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Making Beautiful Music, Together

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It’s been an incredible year at Nova, as we witnessed many voices coming together to make beautiful music — despite these challenging times. This “radical collaboration” (my favorite new expression, thanks to Stewart Wallis, who spoke at our Annual Conference) of people working for change is exactly what the world needs right now.

I am so grateful for the many individuals, partners, and organizations who helped us widen our circle and bring us closer to our vision of a world where health is valued as our most basic and essential asset and people, places, and the planet flourish for the benefit of all. Collaboration and relationships are themes woven throughout the year’s highlights:  

  • We welcomed new Nova Scholar Osagie K. Obasogie, who is exploring the public health impacts of police brutality (including the excited delirium “diagnosis” now banned in California) and how health professionals and the scientific community can promote fair, evidence-based law enforcement policies and practices.       
  • Guided by our esteemed Media Advisory Council, we launched our Media Fellowship program and are already wowed by our inaugural cohort of Media Fellows: Lela Nargi, Kate Morgan, and Virginia Gewin. These talented journalists are connecting the dots on factors that influence health — investigating air pollution and particulate matter, Appalachia’s people and landscape, and water poverty and food insecurity with a science- and solutions-based frame. 
  • Three Nova Campfires sparked rich discussion, new partnerships with the Garrison Institute and the Planetary Health Alliance, and follow-up publications on critically important topics such as ultra-processed foods, consciousness, and sustainable business. 
  • Through our demonstration project to help primary care professionals and their patients manage stress, we developed a screening tool and simple interventions now being used at the point of clinical care at the University of Maryland, with plans for future expansion.  
  • Our Scholars and Fellows met at our Baltimore headquarters to reconnect and reignite sparks of collaboration. Robust conversations included how scientists and journalists can (and should) work better together, AI in healthcare, using art to connect health and the planet, how to improve mental health, and much more. This unique, transdisciplinary community continues to produce top-notch work that I encourage you to check out. 
  • Two new Nova Interviews featured seminal thought leaders Nalini Nadkarni on tapestry thinking throughout her ecological work in prisons, churches, and schools, and Stephen J. Schoenthaler on nutrition, behavior, and criminal justice. 
  • The Nova Integration Hub celebrated its first birthday, as the online community grew and evolved, with special thanks to eight new Invited Faculty members sharing their interdisciplinary expertise and diverse perspectives on health.   
  • Our online Annual Conference, “Seeds of Change: Inspiring a Better Future,” featured more than 70 speakers who explored health in the broadest sense with a strong emphasis on solutions, positive narratives, and healthy relationships. Recordings are now available.    
  • We began work on an ambitious new project for 2024 to amplify both new and existing solutions for mental well-being, destigmatize mental health, and build a coalition of mental health champions.    

As the Winter Solstice brings new light into our day, from my heart to yours, I thank you for your support and your belief that we can make a difference.

Professor Brian Berman, MD
President and Founder, Nova Institute for Health
Professor Emeritus Family and Community Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.