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Naj Notes: Does Nature Heal?

Posted on: December 12th, 2012 by Martha Spear No Comments

One of the fundamental tenets of Creative Healing Connections is the use of nature to promote healing, a belief based on the healing value of nature as promoted and extolled by Dr. Livingston more than a century ago as part of “taking the cure” for Tuberculosis at his sanatorium in Saranac Lake, NY.

Indeed for centuries people have come to the Adirondacks to restore their spirits by relaxing and recreating in nature. The ancient Greek physician Galen used to take his patients out into the market place and in parks as he believed that the sights and sounds of life were restorative as did the 19th century nurse Florence Nightingale who believed that enabling her patients to look out at nature or have a vase of flowers in their room was at times more restorative than any efforts by physicians.

But is nature healing? Surprisingly there has not been a lot of research as to the healing benefits of nature, but many recent studies, most especially led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki from the University of Chiba and Ching Li from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Japan, are leading to a much deeper understanding about the healing benefits of nature – research that has helped spawn 48 official nature therapy trails in Japan.

Well documented in an article by Gretchen Reynolds “The Nature Cure: Take Two hours of Pine Forest and Call me in the Morning,” Outside, December 2012, Miyazaki and Li’s work has demonstrated that spending time in nature can dramatically reduce the stress hormone cortisol, decrease blood pressure and increase our Natural Killer (NK) immune cells, which help self-destruct tumors and virus-infected cells.

However high activity experiences in nature are not that beneficial, what is beneficial is really slowing down to fully connect with nature such as siting near a babbling brook, watching sunlight dapple through the leaves and listening to the chatter of chipmunks scouring the forest floor. Best is seeking to engage all ones senses, and to do so particularly in a pine forest, where pine sent helps both increase healthy NK cells and one’s creativity.

Accessing the contemplative benefits of nature has been a long staple of Creative Healing Connection’s Retreats which have included contemplating the stars from sitting in canoes out on a lake at night, early morning yoga on the lawn, Native American blessing ceremonies at dawn, nature walks, and the incorporation of nature in rituals for renewal to name a few.

University of Michigan researcher Jason Duval recommends at least three 30-minute walks in nature a week. He encourages people to not use nature as a gym, to leave the gadgets at home and take time to use ones sense to fully connect with nature. We say “amen” to that and invite people to sign up for one of our healing retreats and take the “slowed down” path to health and well-being.



Thankfulness = Health

Posted on: December 12th, 2012 by Martha Spear No Comments

A recent ABC News article describes the links between being thankful for the good things in life, and improved health of mind, body and spirit.  The article mentions the “Three Blessings exercise…Each night before going to bed you write down three good things (ordinary or extraordinary) that happened to you during the day. Studies reveal those who continue this exercise for one week straight can increase their happiness and decrease depressive symptoms for up to a six-month period.”

In my family we hold hands before meals and say what we are thankful for.  Even my five-year-old son has something to be thankful or every day–dinosaurs, digger trucks, the chainsaw that man was using, hot dogs…

You may know about the Facebook project called “Gratitude Journal.”  Participants write three things that they are thankful for.  That’s it.  Browsing the lists is a soothing and peaceful experience and always provokes me to be thankful for something new.  Check it out yourself–GRATITUDE JOURNAL.

Have a thankful day!


the Mad Hatter 2013

Posted on: November 5th, 2012 by Martha Spear No Comments

Here is our 2013 Mad Hatter, Roby Politi, giving the sign for “victory over cancer,” and wearing his cancer hat.  You can’t see the two-foot-long dredlocks hanging from the hat!  Join Roby and dozens of other Tri-Lakes luminaries at our Mad Hatter’s Ball, Thursday, March 21st 2013 at Heaven Hill Farm.  For tickets or to donate a silent auction item, please contact Martha Spear at 518-390-3899 or  Roby Politi, 2013's Mad Hatter


OIF and OEF veterans & soldiers golf for free

Posted on: November 5th, 2012 by Martha Spear No Comments

The beautiful Craig Wood Golf Course in Lake Placid would like to extend an invitation to all current warriors and recent veterans to golf for free when they are visiting Lake Placid.  Please call 518-523-2591 for details.  CHC’s 2013 Mad Hatter, Mr. Roby Politi, says, “Welcome and thank you!”Craig Wood Gold Course


A scar on their soul: PTSD

Posted on: November 2nd, 2012 by Martha Spear No Comments

Yesterday while getting my hair “did” I read an article in the October 29 – November 5, 2012 issue of the New Yorker.  The article is about a soldier, Lu Lobello, recently returned from Iraq, who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is wrestling with his profound guilt over what happened one particular afternoon.   Lobello devises his own strategy for healing himself from his crippling PTSD:  he will find a surviving civilian from that day, and make contact with that person, and by speaking about the day with that non-soldier who knows what happened, he will find some peace.  He wants the survivors to know that “he feels their suffering in his own.” The article’s author, Dexter Filkins, has his own PTSD to muddle through, as becomes clear in his descriptions of his work in Baghdad at the same time, when he met one of the severely wounded survivors in the local clinic.

In Lobello’s quest to heal himself, he finds the Armenian Christian Iraqi family–what’s left of them–whose civilian members he massacred in one terrible series of minutes in Baghdad. “I thought it would do them as much good as it would do me,” said Lobello.  He meets them, and with that brief peaceful meeting they move forward in their lives with a little less agony.

I lost my bicycle-riding father due to a drunk driver smashing into him one summer evening in 1986, and that is the worst emotional pain I have ever experienced.  I have only ever wanted to harm the drunk driver in revenge, and could not imagine forgiving that person.  That is my cross to bear and my point of reference for personal horror and unfinished business.  In war, the soldiers and civilians live through days, weeks, months of that sustained horror and violence, and their lives ever after are powered by the need for acceptance, understanding and forgiveness.  I cannot imagine the anguish of watching my children die around me, my spouse, my friends.  These folks live with the poisonous effect on the psyche of being surrounded by screaming and blood, and for some of them, of having caused that screaming and blood with the gun in their hand.  Lobello says in the article, “No one who hasn’t been in a war can understand what it’s like.  For men, it’s like childbirth.  We have no idea.”

After his diagnosis of PTSD, Lobello was discharged from the Marines, set up with a small disability payment and started receiving psychiatric treatment.   The author writes, “Like the police or the F.B.I., the Marine Corps represented its own moral universe, an institution that gave you license to kill and absolved you of your sins.”  Lobello felt lost and adrift without the culture of the Marines surrounding him like a fortress or a great ship.

A psychiatrist with a specialty in military PTSD says that “some of the most severely affected soldiers suffer ‘moral injury.’ ‘It occurs when you’ve done something in the moment that you were told by your superiors that you had to do, and believed, truthfully and honorably, that you had to do, but which nonetheless violated your own ethical commitments.’”  Lu Lobello was told to shoot the oncoming car that contained the Armenian Christian family.  “They hate it when they have killed somebody that they didn’t need to kill… It’s a scar on their soul.”

The New Yorker is too classy a magazine to get into war’s gore and horror in any great detail, but the little they do share is awful.  I think the vivid bits they do include are necessary to help the reader launch herself into that other world and gain the slightest understanding of what Lobello and the others went through.  Placing this story squarely in the early 21st Century, Facebook plays a key role in the drama, as Lobello finds one survivor through it and she first “friends” him, then “unfriends” him and then “friends” him again at the story’s conclusion.

I wonder about Lobello’s certainty that the meeting would help the surviving family members as much as it would help him.  In a way that strikes me as a little arrogant, but then again how can I know?  The article’s author makes it clear that, for the family, it isn’t that simple.  They are strict adherents to their faith and practice forgiveness, if not forgetting.  “I forgive you,” the mother says during Lobello’s meeting with the surviving family members.  “We forgive you, but don’t think we forget our dears.”

Every soldier Creative Healing Connections works with is someone’s dear, and we cannot ever forget them.  PTSD can cause substance abuse, panic attacks and depression, as well as alienating the sufferer from the world around her, and can lead to suicide.   Nearly 30% of all Iraq veterans have PTSD, according to a recent Department of Veterans Affairs report.  That’s almost 250,000 people.  I am so grateful that Creative Healing Connections can help alleviate some of this awful pain, even if it is for only 30 or 40 women.  We do what we can, and we move forward, one step at a time.

Article link HERE.  Permission pending from the New Yorker.


First, the Women

Posted on: October 28th, 2012 by Martha Spear 1 Comment

In the canoe“There are places I’ll remember all my life”

The Beatles “In My Life” from Rubber Soul

by Sharon Humphries-Brooks


First, the women. Ah, the company of women, especially women who have survived hardships, and are willing, in some way, to share themselves. Not only do I continually find that we have much in common by the fact of having lived through chronic illnesses, or the illnesses and losses of loved ones, I am convinced that we also share great pleasure in experiencing our diversity, whether the faces are new, or already familiar to us. We may most of us live in NY State now, but we are all of varying ages, ethnicities and experiences. We may each have our own struggles, but everyone is willing to provide both space and caring. (I continue to be grateful for the model, inspired by work of Fran Yardley, CHC co-founder and staff member. It is a model of genuine listening, sharing if desired, and taking turns. Fran moves me in other ways, too, including her various talents and humility.) From musicians to the visual artists, it quickly becomes clear, there, that no one is excluded. And, it was, and is, a fun, a place where friendships can be forged!

I have what is called para-neoplastic syndrome. This happens very rarely to people who have gynecological cancers. I contracted it when some of the antibodies attacked my cerebellum, instead of the breast cancer they were intended to fight. The chances of that happening are about the same as the chances for winning the NY State lottery. Lucky me.

Before the disease hit, I was a backpacker, a cross-country skier, a dancer, and a martial artist. I was a performer, a seminarian, a storeller, and a teacher. I taught writing at the college and public school levels, and received numerous grants to teach others how to use their inherited past in order to recreate the present and a possible future. I was an active person, an all-around outdoorswoman. For 30 years I kept a journal, a repository for my feelings and thoughts and a way for me to work things out. (A woman once said, in realizing that she’d been playing the same instrument for 30 years, “You’d think I’d be better at it!”) I even had excellent handwriting, and favorite pens. I sang both professionally and for fun. But with the development of PNS, I had to learn how to walk, talk, write and sing, all over again.

When I first experienced symptoms, I was about to embark on a whole new way of life. My daughter was leaving the country to go to college, my husband’s career was flourishing, my career was skyrocketing. I was completely unprepared for how extreme a change life would demand of me.

So the Creative Healing Connections arts and healing retreats at Great Camp Sagamore have been incredibly important to me in this new chapter of my life. I am most thankful that there are places like the retreats at Sagamore, although I was a bit apprehensive at first. I was leaving the security and habits of my home. I was about to go to this place that I had never been to before, and to meet a group of strangers. It was with great joy that I found a home-away-from-home.

“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz. Well this retreat is as much like a home as you can get, and still be away. I found encouragement and acceptance, such intellectual-physical-artistic-spiritual-personal stimulation, that I kept going back there. Again and again. (It did help that one of my caregivers, Gail Coons, and I have both received scholarships. She is a survivor of cancer, too. My husband and daughter gave me their full support, too.)

The retreats I’ve participated in at Sagamore have been a substantial treat, a treat that I have been fortunate enough to give to myself numerous times. From when I first went there until now, these retreats have been a gift. They have been a healing in body and soul.

It always begins for me with the journey to the site itself. I find that to merely travel down that long, not-too winding road is calming to the system. The quietness and simple beauty of nature are precious. I think that the natural world can reveal to us how much a part of nature we really are, that we are different but not separate, that we are connected. A person can find that experience in itself to be healing. Talk about a gift!

And then, there are the women, including the staff, the classes that are offered and the lifestyle that is provided at the camp, to name a few of the other things that I’ve found to be most healing. I love that we were offered a variety of opportunities, while also given other possible uses of our time, without anyone in any way indicating that some choices are better, more helpful than others. Oh, I’ve also opted out of workshops, but I was not made to feel guilty at all for sitting by the lake and reading, or for merely looking up to gaze at the loons or at the colors of the autumn leaves. Why, there have even been times when I’ve even returned to my cabin to sleep!

I’ve taken numerous workshops, including the breathing emphasized in yoga, have done dream work and the use of story. The time has been most utilitarian and therapeutic. I treasure seeing the clear enactment of how us human beings often learn and remember best by sharing our struggles with others, by listening to others’ struggles, and by being taught by kind, enabling people. I love learning and practicing the use of something that we all do everyday: breathing. The Arts and Healing retreat has contributed significantly to my belief that one of the ways that we create community is by experiencing our processes mutually.

As for lifestyle at Camp, comfort and needs have always been well provided for or, if necessary, searched out and found, whether the weather is hot or cold. (At times, I have needed an extra pillow or fan, or something to lean on.) We can also learn a lot about each other and about ourselves by having roommates, even when we find habits, like snoring or desiring too much heat, to be annoying. In most instances, compromises can be made! There have been folks who have even played croquet in the rain!

The food has been especially good and as plentiful as desired. Communal dining simply adds to the feeling of belonging and allows for the chance of meeting a variety of folks, even those unconnected to the Arts and Healing group. (Some women from the Women in the Woods group have come up to me to say hello and to talk). There’s plenty of space for all comers, a big cheerful fireplace, and a great view.

There have been times when I have found learning to be almost casual. The most delicate of issues can be raised, if the other person agrees to talk about the subject. (Always, always, though, an individual can feel free to say no.) I am the only person in a wheelchair, so far, but I’ve never been told, “That’s just not possible.” If I think I can do something, the opportunity is there. I’ve even gone canoeing, though I DO admit that I’m a strong, fit woman, willing but not stupid, and I have had lots of help in getting in! Not to mention the fact that one of staff members is a strong and skillful canoeist.

All in all, my experience there has been extremely helpful and energizing. I feel so welcome and comfortable that I keep taking greater and greater emotional risks. I hope to go back again. And in the near future.

Wherever You Are, There You Are — The title of one of John Cabot-Zinn’s recent books.


coming events — dates for your calendar

Posted on: October 17th, 2012 by Martha Spear No Comments

We are starting to set dates for our retreats in 2013.  Here are three dates:

Women Veterans Arts and Reintegration Retreats — August 5-7 and August 12-14, 2013 at Wiawaka Holiday House in Lake George, NY

Arts and Healing Retreats for Women with Cancer & Chronic Illness — September 20-22, 2013 and a second weekend tbd at Great Camp Sagamore in Raquette Lake, NY

2013 calendar


Doorways to Healing–October Retreat for Women with Cancer

Posted on: October 5th, 2012 by Martha Spear No Comments

Personal Meanings and Survival of the Spirit

Workshop 1:  Friday, October 26 – Sunday, October 28, 2012

A New Kind of Service & Treatment Component for Women Who Have Had the Experience of Being Diagnosed With Cancer                                              

Presented by: Doorways to Healing, Inc.

Led by: Meredith Whitney, Ph.D.

Psychologist and Cancer Survivor

Purpose: This 3-day experience is a professional intervention and treatment designed to help women deal deeply and effectively with those difficult emotional and personal issues that can occur after a diagnosis of cancer. Workshop 1 provides women with professional support and guidance in dealing with these emotions.  It addresses the mental, emotional, spiritual component usually not addressed in the course of routine heath care.

 To Register:   Pre- Registration necessary by Friday, October 19, 2012.

Comments from previous participants in Plattsburgh:

“I must say I had my doubts about coming this weekend…like everyone else, too much to do and people who needed me…and I thought I had it all figured out after three years as a breast cancer survivor. HA! Not even close!!!  I feel I’ve made more progress and received more love and acceptance (in this workshop) than I have my whole life! How do you thank someone for that blessed gift?  There really are no words!” ~~Jo

 “This workshop has come at a perfect time for me.  I will finish my radiation therapy next week, and I have been thinking, “What now?” I feel this workshop has given me the tools to rebuild my life…I have felt a true spiritual experience here. Thank you…for all you have done~~ you are an angel on earth.”  ~~Deb

“In my 10th year since having breast cancer I was sure I was ‘healed.’ (But) this workshop showed me how much love I have in my life that I haven’t tapped…I learned that I have strengths I never thought belonged to me.” ~~ Miki

This was the most tremendous weekend I have ever experienced since my diagnosis.  Not only did I learn a lot about myself, I had the opportunity to be supported…I feel emotionally and physically better than I’ve felt in some time.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!”  ~~ Cyndi

“I was very hesitant about attending this workshop.  I didn’t’ want anyone judging my feelings and emotions.  I was uniquely surprised that I am not alone…The boost I was given this weekend was exactly what I needed. With all my heart, thank you!”  ~~Laura

“Since being diagnosed with cancer this (workshop) has been the first time that I have not had to be ‘strong.”  I cried and vented frustrations.  This workshop is a Godsend… It addresses issues that need to be addressed…I feel that a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders and soul.  Thank you very much.”  ~~Anonymous

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