What if I told you that we all possess the power to heal and transform how trauma manifests in our bodies? Further, music, art, and creative expressions are portals through which we can activate our power to heal. According to Dr. Sará King— neuroscientist, medical anthropologist, and founder of Mind Heart Consulting—“we actually have been imbued with superpowers” that enable healing. In her opening comments during a session entitled “Art, Music, and Science as Catalysts for Healing & Transformation,” she expressed her interest in exploring the ways our bodies have been designed to support our capacity to heal.
The session was part of a virtual summit on healing-centered education—led by Angel Acosta of the Acosta Institute—which engaged hundreds of participants across the globe in October 2022. It was facilitated by three panelists who led the audience in meditative practices and shared their perspectives on the healing power of art and creative expression. Panelists included Dr. Sará King, and two scholar performers, Adam Falkner and Francia. While presenting her research, Dr. King explains:
We have superpowers that are a part of how it is that we tap into embodied awareness. The fact that we can be aware of our awareness is a meta superpower. We can bring our attention to our breath at any given moment in time and harness the power of awareness to connect with our capacity to be alive. We can bring our powers of concentration in order to focus and harness our awareness on how it is that we are moving through the world. How we are carrying our bodies through time and space–these things matter.
The embodied awareness Dr. King speaks of is a state of being fully present and feeling alive. It is a way for us to connect to the present moment by using sensory experiences such as our breath to ground ourselves. Embodied awareness also enables us to understand our interconnectedness and the energy we carry into our relationships. During the panel discussion, Dr. King further elucidates the concept of embodied awareness and its usefulness as a tool to spark healing.
What are our intentions for the kinds of energy that we are bringing to our relationships? What are we bringing to the spaces we are in? Are we aware of our intentions and energy?
How we are carrying our bodies through time and space is a constant communication of whether we are beings who are offering up a state of belonging to those who are around us or whether we are offering up the energy of rejection and othering.
Embodied awareness is something that can be harnessed most easily when we are engaged in practices such as yoga or meditation, making or engaging with art or listening to music.
Art and music are some of the most accessible expressions of creativity that we have as a species in order to heal ourselves.
We have superpowers that are a part of how it is that we tap into embodied awareness.
In this session, Dr. King—along with Falkner and Francia—take us through a multisensory experience filled with meditation, music, visual art, poetry, storytelling, and reflection. These activities were specially curated to help participants develop a visceral understanding of the power of music, art, and poetry as catalysts for healing. Each panelist shares stories of how engaging in creative expression led to their own transformation with hopes that participants will also deepen their mindfulness practice through these modalities.
Panelist Francia practiced law until 2020, when other passions led him on an artistic journey. Francia shared with the audience that his return home from vacationing in South Africa was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, he immersed himself in Kemetic yoga practice and the arts. Francia is now a full-time artist, wellness expert, and healer who enthusiastically graced participants during the session by performing his newest song, which encourages us all to live our dreams and co-create a new world. Adam Falkner—an artist, researcher, and race and equity strategist—discussed the significance of creative writing as a tool to embrace all his identities, including being gay. After gracing the audience with a song that repeated the phrase, “I am grateful for the soul that is mine,” Adam shared that his current research explores how creativity and play allows us to courageously experiment with possibilities for ourselves and live fully in the expansiveness of who we are and our talents.
Before inviting the audience to take part in a guided contemplative practice, Dr. King shared, “my career as a neuroscientist has been radically and fundamentally changed by the presence of the art world.” She further explains,
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As a scientist, I have been told that it is a very radical thing to situate myself as a person who is a profound believer in the sacred; to situate myself as a person who feels deeply connected to spirit—and when I use this term spirit I realize that it has so many different meanings and connotations for so many, but for me my connection to spirit is about a feeling of deep interdependence.
It is this sense of connectedness that I have that there is some energy of aliveness that is animating me in my body that is far bigger—that is far more vast—than this individual self.
As an interdisciplinary scholar, I want to be someone in the world who is actively incorporating the qualitative aspects of dreams and consciousness and imagination along with things like the psychophysiological measurements of our heart rate and our brain waves in the presence of art and music.
The Science of the Healing Power of Art
Dr. King shared, “We are living in an epidemic of both stress and chronic pain,” as she recounted a 2011 study that revealed that over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Dr. King highlights that, for one-third of Americans who suffer such pain, their condition is directly related to experiences of perceived discrimination. “If you are in a body where you feel othered or subjugated and feel the pressures of systemic and institutionalized racism and oppression, this is actually resulting in physical pain.”
The study she references is outlined in a report produced by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) after Congress commissioned an IOM committee to examine the prevalence of chronic pain. The committee concluded that effective treatment of such pain will require a national coordinated effort to spur a “cultural transformation” that shifts how the public, policymakers, and healthcare view chronic pain and its impacts. Recommendations for effective treatment, as outlined in the report, include new pain medication and reducing barriers to healthcare providers. While these factors are important, Dr. King, Falkner, and Francia offer another treatment: a cultural transformation that makes the healing power of art accessible to all.
Many studies—including Dr. King’s research—demonstrate the physiological benefits of mindfulness and art therapy. Several studies demonstrate that art-based therapy can improve mood, reduce stress levels, and decrease perception of pain. To make these findings—along with the healing power of art—accessible, Dr. King detailed her work with partners such as the Museum of Modern Art, the United Nations (UN), and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop public programs. For example, she joined forces with MOMA, where she developed, in partnership with MOMA educator Jackie Armstrong and composer Orlando Villarraga, a 90-minute “immersive exploration of the relationship between individual and collective awareness and the capacity we all have for transformation and healing.” She has also developed a guided meditation based on the work of artist Betye Saar—a 1969 piece entitled “Black Girl’s Window”—that can be accessed through MOMA’s website.
“How are we going to heal?” was a recurring question throughout the session. It was met with several contemplative practices centered on music and art as a portal for activating healing—an intrinsic process.
“This session warmed my soul,” are the reflective words of a participant whose sentiments about this session are shared by many, including me. I invite you to watch the session and explore how art can be a catalyst for healing and transformation for you.