The Poetic Nursing Heart

To brace the weight, you must have hope. .


To brace the weight, you must have hope. .

I am Tom, I am a male nurse, I am a poet, and I am often lost. During my masters at Canterbury Christ Church University, I was diagnosed with Dyslexia. I am painfully constructing a PHD by Portfolio that reflects my mind and the spaces that exist within it. I would suggest it is like an episode from ‘Stranger Things’ where the central character is drawn into the upside down only to return each time less able to engage in the world, society calls normal.  

This is the beauty and the pain of growth. I have learnt so much recently from the most beautiful people. They find me each day and we develop a place of safety together. These friends I think are common in doctoral researchers, especially those trying to genuinely challenge expectations and ultimately change the landscape of learning for the future. These friends are my books, art, poetry and music. 

The journey is quite simply hermetic. You find yourself often isolated and unattached, I recognise that this might be due to a choice made to complete a portfolio and performance based PHD within a faculty that is more used to the formal thesis. The Hermit is a person living in solitude as a religious discipline. Mine is more oppressed by systems and structures around me. What is the hermetic journey? I feel very grateful that I have prayed mindfully and meditatively with a hermetic icon for a few years. This in a way helps me to withstand the drought when all the supports dissipate like the tide, and you are left in a space of heat and reflection. This is where my creative resilience resides. I am always guided back to the table of my subconscious by love (George Herbert).  

When I think about the Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard it’s not simply the joy and pain of being enveloped by his ideas of aesthetics for love. I think about his day. What were the fears that led him to hedonism? What was his thinking behind leaving his lover for a life forever in regret? I think about his walking the street to find the people who made more sense for him.  

I think about the great Greek orators and thinkers meeting on the steps and dancing through the greatest of philosophical / social / and celestial imaginings. These thoughts are my company as I have looked at the spaces, they lived within me, yet I still feel I need to go on a journey of research most doctoral adventures and visit the amphitheatres and the spaces that acted as a home to the words that created the world around us. I feel; that Plato’s republic did for my mind what Herman Hesses glass bead game did for my heart, as did John O’Donohue’s ‘Anam Cara’ did for my soul 

Literature is always there and at times it comes and finds you. On this occasion it did more than that. The work of Victor E Frankl ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ completed something in me. Books and experiences I feel are at times divine and called to be as a point of healing. The sunshine in the evening was heavenly and I felt a little broken by the realities of oppression. Then I read these words: 

‘The salvation of man is through love and in love’ 

This (as the other authors mentioned above) had an immediate and lasting impact. Not because of the poetic beauty of the words or the sentiment of where these words were born but more the environment where they were conceived. Victor E Frankl was living within a concentration camp. But the entire book emanates hope, warmth and love. From this field the practice of Logotherapy was born. In this approach to therapy which focuses on the human search for meaning Victor Frankl combines Kierkegaard’s will to meaning, Nietzschean will of power and Freuds will to pleasure.  

I would suggest my thematic art and music PhD final installation is heavily aligned with this; being a will to trust and acceptance of trauma and a desire for love. 

Beautiful sunset

So why does the progress feel Sisyphean in its weight and pain? I always viewed the myth of Sisyphus as a simple story of condemnation. That is until I read the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’ (1942) by Camus. His work was again influenced by the palettes and poisons of thinkers like Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. He weaves this sublime tale of absurdist humour and intellect. Where he says I believe one of the greatest philosophical statements ‘The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart’. (Then the moment I truly adore and one that has drawn me out of darkness)  

‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy’. 

Well, if the work of the masters has taught me anything it is that to offer a subject area something entirely original is quite simply as astounding and challenging as the images that have just been received from the ‘James Webb’ space telescope. My frustrations and despondency, isolation and desperation are all very much in keeping with the formation of the new Thematic and theoretical space I propose to develop.  

‘A blended auto-ethnographic approach looking at the impact of trauma on identity within pre-registration Nursing students, using the medium of art, performance and poetry. In a portfolio of data, I will offer Formed stories from poetry symposiums. Alongside the linguistic themes found within the responses of others formed on 30 accompanied walks around the gallery of ‘the true self’. I want to make further thematic explorations in Animation, dance, music, performance poetry and narrative play. 

At times of desperation, I will find a light. That might be a moment with a friend, a conversation with my children, time sitting under a tree. I at times self sooth with my headphones on and listen to my cycle of breath. This week I have been listing to  

Philip Glass 

Yann Tiersen (Nante 2016) 

I am almost exercising my brain daily, hourly sometimes to a point of absolute fatigue, just like I have done for ultra-marathons of 100 kilometres. I am preparing my mind for the composition, themes of music that will reflect the cognitive movement in the installation. These three themes I am forming into musical compositions to represent and express the trust, trauma, and love progression alongside the thematic artwork. I am developing the spaces that represent different emotions and thinking positions. These are actual physical spaces that will be open within the university around the time of examination. I guess I am reassuring myself of an epistemological stance. Preparing for challenge like a grandmaster does ahead of a pivotal chess game. 

What do I know

I felt so humbled by the work of Victor E Frankl I composed an email and sent it to the Frankl foundation. Just simply to express my thanks. With a small hope that they would be willing to watch the recordings of the final installation and examination. 

(Trigger warning on the statements around death and finality) 

I am on the cusp of publishing a children’s book. This book is the conclusion to my PhD. The doctorate is a focused and creative look at the impact of trauma on the identity of students undertaking vocational degrees.  

I am underpinning the themes of the trust, trauma, and love progression and creating the musical themes and art that will sit within the prison cells of my mind.  

Today I have been overcome with emotion reading the work of Victor E Frankl. He is the centre of what I have found through my own addiction, depression and years of emergency trauma nursing. Something I go back to as it feels most normal to me. 

I just wanted to say thank you. Clearly a portfolio PhD being hosted In a UK university is not going to be something you could attend. 

However, I am going to have the experience recorded so this maybe something I could send your team. 

Again, thank you. The book 📖 man’s search for meaning has impacted me like Kafka’s metamorphosis and Hesse’s Siddhartha. It has opened me to yet another truth.  

It reminded me of the film ‘life is beautiful’ and caused me to ask me a question of self-akin to Camus daily question. Should I kill myself. Today the answer is no as life is beautiful and who am I to consider that finality. 

I am delighted to now add this wonderful reference to the 4th and most vital reference list (reaching for the ethereal). I am pleased I didn’t find it earlier as I would have moved no further as it is like a prism for the soul, from which all traumas, sins and secrets can refract. 

Thank you

I have been drawn back to the work of Eugen Herrigel (2011) ‘Zen and the art of archery’. I have suddenly become aware of the privileges that I have in my world of thought and the beauty there is within the space of nothingness experienced by the zen master archer. Between the two states of unknowing. The greatest of gifts exists between the states of bodily relaxation and spiritual freedom. This cannot be gained from the control of breath alone but withdrawing from all attachments whatsoever becoming without identity, without ego. So, then the soul sunk within the social, materialist prison of today can rise to the plenitude of its nameless origin. 

Neuroscientist Dr Andrew Huberman | (Rich Roll Podcast) 2020. The essential neuroplasticity and evolution of the connectedness needed for a sense of contentment is evident in the core themes of the installation. The desire for helping people achieve a sense of role and purpose within vocation be that Nursing, teaching or any health care profession is matching expectations to realities.  
Trust trauma and love are the vehicle with which I am hoping to draw people closer in line with a sustained contentment. This is done though the neuroplasticity of the mind and the deconstruction of the false self-narrative in a place of love. The work is about finding spaces that will open trauma for the individual and the patient then flooding that space with the love and acetylcholine that allows for lasting healing.  
Some scientists use labs and test results I use tears, poems and becoming. If only we could fund them comparably or I could be moved in alignment with a scientist to explore the landscape of the true self together. Dr Andrew Weil is doing this as he pioneers the development of intelligent medicine. The combination of identifying illness and the focus on holism and healing. His frustration like mine was the limitations of his training at Harvard Medical School around focus on the medical model of exam, knowledge moves on.  
I have offered in my PhD a route map with topography, the possible reclamation of the individual in the vocational role of choice. Understanding through experience the pain of simply being confined and controlled into submission to limitations. Limitations not bound by the soul of the nurse or the patient but the walls and structures of the organisations they reside within. My poetry, art and music are my test tube, Petri dish and data sets. The heartbreak comes with the lack of insight showed by others when it simply comes to money and process ahead of potential small organic change.  

It aligns heavily with the next installation (the final one I hope) where I am aiming to foster an alignment between the internal emotion and the external realities. I also like Dr Weil and his integrated medicine approach to awareness and healing. It has offered me yet more research to defend my position. It’s very easy to discredit a poet nurse dreamer. I don’t have the test tubes and excel spreadsheets. But I have the testimonies of many future practitioners who have alignment rather than fear and oppressional emotions with which to start their professional careers. 

So, I guess now I wait? I wait for the examiners to be found. The brave thinkers who are happy to suspend linear expectations in preference for a visceral and full sensory being. I have the music of my mind formed. The poetry of my heart penned and the suspense and meaning held in my art, is breathing still. 

Titian (1548-49) painted oil on canvas for the Binche Palance commissioned by the Patron Mary of Hungary. 

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