The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
Where two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
— Rumi 13th century mystic poet
Bernie Siegel, MD, is a renowned surgeon who transformed the field of cancer treatment with the publication of his landmark book Love, Medicine and Miracles in 1986. In it he describes his work with cancer patients using intuitive techniques such as spontaneous drawing to access unconscious information that can directly benefit the healing process. Since then, Bernie, as the world-famous doctor prefers to be called, has published nine books, some co-authored with his wife Bobbie, on a wide range of topics, including parenting, spirituality and his work with animals. He is the founder of ECaP, a center for Exceptional Cancer Patients, and leads ongoing workshops and support groups. He lectures frequently to audiences that include clinicians, healers, patients, families and educators. He broadcasts a weekly web radio show and has written numerous articles. His latest book My Buddy’s Candle, a picture book for children based on his story about one of his dogs, is scheduled to come out later this year.
Jane Beatty, LMHC, AAT, is a child and adolescent counselor with Kids Grieve Too!®, a program for young people experiencing the impact of loss and grief. The program was started in 1992 under the auspices of Cape Cod’s pioneering hospice organization, Hospice & Palliative Care of Cape Cod. It has served hundreds of young people with critical support services in the schools, families, groups, and one-on-one. Jane, as she prefers to be called, specializes in assessing her clients’ needs through a wide range of techniques, including spontaneous drawing and animal-assisted therapy. Her teammate in her work with children is Murphy, a shaggy and very friendly Australian Sheepdog-Border Collie mix who is a trained therapy dog certified by Therapy Dog International.
When CHA Magazine learned of Jane’s work, they recognized the many shared interests between these two holistic therapists and arranged for their introduction. Recently, Jane drove to Bernie’s home outside New Haven, CT, where they spent more than four hours together in deep conversation, accompanied by Bernie’s two dogs Buddy and (coincidentally) Furphy, his four cats, and Murphy. The following text only hints at the more than 12,000 words that flowed between them, covering a universe of topics including birth, death and practically everything in between.
Jane Beatty drives up the winding steep driveway to Bernie’s house in the pouring rain, noting the famed Bernie Siegel sense of humor in the jumble of funny yard signs, hubcaps on the fence, and high mail box marked with the word “Bills”, way out of reach.
Bernie comes in from walking his dogs, and Jane is instantly struck by his intense eyes and bigger-than-life presence. The house is decorated with memorabilia and artwork from floor to ceiling, kitchen cabinets papered with articles and photographs. Cat jungle gyms and animal beds nestle in every room. They sit at a couple of chairs at the dining room table and begin their long afternoon of conversation intertwined with stories, the barking of dogs, and the soft murmur of rain.
Jane and Bernie share a common practice in using spontaneous drawing as an assessment tool in their way of communicating with children. Jane has brought some art work drawn by young clients for Bernie to interpret. She lays them out on the table for his viewing. The first is of a lion looking straight ahead. Jane explains that it was drawn by a nine-year-old girl whose sister has a life-threatening disease.
Bernie peers intently at the picture before giving his assessment. He relies on his many years of working with spontaneous drawing as a means of intuitively diagnosing patients. In fact, on his website he invites anyone to send in drawings and he will do an assessment free of charge. As he says on the site, “Expressing our deepest feelings can be remarkably healing on many levels. Sometimes, however, words cannot fully express what we are experiencing. As a result, some of the things we need to discover about ourselves remain hidden deeply within us. Spontaneous drawings come from within us, revealing the unconscious and intuitive wisdom that we are born with, but lose as we learn to think.”
He sees in this drawing that the heart shape of the lion’s head is surrounded by many lines, which indicate to him that the child has a long life ahead of her. “It’s not an accident how many lines people make,” he says. “Lines usually indicate how much time they have in months, weeks or years. Numbers are significant in a picture. Three bushes may indicate three years, for example.”
“The lion is a powerful figure, which shows she’s got an inner strength and love, and is doing okay. This animal shows strength in her – the head is more dominant. She may be doing more thinking than feeling. She put a nose on him, so he can inspire and breathe life. But there is no mouth on him. That may be something she needs to do more of, talking, sharing.”
Jane is impressed with the accuracy of Bernie’s analysis of her young client. “What about the colors?” she asks.
Bernie explains that the colors used in a drawing mean something at an unconscious level if all colors, including black and white, are offered in the choice of crayons. “Then it says there’s meaning when they pick one up. Red is the color of emotion and passion, and can mean anger or love. If a family member is drawn in red, we should see what’s going on – more often it’s about conflict than anger. Black is about grief or despair. That’s not necessarily a bad color. You can turn charcoal into a diamond under pressure and the curse becomes a blessing. Red and black are what motivate people. Children often draw a big black cloud over their parents’ heads. Blue and green are natural colors and tell you about life. If the colors are intense, there’s energy and life. When children are dying, the colors often get lighter and lighter, as the light is leaving. If you draw your treatment as green, the message is that you feel it’s natural and will help you to heal. Purple is a spiritual color. Yellow is energy. When people draw their chemotherapy as energy, that’s a good thing. Orange is the color of change. Brown is the earth color. “
Bernie goes on to say, “Carl Jung made a physical diagnosis on a patient through a drawing eighty or ninety years ago, and no medical student is ever told about this. I would say to patients: do a drawing to tell me about your dreams. The body communicates through images. I can show you drawings where anatomy is in the drawing – you don’t have to be a doctor to see it. It’s absolutely ridiculous that it’s not a part of medical education to say that the body can speak to us.”
Jane says “Many times a child will draw and the picture will indicate that the child is ready to go. The difficulty is in helping the parents understand and bridging the two so they are on the same page.”
“By showing them their child’s drawing, that’s all you can do,” Bernie responds. “It’s not you telling them, it’s showing them what’s in the drawing. For instance, a purple balloon draped in black, drawn by a girl with cancer – I showed it to the parents and said “Your daughter’s ready to leave the picture; take her home and love her. “
Jane tells him how she gets calls all the time from mothers asking “What do I say to my child about their loved one who just died? Or how do I speak to my child about their illness and the possibility that they may die?”
“That’s why it’s good to have pets.” Bernie answers.” That’s why there’s so many piles of stone around this house – there are animals under them. Growing up here, our kids understood – there’s sickness and death; we can’t stop it.”
Bernie and Jane talk about how each bring their dogs to schools to work with cancer or loss support groups for kids. They share their experiences in watching the animals select certain kids and connect with them, and that, invariably, those kids are the ones with the most emotional needs at the time. Jane describes Murphy coming into a group, sniffing the breath of each child to sense their emotions, and then just going back and forth between two particular children. The teacher later told her that she’d never seen anything like that in her life – one of those kids’ mother’s had just been diagnosed with cancer, and the other had just become homeless.
Jane adds “When Carl Jung talks about the confrontation with the unconscious in his book Memories, Dreams and Reflections, he discusses the importance of these two worlds and tapping into the world of symbolism. Instead of always thinking our way around things, why not tap into the invisible world of energy that is surrounding us? I find it has never failed me when I have used it. I believe dogs work in a similar fashion. Murphy doesn’t think, he senses. Just watching him lets me know the symbolism behind actions in any given situation. It takes me to a place of sensing rather than thinking. He always brings me into the present moment and a world unfolds that is not connected to my thinking at all. When you use your sense/intuition, you can discover all the answers you need right at that moment.”
Jane asks Bernie to tell her his most moving story of when a dog picked up something intuitively. He recalls hearing a story about a man whose father’s dog never left his father’s side when he was very sick. The dog refused to leave the room for anything other than going to the bathroom – they even had to feed him in the bedroom. One day the man came in to the house and saw the dog in the kitchen, and he knew that his father was better. Sure enough, when he walked down the hall, he found that was the case.
Bernie jokes “When someone is in a coma and their family comes in, they go deeper into the coma. But when you bring their dog in, they wake up.” The underlying reason for all this, he explains, is that when you pet a dog, your oxytocin and serotonin levels go up. Those are the bonding hormones. Anyone who has a dog knows – you take the dog for a walk and everyone wants to come pet it.
Jane and Bernie share stories of their dogs transforming a group’s energy in surprising ways. Jane’s is about a murder-suicide case she was called in on with Murphy. There must have been 25 people in the house, all in a circle. The rug was in the middle, in an open space, with everyone around it crying and distraught. Murphy looked at her with an expression that said “What the heck do you want me to do here?“ He normally goes around and sniffs everyone’s breath to sense their emotional state, but there was just too much grief there. So he went in to the middle of the room and just sat there. Everyone was so absorbed in their grief no one paid attention to him. Suddenly, he farted, which he never does, and then looked around at his rear as if to say “Who did that?” “Everyone burst out laughing.” Jane says. “You could feel the room lighten right up.”
Bernie counters with a similar story about his Furphy, who snores when he sleeps. He brought the dog with him to a cancer workshop, where one member entered late. The man told the group a horrible story about his life and his cancer. Suddenly, a loud snoring sound was heard. “The man got livid,” Bernie says, laughing. “What the hell is the matter with you people? I’m telling you about my life and you’re falling asleep! And everyone in the room burst out laughing, pointing under the chair to where Furphy is sleeping. That was the best thing that happened to that guy in the whole workshop!”
The afternoon flies by with endless stories, jokes, laughter and shared understandings. Jane confesses to Bernie that her life goal is to normalize death in our society so people don’t have to feel so afraid of it, can experience a “healthy” grief response and can accept it as a natural part of life. Bernie tells her that he was fortunate to experience that acceptance at an early age when he almost choked to death and died, and realized that it wasn’t scary to him. Using his usual humor, he sums it all up with a favorite Woody Allen story: “Two guys were talking about life. One was depressed and the other one says to him, what are you doing Saturday night? And the depressed guy says “I’m committing suicide.” So his friend says “Well, then, what are you doing Friday night?” – cha
By Melissa Roberts Weidman, Spring 2008
Melissa Roberts Weidman is a Cape-based writer and musician who works as Director of Communications for Hospice & Palliative Care of Cape Cod. She plays bass and sings in the rocking blues band “Is We Ain’t” and the jazzy blues duo “Flipside”, as well as writes a regular local music column.
Editor’s note of thanks to Bernie Siegel for partnering with CHA Magazine to bring his wisdom, wit and humor to Cape Cod for the 2008 Cape & Islands Wellness Expo. A portion of the proceeds from Bernie’s keynote address will help to support the Kids Grieve Too® program.