Submitted by Saundra Shanti
I walked onto the ICU carrying a two-foot embroidery hoop and silk dyes. Three nurses stopped me. “What’s that for?” they asked. “It’s for you,” I replied. “I am bringing you this silk mandala so that you can create something together.” “Why?” they asked, with truly curious expressions on their faces. “This is my way of caring for your spirit,” I explained. “As your chaplain, I want you to experience some relaxation and joy.” I wish I could have photographed the shift in their visages as we stood silently for a few seconds and just looked at each other. Nearly moved to tears, one nurse simply uttered, “Thank you.”
I set up the mandala, which I had drawn with a water-based resist the night before, along with dyes, brushes, water and towels on the work table. My intention was to sit with them, cultivate relationship, and paint with them, but my pager was too demanding to allow for that. So I left everything and returned to the unit at the end of the day. Admittedly, I was a little anxious as I walked back on the ICU, wondering if I would find an entirely white, unpainted mandala. This was a first for our staff, and I was afraid they might dismiss my invitation to create as frivolous.
On the contrary, staff were eager for me to see their collaborative work. I was so proud of them. “What do we do with it?” they asked. Honestly, I had not considered this since I was only focused on the process. I washed out the resist and left them with their completed art. When I came back on the ICU the following day, I was delighted to see the mandala taped to the front desk of the unit, on proud display!
As a chaplain, I integrate the arts into my spiritual care practice. Caregivers need love. Offering art-making to staff is one way to let them know they matter and I care about them.