Beauty as Medicine
by Eric Alan
June 29, 2019 - 7:44am

I take refuge from the road in the Oregon Garden, in the small town of Silverton. Within its gorgeous eighty acres, gardeners cultivate more than flowers, plants and trees. They also cultivate medicine—whether or not they know it. Many come for the garden’s healing gifts; especially the elderly, it seems.


The holistic nature of healing is as ancient as illness itself. It’s been intimately familiar to me since finding my path through cancer in my early thirties. Now, with every new recurrence of illness and healing, I feel that holistic growth. It’s another beautiful perennial.


Lately I’ve sought to support a friend with a rare, incurable illness. Researching ways to soothe her symptoms, I notice that medical experts fail to mention roses. They also don’t mention art, love, or the wisdom within a breeze. Beauty is lost from their lists of remedies.


This is a profound omission. Again the omission is familiar from my journey through surgeries, chemotherapy and pain drugs. Those medical miracles assured my survival; but the forest’s sacred beauty was equally essential medicine. Beauty kept me inspired despite agony. Beauty kept my spirit focused enough to minimize side effects through meditation. Beauty made illness almost irrelevant, compared to the sound of rain on firs and ferns.


Illness is just another element of nature. It’s not an impediment to loving a garden, a person, this moment, this world. Illness may even deepen love, through its reminder of priorities on our precious, shared path. Illness is the thorn inseparable from the rose.


At the core of my wellness through illness was learning the difference between healing and an absence of disease. I learned that healing’s goal isn’t to live as long as possible, but to live deeply and beautifully regardless of time. That’s attainable even while ill, for our spirit may stay healthy despite our body’s infirmity.


Once I learned to live better days rather than more days, living longer became more likely too. Given less anxiety about my survival outcome, my condition quickly improved. I began to beat all predictions of recovery. Within that healing was new insight, part of which is that thorns are beautiful too. I realized that if I couldn’t love illness, I couldn’t fully love life. It was a wild awakening, which changed how I loved everyone and everything.


Living that holistic love is still my goal now, for celebration takes persistence. We all have an incurable illness, after all. The technical medical term for it is “life.”


Years after cancer, I received an affirmation from a dying friend. His own cancer was terminal, yet he was brilliantly alive. I ran into him in a deli, where he smiled at me with a knowing gleam in his eye. As wizened veterans of cancer, we knew we shared a vital priority: lunch.


“You’d think cancer would change something,” he said, beaming. “But I still have the same relationship issues, and I still want a turkey sandwich.” He laughed and laughed, exuding joy as he walked out to enjoy the day’s beauty and his sandwich. He lived his last days with such a full embrace that he even helped to dig his own grave, on the mountain where he’d be buried. When he was laid to rest there, he did so healed. It was a true celebration of life.


Today I disappear into garden flower centers, to heal from the illness of the world. I spend time with their silent sweetness, knowing beauty is a medicine effective during every illness. In this garden of earth, life is constantly enlivened by the medicine of beauty.

Laura Townsendon July 2, 2019 - 3:56am

Eric, this blog is amazing and hits home like you have no idea. Widowed at age 44, my husband passed from colorectal cancer. The beauty of the world is essential to my healing as well. And through a nonprofit that I founded in my husband's memory, our organization tries to share that beauty with cancer patients and their caregivers in our pocket-sized photo albums that we fill with beautiful photo and inspiring quotes. Many of the photos are ones that I have taken or from others who share their photos with us. I would love to share this blog with cancer survivors at our upcoming cancer survivor celebration if it's ok with you. Thank you for sharing the power of beauty. 

Marilyn Flanaganon July 2, 2019 - 1:59pm

thank you.  lesson learned.  I needed to embrace the thorns too!


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