A few years ago now, I had the opportunity to help facilitate a workshop at the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership in Everett, Washington.  My daughter-in-law, Jessica, was an intern in the art therapy program at Antioch College in Seattle and was assigned to a group at the center.  Jess was familiar with the various gatherings that we have created in our clinic in Sierra Madre and wondered if it would be possible to put together a life mask workshop for the cancer group.  I soon found myself standing in the center's conference room with twenty attentive faces turned toward me.

The Role of Art in Healing

Numerous clinical trials support the idea that creativity is a powerful factor in the maintenance of health.  In the treatment of cancer, it has been used in a number of ways to lift spirits by bringing people together.  The overall effect of community has physical as well as mental/emotional healing value.  In the process of creating something, the patient is transported to a state of awareness which is less focused on the difficult realities of his or her condition.  Survival rates and the quality of life both improve.

The Human Factor

Initially, I was prepared for a room full of depressed people with very little to show up for.  Instead, it was quite the opposite.  If anything, it was hard to get them to stop wisecracking and listen to the intro.  As they went around the room and updated each other on the latest news, there was a common thread of support, connection, and empathy.

The life mask process can be a little messy, both physically and emotionally.  A little vaseline along the hairline, eyebrows and eyelashes is most important, avoiding impromptu and inadvertent waxings.  Covering the face and eyes, nose and mouth causes some people to become anxious (yes, we do leave nostril openings!)  It calls for cooperation, a gentle hand, and a lot of trust.

At the workshop's conclusion, there was a table full of masks all depicting the unique features of their owners.  Come the next gathering, they would be painted, beaded, spangled, decoupaged, sprinkled, emblazoned, engraved and who-knows-what by a bunch of folks that knew well what we all must come to know in time.  As I witnessed these people, Stephen Levine's book, "A Year to Live," came to mind.  The following is from this wonderful book:

"May all beings live with death over their left shoulder and kindness in the center of their heart."

"May all beings be free of suffering.  May all beings know the great good fortune of their great nature."

"May all beings be at peace."

~Dr. John