Sample from the Summer 2004 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

Excerpt from the interview with Shanti Norris

Shanti Norris served as Sri Gurudev’s secretary during the 1970s and went on to become one of the cofounders of the nonprofit Smith Farm Center for the Healing Arts–the sister organization of Commonweal. Located in Washington D.C., Smith Farm is on the leading edge of complementary cancer care. Shanti describes how creativity, along with the profound practice of deep relaxation, are key components in the healing process.

Integral Yoga Magazine: What is the mission of Smith Farm?

Shanti Norris: To bring hope to people facing cancer and other illness. Our view is that within illness there are teachable moments, places where people are looking for meaning. We support this process by providing physical, mental, creative, emotional, and spiritual resources for dealing with cancer.

IYM: How do you do that?

SN: We do this through three programs: One area is through weeklong and daylong retreats, as well as other programs for patients and caregivers. Second, we provide supportive programs for physicians and medical practitioners. These programs are aimed at reclaiming the heart of medicine and more patient-centered care. Third, we offer programs that are supportive of creativity as a healing tool.

IYM: How did you come to include the piece on creativity?

SN: Our founder and patron, Barbara Smith Coleman, was an artist who came to art in her 50’s. When her husband died, she discovered creativity and used it to recover from her loss. She had a mission. She believed that we are all creative; we are all artists. She found that there is something healing about expressing one’s creativity. As a college student I went to Cooper Union Art School in New York. This work is really an integration of everything I love–creativity, Yoga, health and wellness, and community.

IYM: : Sri Gurudev talked a lot about the power of community. We see this in Dean Ornish’s work and in yours. Can you talk more about the component of community in healing?

SN: Yes, it provides an important foundation both for the staff and the patients. There is a tremendous healing power in sharing our stories and listening to one another. That sense of community is created through the retreats we run. Something profound happens when we come together with a common intention.

Research shows an increased quality of life, and extension of life, for breast cancer patients involved in support groups. In the context of a retreat, we sit in a circle and create a safe space. The idea is not that we come together to “fix” each other, but to practice supportive listening–which can be a very profound and healing experience.

IYM: What is your view of healing?

SN: One of the most helpful things is the distinction between curing and healing. The definition of curing is providing a treatment to get rid of disease in order to go on with our lives. Healing is something very different. Healing comes from within. It is a return to wholeness. It involves the physical, mental, emotional, and the spiritual.

Healing is what our programs are about. Even when a cure is not possible, healing is always possible. The flip side is that when healing starts there is often a shift towards cure. We don’t promise a cure, but we do support people in their healing…

Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2004 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.