, to get the cancer or other sickness out of the body. What if we went beyond therapy and sought the truth?

Painting can be a playful activity. It can also be a way of confronting psychological demons or horrific memories. It can serve as an introduction to spirit. And ultimately it can put us in a place of questioning our beliefs about our own existence. Does accepting my eventual death make life itself worth living? Does painting the cancer—the truth—in all its pain and ugliness do more to right the balance between “me” and “the disease” than taking a warrior stance against it? Is the cancer something different from me? Is it different from everything else in life that I resist?

It takes courage to face the disease with its possible death sentence. But the purpose of painting for process is to face reality on its own terms. The process questions life—physical survival—as the ultimate prize.



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