Nightingale: the art and science of being human
Teresa L. Frisch, RN, Reiki Master / Teacher3.29.09
“And the single individual is single in the sense of unique; it has no standard with which it can be compared. In other words, the single individual is, from this point of view, not accessible to the scientific method; no judgment, but intuition characterizes the term ‘art,’ as contemplated in this second sense of the phrase.”
-Otto Guttentag, “The Phrase, ‘Art and Science of Medicine,’” 1939
As a Western Mystic, Florence Nightingale lived Guttentag’s explanation of the art and science of a human being. Illness plagued her beginning at the age of six (Dossey 3) with various childhood maladies and ending with numerous sequelae from contracting Crimean fever, possibly now known more definitively as brucellosis contracted during the Crimean War (426-427). She had a “deeper sense of the spiritual world” (3) and learned to love solitude and time for introspection at an early age. Barbara Dossey, PhD, RN, would eventually study her personality characteristics and apply the Meyers-Brigg Indicator, offering that Nightingale fell into the category of the Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging personality type, or INTJ (427). This personality type would also be in line with the natural inclination for her need of solitude and introspection.
Nightingale received her spiritual awakening at the age of sixteen, knowing only that “a quest there is, and an end, is the single secret spoken.” She did not speak of her revelation or her “Call from God” with anyone (Underhill), but began actively pursuing a better understanding of it. Born into a wealthy family with a history of reform (Dossey 24), her travels afforded her rare opportunities to add a working understanding of Eastern philosophy to her family’s Unitarian background (Macrae 8). Her father’s membership in the British Association for the Advancement of Science ensured that she was “exposed to the latest developments in scientific thought” (6-7).
Nightingale’s patience and perseverance allowed her to shape her sensitive genius into the working model of a Western Mystic. “Although Nightingale acknowledged the extraordinary individuals who are universally recognized as mystics, she did not feel they were specially gifted or chosen by God. In her view, every human being has the potential for mystical development” (Macrae 6).
- “The lives of Western Mystics and saints are generally not sweet, gentle stories, but tumultuous, complex sagas because most of these talented and chosen individuals took up the cause of reform. In many cases, their mission was to revitalize or reform a church that had grown worldly, lax in religious practice, corrupt, and oppressive. As a result, many of these reformers found themselves battling political authority and taking on the role of political and social activist. The Western mystic is not comfortable with the world as it is, but envisions what it can and should be” (Dossey 425).
Per Macrae, Nightingale felt that “an ordered universe was a reflection of a higher intelligence,” and “as did Newton and Galileo, she believed that the natural laws discovered by science are the thoughts of God.“ Statistical analysis was her love and her forte. Statistics were a “sacred science,” and the patterns she saw “may have been analogous to the mystical experience because it gave a higher perspective on reality, revealing hidden connections among apparently separate phenomena. Statistics revealed an interconnected and ordered universe – a reflection, she felt, of the divine mind” (7)
We must remember that Nightingale implemented her holistic, common sense sanitation practices before the advent of antibiotics or sepsis protocols, declaring that “nature alone cures… and what nursing has to do is to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him” (Notes on Nursing 133). She had none of our advantages, no pharmaceuticals at her disposal to combat disease as we do; all she had was soap, water and women willing to learn how to be more than scullery maids. She gave them the vision of what it meant to be a nurse. She developed the first “polar-area diagram” (“Polar-Area Diagram”) and, armed with hospital and public health statistics, she became a leader in public health care reform in Britain after the Crimean War.
Florence Nightingale’s thoughts are uncannily applicable today as we move into the age of quantum physics and the human observer, and, similarly, her thoughts were “radical for her time” (Macrae 15). According to Dossey, she felt that “a mystical experience should not be considered an end in itself. It should serve as a source of wisdom, strength, and compassion so that we may better fulfill our purpose in the world.”
For me, Nightingale’s thoughts and actions are common sense. As a visionary and a reformer in my own way, and with a similar personality type (Introverted Intuitive Feeling Judging, or INFJ) (“INFJ: The Protector”) and as a mystic, I understand her. I understand what it is like to find you, yourself, a common person suddenly, inexplicably experiencing something Divine. This wasn’t my first experience, but I will offer it as an example. I can also offer someone else’s similar experience, but will save that for a later time.
- I was sitting at my desk reading while having a conversation with a friend online about the DaVinci Code. The topic of our conversation was the sacred love between two people. I thought, “I understand that.” I wasn’t doing anything special, I was just sitting there when I thought that thought and literally felt what I can only describe as a golden pillar leave my head with the knowing it was met by a matching golden pillar coming down from what I knew to be “infinity.” I sat there mesmerized, one eye on the computer clock, barely breathing lest this golden connection break. I didn’t know what it was, or if I should even believe it, but after six minutes my friend interrupted the focus and it ended as suddenly as it began. I was fully conscious the entire time, aware of my desk, my townhouse, my computer, everything. I didn’t go anywhere. I was one with the moment. I just “Was,” period. -Teresa L. Frisch, RN
The point I want to make is that I am not alone in these experiences. “The Common Experience: Signposts on the Path to Enlightenment” addresses this very thing. “Seeing the Invisible: Modern Religious and Other Transcendent Experiences” is a partial compilation of five thousand higher consciousness accounts by ordinary people (Maxwell and Tschudin). The Religious Experience Research Unit of Oxford, England, gathered these accounts of singular and multiple events over a twenty-year span.
Why do I bring this up? Why should I speak about my experiences when Nightingale and so many others chose not to? Because quantum physics is here. Because until we, as human observers of the experience begin to document and provide empirical data, there will be no opportunity to look for patterns or common threads. Science cannot open a door that it cannot see. First we must build the framework for the door and then we must paint the picture. Only when science can see the door can it ask the questions that may, someday, open it and lead to the research in nonlocality and mind-body medicine and then we, as people will be more than we are today. “Physics, Synchronicity, and Intuition,” by Victoria Slater, MSN, R.N., found in Guzzetta, PhD, RN’s Essential Readings in Holistic Nursing, shows me that my colleagues are finding their voices (Slater). Voices lead to ideas and ideas lead to research.
- “Mystical refers to the direct perception of reality; knowledge derived directly rather than indirectly. In many respects, mysticism is surprisingly similar to science in that it is a systematic method of exploring the nature of the world. Science concentrates on outer, objective phenomena, and mysticism concentrates on inner, subjective phenomena. It is interesting that numerous scientists, scholars, and sages over the years have revealed deep, under-lying similarities between the goals, practices, and findings of science and mysticism. Some of the most famous scientists wrote in terms that are practically indistinguishable from mystics.” -Dean Radin (The Conscious Universe 19).
Subjective mystic, or human observers of event, meet objective science in the age of quantum physics. Sounds very much like the art and science of being a human. Same concept, different words. Three Emergency Department nurses in Australia have just set an example of developing the language to describe the previously indescribable: Benner’s Fifth Stage of Competency, or the “expert, intuitive nurse” (Lyneham, et al). All we need to do is choose another topic and follow their lead.
Revised tlf 4.7.09