Diving into an Ocean of Gratitude for Living and Caring with Patch Adams

January 17, 2017
Posted in Blog
January 17, 2017 Editor

Diving into an Ocean of Gratitude for Living and Caring with Patch Adams

Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.

January 17, 2017

Not only is the posting by Jarem Sawatsky about Patch Adams wonderful. The link on which you may click for book giveaways leads you to some great-looking stuff. Take a gander!

And of course, you may wish to sign up for Jarem’s Blog, so real, so poignant, so powerful! He can tell you his own story…

Diving into an Ocean of Gratitude for Living and Caring with Patch Adams

NOTE: Before I give you my new post I want to let you know that I am participating in a book giveaway where 7 personal development authors are giving away 11 different books all for free.   If you would like 1-11 free ebooks, check out this link.  You can read the latest blog post below or you can click here to read it on the website.

The real Patch Adams estimates he has been at 10,000 deathbeds.  I asked him what he learned from being present at these deathbeds – dressed as clown with toys in his pocket.








“They are not deathbeds.” He said.  “They are living beds.  There are two states: living and dead. From the second you are conceived you are dying.  That is not interesting – especially since you are also living.”

Then he looked into my eyes and said, “Either you’re living or you’re dead. The fact that you are ‘dying’… well I see you as living.  So where is the fun?”  It was as if he was saying – you are living to live well.

Later in our conversation, I asked him if, given his experience, he could give a few hints on living well for those of us who are labeled with a disease.

“How many do you want?”  Then he sat back and said “For example, we die.  Relax.  The question is not ‘how’.  The question is ‘are you living?’  Are you living?  Are you being the human being you want to be? Are your relationships healthy?  Are you grateful?  What is your sense of wonder? What’s your sense of curiosity?  What thrills you?

You can decide to love life. You can decide to love your partner.  You can decide to know what I mean when I say, a tree can stop your suffering.”

Somehow those words struck me as freeing.  I don’t need to figure out everything about dying.  I need to keep living.  To be thrilled, to be grateful, to be wonder-filled.  To be curious about life and living. These are ways of being that are accessible to me.

As a person with Huntington’s Disease, I am seeking out those I hope can teach me about love, compassion and the joy of living.  In a world of potential teachers, I’ve picked 5, including Patch Adams. The five are all wise teachers, living the wisdom of the future in the present and oriented to a more healing way of living in the here and now. I was recording a video with Patch Adams when he said these things.

If someone else spoke these words to me they probably would not have had the same effect. Perhaps if I tell you some of Patch Adams’ story, you too will feel the deep surge of gratitude for living and a deep dare that our living is shaped by caring for others.

Some people think they know Patch Adams’ story because of the famous Hollywood movie which was based on his life and featured Robin Williams as Patch Adams.  However, the real Patch Adams is quick to point out how the film profoundly simplified and sanitized the life.







Patch was born in 1945. He grew up an army brat following his father around the world and watching as war stole his father’s soul.  After his dad died during Patch’s teen years, his mom relocated Patch and his brother to Virginia.  This was a time of open racism. When Patch saw “Whites Only” signs he realized his country was fake and religion was fake because they allowed such injustice and dehumanization.  As a teen Patch was beaten up for standing up against violence and racism.  In his 18th year he was hospitalized three times at a mental hospital for trying to commit suicide. Patch did not want to live in a world of violence.

It was during his third hospitalization that his life changed directions. For him it was like a lightning strike: “You don’t have to kill yourself.  You need to make a revolution, a love revolution”

He was confronted by two questions which shaped his life.
1. How do I find a love job for men in a capitalist system which is making its people sick?
2. How can I be an instrument of peace and justice and care every day?

The first question set him on a quest to become a free doctor. The second led him to practice clowning every day.

At the age of 18 he says he “dove into an ocean of gratitude and has never found the shore.”
He says “since then, in 54 years, I never had a bad day.”

As a young adult, he turned his attention to books and to social experiments in loving and playing.  Through these social experiments he crafted himself into an instrument of peace.  He dressed as a clown so that he could clown instantly if he saw someone in need of comfort. Sometimes he clowned to interrupt violent exchanges between strangers. For two hours, every day for 2 years he called wrong numbers to learn to talk, trying to keep them on the phone. He would go into Washington DC to ride the elevator to learn the art of talking.

For Patch, medical school seemed to teach everything that was wrong with society: elitism, racism, speed doctoring, medicine for money, hierarchy.

The year he graduated as a medical doctor, 1971, he also released an 8-page paper on a model hospital designed for holistic care. He called the model hospital Gesundheit! Institute.

To demonstrate that his model of care could work, for the next 12 years a small group of families and doctors lived out a mini-version of the model.
Here are some of the striking characterstics of this model of care:

  • No charge for medical appointments
  • 3-4 hours vs 7.5 minutes doctor visits with patients
  • Communal – all the permanent staff live together communally; everyone makes the same salary ($300 a month)
  • Patients live alongside doctors and their families.
  • No health insurance reimbursement
  • No malpractice insurance
  • Ecovillage – eventually they bought 321 acres in West Virginia (the poorest state for health care), a place to soak in the beauty of nature with three waterfalls, caves behind the waterfalls, a four-acre lake, a mountain of hardwood trees, wild life
  • Organic farmers – Patch was a goat herder for 8 years
  • Integration of the healing arts

When Patch started this Gesundheit! Institute, they thought the full model hospital would be built by 1975. Yet during this 12 years they did not get one donation.  They learned that giving and loving were a kind of a high.  But they also learned that they would need to change their approach if they wanted to find funds to build the model hospital.

Patch then started to work full-time at various kinds of outreach and speaking engagements.  The goal was to create the funds to build the model hospital.  A dream that is yet to be completed.  (You can donate here: http://www.patchadams.org/donate/ ),  Patch spends up to 300 days each year on the road and visits over 90 medical universities in 70 countries. Apart from doctoring Patch finds he needs to have some ongoing way to care for others if he is to sustain his work.  So he responds to every letter written to him as an act of care.  Further he decided to do clowning trips into some of the neediest places in the world:  war zones, refugee camps, orphanages, prisons, places of abject poverty; even war veteran trips.  In each place, he and others try to “inflict” society with the joy of living.

Patch sums up is approach by saying: “My spiritual path is loving people.”








So when I speak to Patch, across from me sits a 71 year old man.  He is dressed as a clown, with long white and dyed blue hair that has not been cut since 1967.  In characteristic style, his white mustache curls up at the ends.  He wears a tie that’s pink and purple and some bright red glasses to finish off the outfit.  Across from me sits a man whose dream has not yet been accomplished, even through four decades of trying. But as he speaks, I know this is an unimportant detail.  He speaks with love, not bitterness.  His life has not been wasted trying to fund a model hospital.  Rather, this one speaks as one who tries every day to be an instrument of peace, justice and care.  I am the peace professor but he speaks as one whose whole life has been dedicated to peace or what he calls 6 qualities of living well: happy, funny, loving, cooperative, creative and thoughtful.

Talking with Patch made me reflect on this question:  What if the answer to most of our problems is to make others radiant? When we are not well, so many medical professionals tell us to focus on ourselves.  But what if the key to our own happiness can only be opened by caring for others.

From Patch, I want to learn the joy of living, the gift of living in gratitude and the deep transformations that arise from care and love for those around us is practised.  My blog outlines my own social experiments in loving but Patch dared to me go further, to be bolder and freer.

I interviewed Patch for my upcoming book, Dancing with Elephants: Mindfulness Training For Those Living With Dementia, Chronic Illness or an Aging Brain.  I am also using the video from that interview as a 5-part series:  A More Healing Way: Video Discussions on Disease.

In the video you can hear Patch share his own story as well as exploring things like how a tree can stop your suffering; how loneliness is the worst human condition, tricks to get people to love and to be joyful. If you just want updates when the book and videos are ready, please sign up for my email list.  You will get two free books and a sampler of my upcoming book when you sign up for the email list.

Take Care,
P.S.  Don’t forget to check out the 11 inspiring, personal development books you can get for free.
Blog post: Diving into an Ocean of Gratitude with Patch Adams
Blog: Dancing with Elephants: A Beginners Guide to Losing Your Mind
My website: www.jaremsawatsky.com













  1. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.
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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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